Family disappointed in war crimes charges

The family of the youngest and lowest-ranking U.S. Army soldier ordered to face court martial for war atrocities against Afghan civilians said on Saturday they were disappointed in the decision and worried that their son will not get a fair trial.

Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti has ordered the Army to proceed with trial of Private First Class Andrew Holmes, 20, on charges of murdering an Afghan civilian, conspiring to harm Afghans and using drugs during his deployment with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Holmes, of Boise, Idaho, faces life imprisonment if convicted. A trial date has not yet been set.

“In spite of an acknowledged lack of any physical evidence, eye witness testimony exonerating Andy, and an extraordinary writ filed with the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the Investigating Officer chose to file his report recommending a trial by court martial,” Holmes’ father, Forest, said in a written statement released to Reuters.

“We have grave concerns that Andy’s rights as a serving member of the Armed Forces, and US citizen, will continue to be ignored by the government,” Forest Holmes, 52, said, adding that the family was also concerned about his ability to get a fair trial.

While several of the dozen soldiers accused in the Stryker Brigade cases have signed plea agreements to testify against alleged ‘kill team’ ringleader Calvin Gibbs, 26, of Billings, Montana, Forest Holmes said his son “is not interested in a plea agreement. He’s interested in clearing his name.”

A ruling is still pending before the nation’s highest military court on whether thousands of grisly Stryker Brigade war-related photos that currently remain under seal at Joint Base Lewis-McChord‘s Criminal Investigation Division near Tacoma, Washington can be made public.

A civilian attorney for Holmes, Dan Conway, wants to have the photos analyzed forensically by celebrity forensic expert Dr. Michael Baden, saying they could prove that Holmes didn’t commit murder.

A lower court, the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals, denied Conway’s petition for extraordinary relief to unseal the photos on January 7. That denial also lifted a stay or halting of Holmes’ preliminary court hearing.

One photo shows Holmes kneeling beside a body while lifting the victim’s hair several inches off the ground, according to court documents.

“I’m troubled this case is moving forward while an appellate court is deciding whether the Army violated the constitutional rights of client,” Conway said. “American soldiers deserve better.”

Conway learned about Scaparrotti’s court-martial order, announced late Friday afternoon, through a reporter.

“The Army didn’t even have enough respect to notify our attorney, much less Andy or his family,” Dana Holmes, Andrew’s mother, told Reuters.

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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