Vol. 4 Num 237 Sat. January 24, 2004  

US soldiers faced 13 court martials in Iraq for crimes since May 1

Adultery, assault, drunkenness, kidnapping, stealing computers, abusing prisoners and attempting to flee to Syria are some of the offenses US soldiers have been charged with in court martial cases since the Americans landed in Iraq.

At least 13 soldiers have gone up for court martial hearings in Iraq since May 1, the official end of major combat in the strife-torn country, according to an official army list obtained by AFP.

Seven have been handed bad conduct discharges, while the others have been sentenced to jail terms, ranging anywhere from between two and six months.

"It's a microcosm of society," said army lawyer Captain Jennifer Santiago about the excesses of military life nine months into the US occupation of Iraq.

Many other cases are still under investigation and are not at the stage where the top US commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, would recommend court martial proceedings, said Santiago, who serves at the coalition's command in Baghdad.

Last week, the US military announced an investigation into cases of abuse at an Iraqi detention centre, widely believed to be Baghdad's massive Abu Gharib prison.

That investigation is on top of a "handful" of inquiries into whether US soldiers have maltreated Iraqi detainees, Santiago said.

She would not specify how many, but said the overall number was small.

A senior US military spokesman also confirmed there were "some cases" of alleged abuse, but refused to comment further.

Santiago said most of the investigations and court martial proceedings were for solider-on-soldier offences related to "alcohol, sex, disrespect, disobedience and assault."

Since May, the US military in Iraq has discharged at least four soldiers and one non-commissioned officer for assault, according to the list given to AFP.

Three of the soldiers were involved in attacks on an officer or fellow soldier. But the military said it was unable to specify if the other two assault cases involved attacks on Iraqis or fellow soldiers.

In one of those cases, where the victim's identity was not revealed, the soldier was found guilty of "theft, assault and kidnapping." He was sentenced to "179 days in confinement" and expulsion from the military.