Tuesday, August 29, 2006

They’ve been shackled in chains and held in solitary confinement, their defense attorneys have been denied access to key evidence of the case and now their right to request a waiver of a pre-trial hearing — known as an article 32 — has also been denied. Such has been the treatment of the men known as the Pendleton 8 in their quest to receive a fair, impartial hearing with a true presumption of innocence.

The Pendleton 8 are seven Marines and a naval corpsman being held in a brig at Camp Pendleton while waiting trial on charges of kidnapping and murder. On April 26, they were on an ambush mission in Hamdania, Iraq, designed to snare known local insurgents. The men are charged with allegedly taking an Iraqi villager, 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad, from his home, kidnapping him, placing him in a hole, shooting him repeatedly and staging the scene to make it appear he was an insurgent planting a bomb. The defendants deny the charges and claim they followed the rules of engagement. The federal government thus far has denied their defense attorneys access to evidence of the crime scene. Allegations are based upon witness accounts of Mr. Awad’s neighbors. This case is separate from Haditha, Iraq, case.

“The Article 32 hearing is a sham,” said defense attorney Jane Siegal, who represents PFC. John Jodka III. “Because the government has denied our opportunity to waive the 32, it is costing the Jodka family tens of thousands of additional dollars in legal fees. All this so the government can parade its coerced statements in front of the media. Coerced statements paraded in front of the media which will potentially pollute the jury pool.”

Ms. Siegal’s strategy to waive the article 32 hearing and go directly to trial was based upon her belief that the case is certain to go to trial anyway, so why waste time and money with a pre-trial.

As to the allegation of coerced statements, Pfc. Jodka’s father, John Jr., described to me the psychological torture he believes his 20-year-old son has endured: “Immediately after my son was removed from the war zone, literally moments after his rifle was removed from his hands, he was placed in a room for 7 to 7.5 hours — no food, no water, no sleep — and he was told that he was a murderer. They hammered away at him to give statements of what it was they wanted to hear.”

Mr. Jodka visits his son every Saturday at the Camp Pendleton brig while balancing his career and family obligations. “JJ has looked me straight in the eye and told me his 100 percent innocent. He continues to maintain his faith in the system and believes the truth will eventually come out.”

Said Ms. Seigel of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service: “NCIS was on a mission to place blame and not find the truth. They wanted to make sure that Hamdania did not mimic Haditha. America needs to know that ‘there are all kinds of rubber hoses’ in the offices at NCIS, and that statements can be extracted from prisoners by using intimidation tactics other than physical force. Ask NCIS why they keep rubber hoses in their offices, and why they think it’s funny?”

I did. I called NCIS and asked if rubber hoses were located in their offices and if so, why? NCIS at Camp Pendleton referred me to NCIS headquarters in Washington. NCIS headquarters in Washington told me I would receive an e-mail statement over the weekend. I have yet to receive it. Meanwhile, Ms. Siegal will enter in to evidence a photograph taken at NCIS-Camp Pendleton of a rubber hose on a white board, with the words “my psychological friend” written underneath.

Public perception has been another problem for the imprisoned Marines. First off, with the busy lives we live these days how many people know a Haditha from a Hamdania? Secondly, there is the steady rhetoric of Rep. John Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, and the New York Times along with the absolute deafening silence of Republican members of Congress. If it weren’t for conservative radio talk-show host Michael Savage and journalist Michelle Malkin there would be no other high-profile voices to counter Mr. Murtha and the NYT.

The government has just completed the construction of a brand new $800k media center at Camp Pendleton. Will this be the scene of a fair, impartial hearing with a true presumption of innocence? Or will this be the scene of a government bent on proving to the world it has the ability to police its own internal affairs? A lot is at stake here. The lives of eight young men are at stake.

Possibly too is the morale of our military. As former marine Leo Chapinsky wrote in this e-mail to me: They recruit you. They train you. They teach you to kill. You kill the enemy and you get treated like the Pendleton 8? Is it any wonder the Marine Corps needs to call up reservists to active duty?

Rick Amato is a San Diego-based radio talk-show host and frequent guest on cable TV news programs.

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