Process of elimination part II: The conviction
CAMP TIGERLAND , Baghdad -- May 26, 2005 is a day that will go down in history for the 256th Brigade Combat Team Staff Judge Advocate Office.
In the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, American and Iraqi lawyers worked together by the letter of the Iraqi law and sought justice for the tragic death of Staff Sgt. Henry Irizarry—and won.
As a result, Ziyad Hassin Ali Hammadi was convicted in an Iraqi court of law of murdering an American Soldier and will spend the next 15 years of his life in an Iraqi prison.
On December 3, 2004, Infantry Scouts of Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment were hit by an improvised explosive device. The attack seriously injured three Soldiers and left Irizzary dead. The gunner on the truck in front of Irizarry's saw the triggerman and, along with air support and the quick reaction force, chased him into a house and detained him.
It was then up to 256th BCT Staff Judge Advocate's Office and the tactical human intelligence teams to extract information from the suspect. Along with evidence collected by the Soldiers at the scene, the legal process of keeping the killer of an American Soldier off of the streets began.
Maj. Roderick Alvendia, from New Orleans, La., deputy Staff Judge Advocate for the 256th BCT, worked on the case from start to finish, along with 256 BCT paralegal Spc. Nathaniel Orphey from Lake Charles, La. Alvendia said considering a triggerman of an IED is rarely caught at the scene; it was pertinent to get the case moved along as quickly as possible. Among the thousands of cases pending trial at Abu Ghraib, this one was pushed to the front because it was so important.
“There was a KIA involved and we knew who the triggerman was, so it was important for us to move it ahead of all the others, and that's exactly what the Central Criminal Court of Iraq did,” said Alvendia.
The Central Criminal Court of Iraq, or CCCI, was established to address serious crimes that most directly threaten public order and safety in Iraq , which may include crimes against Coalition Forces by anti-Iraqi Forces, according to www.iraqcoalition.org. It is an Iraqi court, which means that there is an Iraqi judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney.
In a case like this, American lawyers, or Judge Advocates, collected the evidence and put the case together, then gave it to the Iraqi lawyers to try. The trial process is set up into two phases: the investigative phase, which can be compared to a grand jury, where it is determined if there is sufficient evidence to go to the second phase, the trial. The investigative hearing is the prosecution's time to present all evidence and submit any information that they feel is important to the case.
Soldiers on patrol with Irizarry and the other victims of the attack were brought in to the CCCI as witnesses for the investigative hearing. In the judge's chambers, they each gave testimony of the night's events and provided evidence such as pictures, maps and eye-witness accounts. At an intense moment of the hearing, each Soldier was asked to identify the triggerman, who was seated only a few feet away.
Alvendia worked with the Soldiers, and they gathered evidence and made sure that no stone went unturned. The evidence presented in the Iraqi court system is quite different from the American system, according to Alvendia.
“There are no formal rules of evidence in place and just about any evidence that you find is admissible.” he said. “Anything that you find at the scene or even hear about the person is considered by the judges, that's why it's so important to enter whatever you have. These judges aren't concerned with excluding evidence, as we see sometimes in the United States .”
Once it was determined by the investigative judge that there was enough evidence to go to trial, the case was given to a panel of three trial judges who ultimately determined the fate of Ziyad.
“Though the defense attorney speaks on behalf of the defendant, he does not ask any questions, nor does the prosecution,” said Lt. Tyler Stone, a Navy Liaison Officer for the CCCI.
“The Iraqi court is kind of based on the inquisitional system, which means that unlike the American system where the attorneys do the questioning and the judges almost act like referees, the three judges on the panel drive the questions. There are no objections,” he said.
The defense attorney and prosecution may suggest questions to the panel of judges, but in most cases, they will only give a closing argument.
Normally no more evidence is entered beyond the investigative hearing, but in an unorthodox move, the panel allowed Stone, who worked with Alvendia and the witnesses on the case, to enter what is called “victim-impact evidence.”
