Internet assisting US soldiers accused of war crimes
By Rob Woollard
In the past year around a dozen sites have been started by sympathetic military veterans who have expressed anger that troops are facing criminal prosecution for decisions taken in a war-zone
UNITED STATES soldiers facing trial for war crimes allegedly committed in Iraq are enlisting the power of the Internet to help defend themselves against prosecution.
The steady stream of investigations into the conduct of US forces in Iraqi cities like Haditha and Hamdania has been mirrored by the mushrooming of websites set up to aid soldiers involved in the cases.
In the past year around a dozen sites have been started by sympathetic military veterans who have expressed anger that troops are facing criminal prosecution for decisions taken in a war-zone.
Several of the sites, such as the Boston-based Military Combat Defence Fund (www.militarycombatdefencefund.com) have been set up to raise donations to help soldiers pay mounting legal fees.
“The only thing we want to do is get these kids lawyered up as soon as possible”, says Patrick Barnes, a Vietnam veteran whose son has served three tours of duty in Iraq. Barnes said he decided to set up the site after paying a hospital visit to Marines wounded in Haditha in November 2005 during fighting which eventually left 24 Iraqis dead and four Marines facing murder charges.
“After visiting with those kids I talked to a friend, and said ‘This is not right. We’re all combat veterans. We’ve got to do something about this”, Barnes told AFP.
Prosecutors have alleged that Marines in Haditha embarked on a killing spree, shooting men, women and children indiscriminately after a popular comrade was torn in half by a massive roadside bomb.
Lawyers for soldiers involved in the case have argued they followed the rules of engagement.
While there have been several clear-cut cases of US troops carrying out atrocities in Iraq - most notably when soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division admitted raping and murdering a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and killing her family - several websites claim that in other cases the evidence is too flimsy to warrant prosecution.
“There’s a line in ‘Apocalypse Now’ where a character says that charging people with murder in Vietnam is like giving speeding tickets at the Indy 500 (motor race), and that’s exactly what is happening now,” Barnes said. “It’s insane.”
The Military Combat Defence Fund has raised around 180,000 dollars in donations since its foundation. Most of the donations have come from veterans or people with a connection to the military, Barnes said. “The biggest donation was 25,000 dollars, the smallest was five dollars,” he said. Another site, the Marine Defence Fund, has focused largely on providing assistance to Marines implicated in the Hamdania and Haditha investigations.
The site’s administrator, Maralee Jones, whose son is a Marine, said she believed the websites had struck a chord with people who believed soldiers in Iraq were being betrayed by their leaders.
Jones, a mortgage officer based in Utah who taught herself web design, said the website (www.marinedefencefund.com) was launched after eight servicemen were arrested over the death of an Iraqi civilian in Hamdania last year.
Seven Marines and a Navy medic were eventually prosecuted in the case.
Jones said many visitors to the site expressed “sympathy and outrage” that Marines had been charged.
“Many believe that what happens in combat should stay in combat. War is a brutally ugly business,” she said. Other visitors posted hate mail, she added.
“I get stuff like ‘The only good Marine is a dead Marine’ and ‘These are atrocities of war - they deserve death themselves.’
“I just don’t believe people really understand the naivete of the men that are recruited, who are being sent into a war zone to be policemen, which they are not trained to do, who are then prosecuted,” Jones said. “It’s Vietnam all over again in every sense.” afp