Friday, August 22, 2008

Military Extra Territorial Jurisdiction Act

Interview thrown out in war crimes trial of former Riverside police officer

A U.S. District Court judge on Thursday tossed out a recorded interview that initiated the investigation into an Iraq veteran who is on trial for war crimes.

The ruling came moments before opening statements in the case of Jose Luis Nazario Jr., who is accused of taking part in the killing of four detainees while serving as a Marine in Fallujah, Iraq, during the 2004 Operation Phantom Fury.

Nazario's arrest and prosecution are the result of a 2006 job interview of Marine Sgt. Ryan Weemer, who told a Secret Service agent about the shooting of four unarmed detainees.

Weemer and squad mate Sgt. Jermaine Nelson, both still on active duty, previously were jailed when they refused to testify against Nazario in grand jury proceedings.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Larson ruled Thursday that the interview recording and transcript cannot be used in the trial because the defense will not be able to question Weemer if he refuses to testify.

Weemer and Nelson have been ordered to be in court at 9 a.m. today for a hearing. Both face charges of murder and dereliction of duty in military court.

Nazario, a former Riverside police officer, faces a maximum of 30 years in prison if convicted on charges of voluntary manslaughter, assault with a dangerous weapon and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence. He is being tried in federal court in Riverside because he had left the military when the investigation began. The trial marks the first time a veteran has been tried in civilian court for actions in combat.
The trial is being conducted pursuant to the Military Extra Territorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000.
Media and lawyers filled the courtroom Thursday morning and several friends and family of Nazario sat behind him. A reserve sailor in uniform heard about the case and wanted to be there.

Nazario's mother, Sandra Montanez, said the support sustains her.

"To know the level of support is so high, I think you can see that on our faces," she said.

In opening statements, defense attorney Kevin McDermott said the 300,000 residents of Fallujah had been told to leave because the troops would be storming the town searching for insurgents.

"The overwhelming majority of people left in Fallujah were looking for a fight," McDermott said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Kovats said Nazario was trained to safeguard detainees -- not kill them.

"What distinguishes a professional Marine from insurgents in Iraq is for them to take the moral high ground," Kovats told the jury.

The first witnesses included an instruction specialist, a major flown in from Iraq and a judge advocate general.

Instructional Specialist Courtney Johnson testified Thursday that Marines begin training in boot camp on how to handle detainees and about when they are allowed to kill.

Maj. Daniel Schmitt has led training of Marines in making ethical decisions during combat, including an urban-warfare simulation connected with March Air Reserve Base near Riverside.

He also served as Nazario's commander in the late 1990s when Nazario was made a sniper.

Dressed in a green uniform decorated with medals, Schmitt said the war is a moral battle and the service men and women must keep the moral high ground.

Every action can sway Iraq's and the world's opinion of the United States, Schmitt said.

A Marine can shoot if the person shows a hostile intent or a hostile act, he said.

Capt. Jonathan Vaughn was the judge advocate general assigned to Nazario's battalion and oversaw detainee operations.

He said each Marine was equipped with zip-tie handcuffs, identification tags and eye covering for detainees and the battalion was trained in the rules of engagement and laws of war.

"Sometimes in these situations there's no absolutely correct answer, correct?" Applegate asked Vaughn.

"That's correct," Vaughn testified.
Via Riverside Press Enterprise

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