“What I'm trying to do is to give them [the judges] a sense of ‘Hey, this person wasn't just a number or a rank, or even a Soldier.' This person was a human being who had a wife, kids, a new grandchild, and the ending to his life, though noble in service to his country, was tragic how it occurred with the IED,” said Stone.
He entered photos of Irizarry showing his life as a Soldier, as a husband and father, and even entered photos of his funeral in his hometown of Waterbury , Conn.
On May 26, the legal team, who worked so closely on the case, and a handful of Irizarry's fellow 1-69th Soldiers, crowded into the main courtroom at the CCCI.
After the prosecutor and defense attorney read their closing arguments, the chief judge announced in Arabic the long-awaited verdict. Anxious Soldiers and lawyers instinctively turned to the interpreter, who said, “Guilty, 15 years.”
Alvendia said that though a 15-year conviction may sound low for a murder case, there are many factors to consider. For example, a life sentence in Iraq is 20 years, and the conditions in an Iraqi prison are not comparable to that of an American prison.
He also said he believes although Ziyad was not put away for a full life sentence, he will be in prison for the rest of his life. This is the second murder conviction for crimes against an American Soldier since the CCCI was created.
Alvendia said that the success of this case and the justice that was served is due largely in part to the patrols—the Soldiers literally on the battlefield who collect evidence and put their packets together.
“If we want to continue to get convictions on future cases, we need to pay attention to details as much as possible involving the crimes the Iraqis commit against American forces,” he said.
He also said that every little piece of evidence is extremely important, since the Iraqi judges consider everything that is turned in.
All in all, Alvendia and the legal team feel that the outcome is an extremely successful one.
“We won playing by their rules.” he said. “An Iraqi [terrorist] tried in an Iraqi court, by Iraqi judges and lawyers, was convicted of murdering an American Soldier—that's a success.”
(Editors Note: Story by Spc. Erin Robicheaux, 256th Brigade Combat Team PAO)
THIS STORY HAS ACCOMPANYING PHOTOGRAPHS. TO RECEIVE THE PHOTOS, E-MAIL THE CPIC PRESS DESK AT CPICPRESSDESK@IRAQ.CENTCOM.MIL
(small) SSG Irizarry 050526-A-1-69th
BAGHDAD , Iraq -- Staff Sgt. Henry Irizarry from Waterbury , Conn. of the scout platoon, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, attached to the 256th Brigade Combat Team was killed on Dec. 3, 2004 when Ziyad Hassin Ali Hammadi detonated an improvised explosive device on Irizarry's convoy. Three other Soldiers in the vehicle were severely wounded in the attack. On May 26 in an Iraqi court of law, Ziyad was convicted of murder and sentenced to 15 years in an Iraqi prison. (U.S. Army photo contributed by 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, 256th Brigade Combat Team)
(small) 03DEC04 SCOUTS HHC, 1-69 05 050525-A-1-69th
BAGHDAD , Iraq -- The vehicle that Staff Sgt. Henry Irizarry was riding in was destroyed when an improvised explosive device was detonated on Dec. 3, 2004 by Ziyad Hassin Ali Hammadi. Irizarry was killed and the other three Soldiers in the vehicle were severely wounded. On May 26, Ziyad was convicted of murder through the Iraqi court system and sentenced to 15 years in prison, just five years short of a life sentence. (U.S. Army photo contributed by 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, 256th Brigade Combat Team)
(small) 03DEC04 SCOUTS, HHC, 1-69 04 050526-A-1-69th
BAGHDAD , Iraq -- The vehicle that Staff Sgt. Henry Irizarry was riding in was destroyed when an improvised explosive device was detonated on Dec. 3, 2004 by Ziyad Hassin Ali Hammadi. Irizarry was killed and the other three Soldiers in the vehicle were severely wounded. On May 26 Ziyad was convicted of murder through the Iraqi court system and sentenced to 15 years in prison, just five years short of a life sentence. (U.S. Army photo contributed by 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, 256th Brigade Combat Team)
Please direct queries to Task Force Baghdad at: TaskForceBaghdadPAO@id3.army.mil or call 914-822-8174.
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