Pfc. John Jodka III, Cpl. Trent D. Thomas, Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III, Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, Hospitalman 3rd Class Melson Bacos, Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson, Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington and Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr. are all men who volunteered to serve their country in Iraq.

Today, and for the last two months, they are in solitary confinement in the brig at Camp Pendleton, shackled during weekend visits with their family members and frequently deprived of their rights as American citizens as they stand charged with pre-meditated murder of an Iraqi last April.

The evidence against them is based largely – if not exclusively – on the word of the family of the dead man, 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad in Hamdanya.

His family claims the seven Marines and Navy corpsman kidnapped Awad, bound him in handcuffs, shot him repeatedly and then planted an AK-47 and a stolen shovel on his body to make him appear to be a terrorist.

The family waited four days to report the “crime.”

The only physical evidence against the servicemen is Awad’s body, which has been reburied in Iraq after the government performed an autopsy. The defense attorneys must rely on analysis of the government’s own report to rebut the charges.

Since the body was badly decomposed when the autopsy was performed, it was impossible even to determine the precise number of bullet wounds in the body or whether his hands were bound.

This is the case against the Pendleton 8.

In my mind, this story raises a number of questions:

  • Why is it that there is more concern expressed in the media today for terrorist prisoners at Gitmo than for seven Marines and a Navy corpsman shackled and kept in solitary confinement in the brig at Camp Pendleton?

  • How is it possible that the men now known as the “Pendleton 8” are charged with pre-meditated murder, kidnapping, conspiracy and other offenses when the only evidence against them seems to be the word of Iraqis in a terrorist neighborhood in Hamdaniya?

  • Why are these soldiers, who were permitted to serve in the battlefield after the alleged murder, incarcerated at all – since they are clearly not flight risks?

  • After two months, shouldn’t we be asking how long this incarceration will be permitted to last?

  • If a hearing is not held until September, will these eight men who served their country willingly, and who are presumed to be innocent, be imprisoned until then?

  • Why are they being kept in the hottest part of the brig? Is it part of an effort to break their will and get them to point fingers at each other?

  • Why are Naval Criminal Investigative Service officers grilling the prisoners about what happened in Iraq without their attorneys present?

  • Why were they interrogated and coerced by NCIS agents for long periods of time – often without bathroom breaks or counsel present – both in Iraq and at Camp Pendleton?

  • Is the Pentagon trying to make an example of these men?

  • Is the harsh treatment of the Pendleton 8 a political decision made in Washington to show how tough President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are?

  • Is it a move to placate or offset the antiwar movement in this country?

I’m ashamed of myself for waiting this long to sound off on the outrageous way these seven Marines and a Navy corpsman are being treated at Camp Pendleton.

I want to see them released on their own recognizance right now. I want to see them treated like the American citizens they are.

I want to see them get the best defense money can buy.

Somehow, I’m sorry to say, if these men were terrorists who attacked America, I suspect celebrity defense attorneys would be lining up to take their case pro bono. I’m sure the American Civil Liberties Union would be in their corner. There’s not a doubt in my mind that their case would be the subject of sympathetic front-page coverage on a daily basis.

But these are just American fighting men. These are mere pawns in a political war over the rightness or wrongness of the Iraqi occupation. These are only soldiers who risked their lives to defend their country.

I’m ashamed of America today.

The families of at least four of the men charged have established websites to rally support for them. I hope to be able to tell you how you can support all eight soon. In the meantime, please visit the sites below, read the compelling stories and do what you can to help these Americans.

Also, if you are in the Camp Pendleton area, there are citizen rallies held every Saturday for the Pendleton 8 at the main gate from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. The support group even provides the signs if you don’t have one of your own.

The website established for Jackson

The website established for Pennington

The website established for Thomas

The website established for Jodka

The website established for Bacos

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