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Muslim soldier gets the death penalty while...
Politicians forgive murder in Iraq

By Eric Ruder | May 6, 2005 | Page 1

THE U.S. military values some lives more than others. That's the only conclusion you could draw from the trials of two U.S. soldiers--one accused of killing two American officers, the other of executing two Iraqi civilians.

Last week, Sgt. Hasan Akbar was sentenced to death for using grenades and his rifle at a base camp in Kuwait to kill two officers and injure 14 other soldiers shortly after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The chief prosecutor at the military trial, Lt. Col. Michael Mulligan, said that "[Akbar] is a hate-filled, ideologically driven murderer." But Akbar's military attorney never presented witnesses to the abuse and racism that Akbar suffered, as the only African American and only Muslim in his unit. In imposing the death sentence, the military judge also discounted the testimony of a psychiatrist, who diagnosed Akbar with forms of paranoia and schizophrenia.

During his trial, Akbar apologized for the attack. "I felt that my life was in jeopardy, and I had no other options," said Akbar. "I also want to ask you for forgiveness." Akbar's father told reporters that his son was regularly harassed by other soldiers in his unit, including implied threats that he could be "mistakenly" shot as "one of them."

The climate surrounding the trial of Marine Second Lt. Ilario Pantano--who killed two unarmed Iraqis with a hail of bullets during a search of their car--couldn't be more different. The hearing will determine whether Pantano will have to face charges in a court-martial proceeding.

Pantano became a Wall Street broker after serving in the 1991 Gulf War--and then decided to rejoin the military after September 11, 2001. As he explained to a BBC reporter, "My duty...is quite frankly to export violence to the four corners of the globe to make sure that this doesn't happen again."

After firing some 45 rounds at the two Iraqis on April 15 of last year, Pantano left a handwritten sign on the corpses, bearing his unit's motto--"No better friend, no worse enemy."

Marine prosecutors say the sign indicates that Pantano was carrying out premeditated killings to send a message. But that didn't stop Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) from leaping to Pantano's defense. "I'd have him for my son," said Jones, who has written two letters to George Bush urging him to intervene on Pantano's behalf. Jones isn't the only politician championing Pantano, either.

Press reports speculate that Pantano will get off with a slap on the wrist at most. That would be no surprise--since despite the rhetoric about "democracy" in Iraq, Pantano's killing spree illustrates the true nature of the U.S. occupation.

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