Despite what many current and retired veterans charge is a transparent political attempt by the Bush administration to appease and pettifog on behalf of a failing Iraq governing authority in prosecuting its own soldiers for deaths that occur during the fog of battle.

U.S. Army sniper Spec. Jorge G. Sandoval was acquitted of murder charges related to the deaths of two Iraqi men killed during combat missions in the very fluid and violent Sunni Arab region south of Baghdad last spring.

Sandoval embraced his two military lawyers after the verdict was announced in a court ironically set up on the grounds of former dictator Saddam Hussein’s palace which is now a Hugh American military base.

A seven-member jury of three officers and four enlisted soldiers did decide Sandoval violated conduct and engagement rules by placing a cast away coil of copper wire back on top of the dead man.

Copper wire is used by the enemy to detonate those  roadside bombs responsible for the vast majority of deaths and lifelong disabling injuries our boys and girls suffer.

Lawyers familiar with militarily regulations say Sandoval faces punishment as few as six months in prison, or as long as five years. The jury needed to deliberate less than two hours before returning a not guilty verdict for the killing.

Specialist Sandoval has never denied killing the man and pointed out one of the sniper teams leaders, Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley, gave the kill order.

The dead man according to uncensored reports appeared agitated while cutting grass in a field with a rusty scythe out of season and seemed to the sniper team’s leaders to be an enemy insurgent attempting to disguise himself as a farmer minutes after a fire fight.

Prosecutors argued the killing was illegal because the man, despite the evident ruse of the rusty scythe, was technically unarmed at the time and not demonstrating direct hostile intent when Sandoval killed him. The other killing, on May 11, was a man who inadvertently walked into the concealed location where Specialist Sandoval, Sergeant Hensley and three other snipers were staged, near a water pumping house close to Iskandariya.

Prosecutors charged specialist Sandoval with premeditated murder for that killing because he did nothing to stop another sniper, Sgt. Evan Vela, from shooting the man at close range.

During his court martial, Sandoval’s lead lawyer, Captain Craig Drummond, told the jury his client was not part of any scheme to kill or cover up the mans death and was in fact more then 100 feet away in the water pump house when Sergeant Vela fired the kill shots.

Sergeant Vela is charged with murder for that killing. But after obtaining immunity from self incrimination was allowed to testify in Sandoval’s court martial.

Sergeant Vela took the stand and admitted killing the man, with no encouragement or assistance from anyone except the normal command directions of Sergeant Hensley. Meanwhile the sniper team leader Sergeant Hensley faces court martial, Also on murder charges related to the killings and that of a third man on April 14,  in about three weeks.

While I am a passionate critic of this administration and agree with those who call for a change in our war policy I support the non-partisan counsel of retired and active boots on the ground military officers who warn bringing an army home from a war requires as much tactical and logistical planing as the day of invasion.

These same men and women also point out despite the training, discipline and courage of the individuals serving, They call it the fog of war and battle for a reason. Very often in the hyper activity and confusion admist the life and death stress of battle,  innocent civilians suffer the consequences of soldiers attempting to seek out and kill the enemy.

P.S. Burton

You can email burton@phoenixsentinel.com

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