DOD Attributes a 3-Week Delay on Forensic Collection to Absent Villagers

The AP reports that over three weeks after the attack on two villages in Panjwai, DOD investigators have finally gotten around to collecting forensic material from the sites of the attack (h/t scribe)

Army criminal investigators visited the villages early this week to collect forensic evidence, two senior defense officials said Thursday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of prohibitions against talking about the ongoing investigation into the March 11 killings.

They’ve waited this long, DOD says, to avoid antagonizing angry villagers.

Investigators stayed away from the shooting sites for more than three weeks to avoid aggravating tensions with angry villagers.

Except that as Yalda Hakim’s reporting made clear 9 days ago, the villages have been vacated. There are no villagers there to aggravate tensions with.

REPORTER (Translation):  Where are all those people from the village now?

 

MAN (Translation):  They went everywhere or to the city, after the incident. People are frightened.

Not surprisingly, both Bales’ lawyer and General Sher Mohammed Karimi believe this has tainted the crime scenes.

General Karimi told CBS News that he is now concerned the evidence at the crime scene has been compromised.

“People went there, walked around it saw their sights, so it is difficult to distinguish between the footmarks of the killer or the person involved, or other peoples who have walked the area,” Karimi said.

I’d say the compromised crime scene is a feature, not a bug, of the way DOD has been running this investigation.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

17 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    I saw the original AP piece yesterday, but figured there wasn’t much new from the CNN piece I mentioned Wednesday.

    Though on second thought, one smidgen of information missing from the earlier CNN article was this:

    “…Investigators also have collected information from other troops at the base…”

    Though it is stated without any real clarity, but in the same article mentioning the delay with the Afghan villagers, did the investigators also wait 3 weeks to talk with the other troops at the base?

    And were they too delayed to “avoid aggravating tensions with angry” troops?

  2. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: And yes, you can take your choice on whether the other troops on the base might have been angry at:

    a) Afghan villagers
    b) Bales

  3. MadDog says:

    And a news update via Reuters:

    Accused Afghan shooter’s lawyer wants military counsel fired

    “The civilian attorney representing the U.S. soldier accused of murdering 17 Afghan villagers wants to replace the military lawyer assigned to the case after disagreements over how to handle his defense.

    “You are fired, sorry, but we have much more experience than you,” Seattle-based John Henry Browne, the outspoken lawyer who has been the public face of the defense of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, said in an email to military lawyer Major Thomas Hurley…

    [snip]

    …”Major Hurley is not a team player and has no experience in murder cases, we do,” Browne wrote in a separate email to Reuters. “We have gotten 17 not guilty verdicts in murder cases and have gotten life verdicts in all our death penalty cases.”

    For his part, Hurley said Browne was the one who was not playing his role on the team…”

  4. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: Or the Taliban, for hitting one of their buddies with an IED, in which case they might not be that bothered by what Bales did extent to the extent that he inflamed locals further.

  5. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: I suspect there are real strategy issues. DOD seems intent on screwing up any case they have against Bales, possibly in exchange for his silence on what else was going on on the base.

    If you’re the DOD guy, that’s a great deal. But not necessarily if you see that in so doing, they’re undermining any case against your client.

  6. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: Yup, I agree re: strategy issues.

    From the Reuters piece, it appears that the Army must approve both the removal of the existing military lawyer Hurley and the appointment of his replacement.

    Assuming they approve the removal, Browne & Co may not necessarily be any happier with his replacement.

    And continuing in the vein you suggest of DOD thumbs on the scale, it wouldn’t be out of the bounds of imagination, that the DOD would replace Hurley with someone even more to Browne & Co’s aversion.

    A question that arises is whether Browne & Co only get one bite at the apple. That is, they can attempt to remove the assigned military lawyer only once. Perhaps one of our resident legal eagles has that answer.

    I would note that the Reuter’s article seems to lend credence to the idea that Browne & Co seriously expect a death penalty prosecution.

  7. EH says:

    @MadDog: Could be a civilian version of graymail: “Do this our way or we’ll get even noisier. You want us to start calling Ann Coulter?”

  8. sd says:

    They probably waited that long because they didn’t have the staff or the resources to send agents out to the field.

    US Army CID is woefully under staffed with about 1000 agents worldwide, on top of that forensics capabilities are extremely limited in Afghanistan.

    CID just don’t have the resources you would expect within a large organization like the DoD.

  9. harpie says:

    EW: “I’d say the compromised crime scene is a feature, not a bug, of the way DOD has been running this investigation.”

    I agree. I would put the word investigation in quotation marks. I believe they know exactly what happened and are fixing the “facts” to fit the intended outcome. I keep thinking about how the DoD absolutely controls all of the information which defense [Frakt] as well as prosecution [Vandevelt] attorneys at Guantanamo are able to see or even know exists.

    One thing I would like to know…maybe I just missed it…who was in charge of this FOB and HOW could s/he allow the threats and then acts of retaliation to occur? This [including the destruction of civilian food sources which was reported early on] are prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.

    Who was in charge of these forces?

  10. harpie says:


    Vandevelt
    [at Congressional Hearing]

    […]
    29. Contrary to the Chief Prosecutor’s claims of running a highly ethical organization, the actual practice of the Commissions is quite different. I asked to be permitted to leave the Commissions for reasons I’ve explained at length in the foregoing paragraphs, and in testimony before the Commissions. In essence, I became utterly convinced that if I were unable to certify to the Commission and to Major Frakt that I had complied with the discovery obligations mandated by our rules of professional conduct in a case as seemingly uncomplicated as Mr. Jawad’s, no Commissions prosecutor could make such representations accurately and honestly, even if he or she wholly believed the representations to be true and accurate when made. The chaotic state of the evidence, overly broad and unnecessary restrictions imposed under the guise of national security, and the absence of any systematic, reliable method of preserving and cataloguing evidence, all of which have plagued the Tribunals and Commissions since their inception in 2002 and 2006, make it impossible for anyone involved (the prosecutors) or caught up (the detainees) in the Commissions to harbor even the remotest hope that justice is an achievable goal. […]

    Are we meant to believe the people/organizations manipulating the process are merely incompetent?

    It’s difficult to imagine that “justice” actually IS the goal.

  11. Peterr says:

    I read the title and wondered why the fact that Sally Quinn et al. are on vacation would affect a DOD investigation in Afghanistan.

  12. quixote says:

    @sd not enough personnel for a timely investigation, and @many-others+emptywheel that a poor investigation is intentional. I just wanted to point out that it could be both. Those two are not at all mutually exclusive.

    The military has many people of good will and conscience in it. It also obviously has enough people with neither. The latter can use the former. It wouldn’t be the first time.

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