Friday, May 02, 2008

Acquittal in an Iraq Shooting Court-Martial - Updated

Various outlets, here and here, are reporting that the court-martial of Sgt. Leonardo Trevino ended in an acquittal yesterday, marking the 5th time I can count that an Iraqi civilian shooting has ended in an acquittal. This case was a mixed bag because the alleged victim was, by all accounts I have read, an insurgent and allegedly reached for a weapon. However, several members of the accused's unit testified he ordered them to shoot the unarmed and wounded man before shooting the man in the head himself.

I can't cast on opinion on the verdict. However, as CAAFlog aptly put it at the end of 2007, these cases will only continue to add to the criticism of the military justice system as a "benighted system that undervalues the lives of foreign civilians and fails to hold servicemembers responsible for war crimes."

I would like to add the civilian DC's comments after the verdict to my list of worst lawyer quotes. He is quoted as saying, "We've got to stop micromanaging how troops on the ground react. . . . You're always reacting and you have to, and if you hesitate, you die." How does charging a soldier for shooting and killing an allegedly unarmed man in a manner that the government thought violated the UCMJ (not to mention the Geneva Conventions and customary international law) ever fall into the category "micro-managing?" Micro-managing is telling the soldier he can't lace his boots right over left or needs to keep his ID card in his left breast pocket not his right. Even those silly rules might have a place in teaching young soldiers order and discipline. But, I can't see how charging basically an alleged war crime (but charging it under the UCMJ, as it should be) is anything but exactly what the UCMJ was meant to do. It is the example we should be setting for the world of how a military force should be run.

As an aside, on the same day as this acquittal, another Iraqi shooting case was reported as moving closer to trial. This one is part court-martial and part US District court (discharged service member). Also, Haditha shooting cases figure, LtCol Jeffrey Chessani is apparently taking a writ to NMCCA regarding withheld evidence.

Update: Thanks to the comments of SGT Trevino's counsel, Richard Stevens, we noticed that some of the reporting of the comments by Mr. Stevens were poorly reported in early articles. His comments that we attributed to after the verdict were in fact made during his three hour closing argument. For anyone that has ever dealt with the press that should be "nuff said" in terms of deciding whether the quote was out of context. Check out counsel's comments here.


joonkadanmon said...

This kind of case is exactly why the UCMJ was created, it amazing the level of this attorney's ignorance.

Richard Stevens said...

The "ignorant attorney" who made that comment was me. I defended SGT Trevino in this case, I am a former USAF JAG and I am well versed in the UCMJ and the military justice system. What I know, which you obviously do not, is the quality of the evidence that was produced in this case. That evidence included a gun that turned up in my client's room after the CID search of the room when my client was in pretrial confinement (the CID testified for the defense in this case, not the prosecution) and the fact that a photograph of the dead insurgent - which was located/retrieved after the sworn witness statements were made in the case - did not match what the witnesses claimed. I find it interesting that a learned contributor to this blog would cast an opinion about the case, and about an attorney on the case, when the author knows nothing more about the evidence in this case than what was pubished in the news. I cannot control what is printed in the press from different portions of arguments I make at different hearings and trials, but you should know by now not to make assumptions when you know not what you're talking about. There is a reason the jury was out for no more than an hour...and it wasn't nullification or ignorance on their part. They listened to the evidence presented and came to the right decision without hesitation. I actually frequent this blog to learn of cases that are argued at the military appellate courts, and assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that the authors who contribute to this blog are reliable sources of information. Taking personal jabs at an attorney based on ignorance of the facts and evidence has proven I was wrong in that assessment. SGT Trevino is a heroic NCO who fought house-to house and room-to-room against terrorist insurgents in enemy neighborhoods in Iraq. The number of men who served with SGT Trevino through two combat tours and never returned home alive from Iraq number in the double figures. The number of direct fire incidents and IEDs he was hit with are staggering. He certainly doesn't need your seal of approval to know what he has sacrificed for, and contributed to, our country. I wonder how SGT Trevino's contributions and sacrifices compare to yours?

