17 January 2008
by Defend Our Troops
Nathaniel R. Helms
Jim Culp is a former Army paratrooper turned
Berkeley-law school grad who represents the entire conservative wing
of his law school class. He was once an enlisted man, a shined-up
grunt assigned to the ultra-STRAC Berlin Brigade when the infamous
Wall came tumbling down. It was an epiphany to watch freedom literally
overcome tyranny before his eyes, Culp said, a rare privilege indeed.
Culp represents Sgt. Evan Vela, then a 22-year old
Ranger-trained airborne sniper going to trial in Kuwait on January 28
The Army alleges Vela gunned down an Iraqi man who
innocently walked up on his hidden sniper position and then planted a
gun on the dead man’s chest to make it appear like he had it coming.
It’s an old dodge badge heavy cops have used since blind justice
started frowning mightily on summary judgment. The Iraq War, however,
may be the first war in history where soldiers routinely carry
“throwdowns” as well.
Two other soldiers charged in the same incident
have already been found “not guilty.”
Since early January Culp has been in Baghdad
getting ready for Vela’s trial. He is there because the prosecution is
quartered at Camp Victory, deep in the heart of the newly pacified
region of Iraq where mortars are a daily part of the criminal justice
routine. MG Rick Lynch, the general commanding the Multi-National
Division – Center, denied a defense motion to move the trial to
It certainly would have been safer. One of the
kinder and gentler insurgency’s mortar rounds landed near Culp while
this reporter was enjoying a lively repartee with him via the Internet
on Tuesday morning.
“Break . . . a big ass mortar round just fell and
shook my hootch. Oh yeah, I am in Iraq,” Culp reported.
of America, defender of our troops
It makes it hard to stay focused sometimes, Culp
said, an irony in a way, because it is the same thing that happened to
Sgt. Vela after enduring weeks of sleep deprivation, high casualties, IEDs
going off in his face, and extreme pressure to raise the platoon’s
body count. Judgment gets impaired, reason goes down the tubes, and
bad things happen to good people.
Not being able to focus is the core defense of
Vela’s case, Culp said. Unfortunately, MG Lynch sees it differently
and denied a bevy of motions the defense filed that might have proved
Vela was already toast when the killing occurred. Lynch claims that
Vela never indicated he was sleep deprived, suffering from
concussion-induced brain trauma, and Post traumatic Stress Disorder
during the preliminary investigation. Oddly enough, not knowing is
part of the symptoms.
The hard-charging sergeant alleges that
investigators changed his statement, and that the military lawyer
counseling him at his confinement facility in Kuwait via telephone
from Iraq was a lousy lawyer. The JAG officer urged him to waive his
right to an Article 32 hearing. His advice was the basis of the
ineffective counsel motion Culp filed to win it back. Culp, a former
Army lawyer, said it was a bonehead mistake inexperienced lawyers that
represent enlisted men often make. Colonels and generals usually get
better lawyers in the rare instances they need them.
Sgt. Vela acknowledges he shot the man, he said
shooting the enemy is doing his job. His beef is with the officers and
senior NCOs he said abandoned him when the going got tough. There is a
lot of that going around in Iraq these days. The Iraq War may also be
the first war in history where senior officers – the guardians of
military honor – take the Fifth like baseball players in front of
a Senate subcommittee.
Sgt. Evan Vela at the tip of a commander's sword
Sgt. Vela deployed to the Iskandariyah area of Iraq
(ominously known as the “Triangle of Death”) with the Scout Platoon of
the 1st Battalion, 501st
Parachute Infantry Regiment in October 2006. He left behind a wife and
two children. For about six months he served as a scout in the
platoon, which had earned a lackluster reputation for killing folks.
In the spring the battalion’s senior leadership,
LTC Robert M. Balcavage and CSM Bernie Knight felt that the snipers
were not being aggressive enough and its platoon sergeant ineffective.
“In very real terms, both LTC Balcavage and CSM
Knight viewed their snipers as the battalion’s own personal sword with
which the invisible enemy would be dealt with,” according to the
failed Supplement to Motion to Release from Pre-Trail Confinement the
defense introduced last December. Apparently they intended to smite
some enemy. Smiting was more popular in Biblical times but is equally
They appointed a stud staff sergeant named Michael
Hensley as the person to lead the new and deadlier sniper section.
Hensley was the “perfect choice” because he was the American Armed
Forces’ “All-Service” sniper competition winner. Kills went up
drastically, especially after the sergeant major instructed him the
old man wanted more kills.
On May 11 Vela killed the Iraqi who blundered into
his sniper position and got himself into serious trouble. It arrived
behind the statements of snipers SPC Alexander Flores and PFC David
Petta, who reported to the Chaplain on June 21 that they believed
several kills made by their fellow snipers (a kill made by Hensley on
14 April 2007, a kill made by SPC Jorge Sandoval on 27 April 2007, and
a kill made by Vela on 11 May 2007), had been illegal. Three days
later Vela, Hensley, and Sandoval were confined to an isolated tent
while the CID investigated their allegations.
