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MediaWatch:Print
Daily Column
US Papers Wed: Iraq Court Convicts GI Killer
Report lists 310 security contractors: Female veterans tell of sexual assault
By DANIEL W. SMITH 10/29/2008 02:00 AM ET
Most of the news today is about a landmark trial in Baghdad, where several Iraqis were tried for the killing of three American servicemen. Also, there are more SOFA complications, a new list of foreign security contractors in Iraq, and figures of sexual assault among female GIs.

From Baghdad
An Iraqi criminal court on Tuesday sentenced a man to death for the abduction, torture and murder of three young American soldiers on June 16, 2006, but acquitted his two co-defendants. It was the first case in which an Iraqi court tried and convicted an Iraqi in the murder of an American. Specialist David Babineau, 25, Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, and Pfc. Thomas Tucker, 25, of the First Battalion, 502nd Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division, were attacked by insurgents as they sat in their Humvee under a bridge near the Euphrates River.

Alissa J. Rubin if the New York Times writes...
The court found that the man, Ibrahim Karim al-Qaraghuli, 29, was part of a gang of militants operating in an area just south of Baghdad known as the Triangle of Death. He appears to have been the driver of one of the vehicles that was used in the soldiers’ abduction and torture.

“It was a good, solid defensible decision,” said Col. Rafael Lara, a judge advocate who now leads the Law and Order Task Force, the American group that has worked with the Iraqis to help to revive their court system and bring forensics expertise. “We would have liked to see all three defendants convicted,” he said.

The case provided a window both into the working of militant groups in one of the most troubled areas of Iraq and the nascent acceptance of forensic evidence by the Iraqi courts. The critical difference in the cases against the three defendants was that there was conclusive forensic evidence — fingerprints and a handprint — against the one who was convicted while there was no forensic evidence presented in court against the others. All three were implicated by witness statements, but some of the statements were vague.

...The attack was one chapter in a brutal history of this army unit. Just four months earlier, American soldiers from the same unit raped a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and then killed her, her parents and sister, burning the bodies afterward. Four soldiers were convicted and sentenced in the rape case and a fifth soldier was discharged from the military. A sixth had already left the military when the others were court-martialed; he is scheduled to be tried in federal court.

None of the soldiers captured and killed on June 16 were among those implicated in the rape and murder case.
Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoñotells of the legal proceedings.
In Iraq's legal system, investigative judges interview witnesses, collect evidence and issue arrest warrants. A three-judge panel acts as the American equivalent of a presiding judge and jury. The prosecutor assists with the investigation but plays a largely passive role during the proceeding. Defense lawyers are appointed to represent defendants.

The three defendants were escorted into the courtroom by Iraqi police officers and led into a wooden cage, where they stood facing the bench during the proceeding. Haadi read summaries of statements from a half-dozen witnesses. One had died since he was interviewed; the rest ignored summons to appear in court.

The statements included somewhat contradictory accounts about the defendants and the abductions. The men who dragged the soldiers through the streets wore hoods, according to the witness statements. Nevertheless, some witnesses said they were able to identify some of the defendants. Defense lawyers questioned the trustworthiness of accounts from witnesses who were unwilling to show up in court. One argued that the fingerprint evidence was suspect because American investigators handled the forensics in the case and may have digitally produced the match.

The three defendants said they were innocent. A Sunni insurgent group linked to the group al-Qaeda in Iraq asserted responsibility for the slayings and said they were retaliation for the rape and killing of a 14-year-old girl by an American soldier.

Mary Beth Sheridan and Karen DeYoung report in the Washington Post that the Iraqi cabinet decided Tuesday to reopen negotiations on the security pact intended to give U.S. forces the legal authority to stay in the country beyond Dec. 31, further delaying an agreement that American officials had long since hoped to conclude by now. Sunday’s U.S. raid across the Syrian border has only made things more problematic, as the cabinet now wants the agreement to include language to "confirm that Iraqi land would not be the center for aggression" against its neighbors, said Planning Minister Ali Baban, who attended Tuesday's meeting.

Ministers also want the pact to grant Iraq more legal authority over U.S. soldiers accused of crimes, to harden a tentative 2011 departure date for U.S. troops and to allow Iraqi inspection of U.S. military shipments. The inspection demand, along with an explicit ban on attacks on neighboring countries, reflects concerns that the United States might launch an attack on Iran from Iraqi territory.

Bush administration officials have said repeatedly that the current text of the document, concluded just weeks ago after nearly eight months of difficult negotiations, reflects the limit of U.S. concessions. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said that the administration had not yet examined the new Iraqi proposals but that the bar for changes was "very high."

"We think that the door is pretty much shut on these negotiations," Perino said. The bilateral agreement would replace a U.N. mandate that expires at the end of this year. Failure to conclude the deal by then would put the next U.S. administration in charge of further negotiations with Iraq.
Stateside
James Glanz on the New York Times reports that at least 310 private security companies from around the world have received contracts from United States agencies to protect American and Iraqi officials, installations, convoys and other entities in Iraq since 2003, according to the most comprehensive accounting yet of the secretive and weakly regulated role that private firms have played in the conflict. The report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, is the most detailed list of companies yet released to the public. For every familiar company like Blackwater and Dynacorp, there are oodles of obscure ones, from all over the world. Countries such as Uganda, the Philippines, Cyprus, Romania and the Czech Republic are among the countries whose companies are on the list.
The new report shows that there are far more companies to track than previously known, with backgrounds that are far more varied than earlier disclosures had suggested. And research by the federal investigators indicates that more than five years into the conflict, there is still no central database to account for all the security companies in Iraq financed by American money.

The investigators pieced together information from individual rosters at the Pentagon, the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development, as well as several independent federal databases that track procurement and contractors. The agencies alerted investigators that none of their repositories of information were believed to be 100 percent accurate.

Indeed, the Pentagon disputed some of the inspector general’s findings, saying it could confirm only 77 of the entries, involving about $5.3 billion in contracts. But by using the overlapping if incomplete databases, the investigators say they have determined that at least another 233 companies shared $662 million in additional work for guards, escorts and possibly less dangerous work like computer security.

USA Today’s Marilyn Elias writes that about one out of seven female veterans of Afghanistan or Iraq who visit a Veterans Affairs center for medical care report being a victim of sexual assault or harassment during military duty, a study reports today. The study, which screened veterans for sexual assaults and harassment, covering more than 125,000 who received VA care from October 2001 to October 2007, and is the first of its kind.

More than half of these women have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A similar proportion of male veterans with sexual traumas have PTSD, but fewer than one out of 100 men who had recent deployments say they were harassed or sexually assaulted in the military, the report says.

...Mental disorders are more prevalent among those who had sexual traumas in the military, says Rachel Kimerling, a psychologist at the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the VA Palo Alto (Calif.) health care system. She's co-author of the report, to be released at the American Public Health Association meeting in San Diego. Women with military-related sexual traumas had a 59% higher risk for mental health problems; men had a 40% higher risk. ...Many women are afraid to report the assaults, says Anita Sanchez of the Miles Foundation, a non-profit that provides services to victims of military-related trauma. Fewer than a third of women who come to Miles for help after sexual assaults say they've told the military, she says.
"A typical scenario is it's either a supervisor or someone at her level, in the same military unit. If you come forward, you're tattle-telling on a comrade. Women have told me about the sneers, the sarcastic comments. They can find themselves ostracized," says Sanchez, and when other women see this, the lesson isn't lost on them.

Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.
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