Richard Stevens said...

Furthermore, and as my final response to this uninformed blog post...

The specific comment that has caused such concern for both the original post author and the comment author need not concern you.

First, you have no idea what context that statement was made in, or what I was responding to. That was part of a nearly three hour closing argument.

Second, until you know the true facts that occurred on this mission, and you know the specific rules of engagement that applied to a Cav Scout on a small kill team mission in an Al Qaida neighborhood in the Diyala province in June 2007, you are not in a position to intelligently address the comment or the situation. The jury heard the facts. The jury heard the rules of engagement that applied. The jury applied both and returned their verdict.

Richard Stevens said...

Upon further reflection, I will add this final comment...

There was a factual dispute in this case about what actually happened on this SKT mission. My client testified about what happened, what his actions were, why he perceived a threat, and why those actions were consistent with the ROE. Obviously, my client's description was not the version of events the government wanted the jury to believe.

The government, in response to my client's testimony, did not simply argue to believe their witness over my client, they also argued that if what my client was describing was true, why they didn't believe that constituted a threat under the ROE.

That's when I was arguing about micromanaging the actions of a Cav Scout in assymetric warfare in an enemy urban environment.

You don't really believe our defense was that the ROE permits what the government claimed on the charge sheet...and that such a defense was successful?

I have no problem with you e-mailing me personally and expressing any opinions you have about me as an attorney or as a person. What I take issue with is publicly attacking me as an attorney, particularly since that is my livelihood and potential clients could read your comments - which were not based on any degree of knowledge of the case other than a press snippet.

TC said...

Good job Mr. Stevens for your detailed response. It is mind numbing when someone opines about selected quotes published by the media (which will say anything to cast the military/this war in a negative light).

Until one faces charges themselves or personally experiances the government's tactics, they themselves will remain ignorant.

Also, as far as your quote, even if taken out of context, it is true nevertheless;

The military is micro-managed by the Oligarchy sitting in an office out of touch with reality.

Anonymous said...

Well Mr. Stevens, it shouldn't suprise you that the appellate defense bar can be arrogant. After all, we make a living out of casting stones.

No Man said...

Mr. Stevens:

My apologies if you felt attacked. It was not my intent to cast stones at SGT Trevino's counsel, his livelihood, or his representation of the accused.

In fact, I specifically said I can't cast an opinion on the verdict. I was commenting on the quote. In the context that the press put the quote, the quote was not particularly good, and in my opinion, one of the worst lawyer quotes I have seen. It quoted you as essentially arguing against the use of the system for these types of cases.

I applaud you for trying to correct the record on how the quote was portrayed. Please, if you ever feel a client of yours has been mis-portrayed in the press in a Mil Jus proceeding (which I agree can happen with even a lawyer's best efforts) feel free to email us or post your comments--as many trial counsel have done on prior postings on this site. Our contact information is only a click away.

I also re-read my post and realized that there were two versions of the quote floating out there. One put the quote as something that was said after the verdict, the other stated that the quote was part of the closing argument. I should have read the one that said it was part of the closing more closely, and thank you for correcting my error.

Ultimately, I think SGT Trevino got a wonderful result. I make no comments about his counsel's professional reputation and, from what I have heard, I don't believe anyone would have any doubt about that professional reputation.

Anonymous said...

The quote: "We've got to stop micromanaging how troops on the ground react. . . . You're always reacting and you have to, and if you hesitate, you die."

I disagree with No Man. This is hardly a shocking quote - even if taken out of context. The statement, on its face, is manifestly true. For a statement to 'shock' me or make the hall of shame - it must be untrue at some level.

Richard Stevens said...

No man. Thank you. As you can imagine, things were still rather raw when I ran across the blog post. I probably should have counted to 10 and addressed this in a different manner, as my wife always counsels me. I did not. I apologize that an otherwise scholarly blog got a little testy.