Vela was charged with unlawfully
killing a local national by the name of Genei Nesir Khudair Al Janabi
at close range with a 9mm pistol. On 1 July 2007, LTC Balcavage
wrote a memo supporting his desire to see Vela and his battle buddies
confined someplace far away. Their arrest was causing a morale problem
in the ranks, the battalion commander noted. Three days later he filed
another memo claiming pretrial confinement is necessary
“ because it is more likely than not that Sgt Vela committed offenses triable by court-martial and it is foreseeable that the accused will
engage in additional serious criminal misconduct and may continue to
attempt to influence the future testimony of other Soldiers.”
Balcavage added that "less severe forms of
restraint are inadequate, wink-wink, in this case".
Culp believes Vela’s commander had another motive
for getting his recalcitrant snipers out of Dodge.
When a sniper named Sgt Richard Hand testified at
Vela’s Article 32 hearing, he said when asked whether CSM Knight ever
specifically said to the snipers “You guys need to be getting more
kills,” Sgt Hand replied “yes.” When Hand was
asked whether CSM Knight had ever commented, “If you feel threatened–wink, wink–you could kill somebody,” his reply was again “yes.”
Political correctness applied to war gives
insanity of human conflict a bad name
One way or another Vela will discover his fate in
Kuwait. Culp says his client’s case is part of a disturbing trend.
Currently there are four criminal prosecutions going on more or less
concurrently over allegations that squad leaders and other ranking
personnel in small units committed murder or cover up for ordering
their men to unlawfully kill Iraqis. There are a variety of reasons
for the prosecutions, whether they will be upheld is still up in the
air. The common thread however, is that the senior leadership in Iraq
is sending its warriors into battle prepared to prosecute them for
killing the wrong people the wrong way. It is part of the sweeping
political correctness applied to war that is giving the insanity of
human conflict a bad name.
Class Trey Corrales
In Hawaii, Maj. Gen.
Benjamin Mixon, the commander of the 25th Infantry Division, has
referred Spc. Christopher Shore to a general court martial for
third-degree murder on charges he murdered an unarmed Iraqi. The
charge is similar to manslaughter in the civilian justice system. The
prosecution wanted him tried for premeditated murder.
Shore testified in his
Article 32 hearing that he only pretended to shoot the Iraqi because
he didn't want to openly defy an order from an abusive platoon
sergeant to kill the Iraqi.
His platoon sergeant,
Sgt. 1st Class Trey Corrales, shot the man multiple times and then
ordered Shore to "finish him." He has also been charged with multiple
Sgt. Leonardo Treviño
At Fort Hood, Texas a military prosecutor wants
another Army sergeant to be court-martialed for shooting a severely
wounded al-Qaeda insurgent. The government says Sergeant Leonardo
Treviño ordered a medic to suffocate him to quiet the man down and put
him out of his misery. After the medic pretended to try and kill the
prisoner, Treviño allegedly shot the unarmed man again because "he
just wouldn't die.''
The statements came in an Article 32 hearing
wrapped up at Fort Hood last December. Treviño faces murder and other
charges for alleged June incidents in Iraq. The 30-year-old soldier
from San Antonio is accused of murder and cover up.
SSgt. Raymond Girouard
Last year, at Fort Campbell, four soldiers from
the 101st Airborne Division were convicted of unlawfully
killing three Iraqi soldiers on the order of former Staff Sergeant
Raymond L. Girouard. On September 2,
2006, Army investigator Lt. Col. James P. Daniel Jr. recommended the
death penalty for the soldiers involved in the killing.
Raymond L. Girouard is
currently serving a 10-year sentence at Ft. Leavenworth. Two soldiers accused of firing on the
men as they fled — Specialist William B. Hunsaker and Pfc. Corey R.
Clagett — were also convicted and given 18-year sentences.
A fourth soldier, SPC Juston
R. Grabor, was charged on 21 June 2006 with premeditated murder,
attempted premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit murder and making
a false official statement. Grabor struck a deal with prosecutors and received a nine-month
sentence for his role in the
incident. According to his lawyers, Graber was convicted of
aggravated assault and received the reduced sentence in exchange for
his testifying against three other members of his squad.
The defense maintains that
commanders gave an order to kill all military-aged males the unit
encountered on an island in Tharthar Lake, a suspected Al Qaeda base.
The accused claimed that Col. Michael D. Steele, gave orders to "kill
all military age males". Steele received a letter of reprimand for his
Meanwhile, in Baghdad...
A last e-mail from Culp ended our conversation for the day.
"Oh, another mortar. This one further away (only
slightly shook the trailer). Have a beer (or two) for me. I have to
get back to work now.--Jim"