Cannon fodder gets eight years for Hamdania killing

A hapless economic conscript who was in way over his head is sent up the river—while the architects of the war won’t even face impeachment. From San Diego’s North County Times, Feb. 17:

CAMP PENDLETON —- A Marine lance corporal was sentenced Saturday to eight years in jail and a dishonorable discharge for his part in the abduction and shooting death of a retired policeman last year in Hamdania, Iraq.

The sentence for Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington, who wasn’t one of the men who shot the victim but who took part in the planning and abduction and later lied to investigators, is the most severe handed down in the slaying of Hashim Ibrahim Awad.

Four other Marines from the Kilo Company 1st squad, 2nd platoon with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment and their corpsman reached plea agreements with prosecutors last year and were sentenced to terms ranging from 12 to 21 months.

After the sentence was announced in a base courtroom, Pennington’s mother said her entire family is suffering.

“This is really a punishment for our family as well,” she said as she choked back tears. “We need Bobby in our lives, and we wish he could come home.

“I’ll be spending every day of that sentence with him.”

Pennington sat stoically when the judge who presided over his five-day court-martial and sentencing hearing, Col. Steven Folsom, announced the term as his parents and fiancee watched.

Pennington’s role in the April 26 killing included helping march the 52-year-old Awad to the killing site, binding the victim’s hands and feet and wiping squad members’ fingerprints from a stolen AK-47. He also was accused of placing that weapon and a shovel in Awad’s hands in an attempt to make it appear the Iraqi was an insurgent planting a roadside bomb.

Prosecutors had asked the judge to impose a 20-year term.

Pennington’s father, Terry, said his family has been in shock since they first heard their son was in trouble.

“And we’ve remained in shock all the time.”

“Mr. Awad wasn’t the enemy,” Maj. Donald Plowman argued. “Mr. Awad was a man asleep in a randomly selected house. That night, the accused was as bad or worse as the insurgents they were there to fight.”

Pennington’s lead attorney, David Brahms of Carlsbad, contended that the 22-year-old Seattle-area native was suffering from post-traumatic stress from three deployments to Iraq, including the major battle for the city of Fallujah and his actions in the killing were an aberration.

“It’s a tragedy for everyone involved and cannot be undone by a Draconian sentence,” Brahms said.

A former Marine general and legal affairs officer, Brahms told reporters he considers Pennington a “brother” and said the case has affected him more than any during his four decades of practicing military law.

“I’m sad because a fine young Marine was scarred by his experiences in Fallujah,” Brahms said. “The is an extraordinary young man whose future has been damaged beyond repair.”

The judge granted Pennington an additional three months credit for time served because of a determination that he was initially held in brig under unnecessarily strict conditions.

Folsom initially sentenced Pennington to 14 years in jail, a term that was set aside as a result of a plea deal with the convening authority over the case, Lt. Gen. James Mattis.

Pennington’s family wants him held in the brig at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, but that facility’s classification does not allow it to hold anyone for more than five years.

As the judge was deliberating, about a dozen protesters at the base’s main gate held signs of support of the group they call the “Pendleton 8.”

Clo Shivnan of Long Beach contended that despite the admissions from the men who have pleaded guilty — and said that they knew what they were doing was wrong — “we’re still not getting the full story.”

Oceanside’s Leo Chapinski said he believes the men should be discharged from the service but not serve any jail time.

“Lots of thing happen in combat,” he said. “In this case, they took a bunch of 18- and 20-year-old kids and put them in a war zone where they didn’t know who the enemy was and they just lost it,” Chapinski said.

Miguel Hidalgo was more blunt as drivers on their way into the base by the honked their car horns in support.

“This is war,” he said. “Marines are trained to kill, and we shouldn’t expect anything less.”

The remaining three defendants in the case, Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III and Cpls. Trent Thomas and Marshall Magincalda are slated to go to trial later this year.

The men who have pleaded guilty all have said it was Hutchins who initiated the plan that led to Awad’s killing.

They have testified that Awad was seized after the squad could not find its intended target, a suspected insurgent. The killing, they’ve testified, was meant to send a message to the people of Hamdania that the Marines were tired of being attacked.

See our last posts on Iraq and the Hamdania case.