By Army Sgt. Frank Vaughn
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 23, 2009 - U.S. Army officials filed a formal complaint March 11 in the Central Criminal Court of Iraq in an effort to bring 12 suspects to justice for their roles in an ambush near Yusifiyah, Iraq. The May 12, 2007, ambush resulted in the deaths of seven American soldiers.
Army Lt. Col. Richard Ruffcorn, director of intelligence and officer in charge of the 10th Mountain Division's missing and captured operations cell, filed the complaint at the criminal court.
"According to Iraqi law, someone must be present to file the complaint in person before suspects can be formally charged," Ruffcorn, an Omaha, Neb., native, said. "After all of our efforts to locate [the missing soldiers], I considered it an honor to stand on behalf of their families."
According to an earlier report, a terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq, suspected of ties to al-Qaida in Iraq, claimed responsibility for the ambush on elements of 10th Mountain Division's 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
Three of the seven soldiers killed -- Staff Sgt. Alex Jimenez, Spc. Byron Fouty and Pfc. Joseph Anzack -- were reported captured by insurgents in the aftermath of the attack. The body of Anzack, of Torrance, Calif., was recovered from the Euphrates River on May 23, 2007. Jimenez and Fouty remained missing for more than a year following the recovery of Anzack.
After an exhaustive investigation in which MISCAP cooperated with multiple U.S. government agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Defense Intelligence Agency, as well as analysts from U.S. Central Command, the remains of Jimenez and Fouty were discovered July 9, 2008, after al-Qaida leaders led coalition forces to a location about 12 miles south of the ambush site.
"Finding these soldiers would not have happened without the cooperation of many different agencies and people," Ruffcorn said. "It took everyone involved to make this happen."
Now that the missing soldiers have been recovered, U.S. officials have focused their efforts on bringing the attackers to justice.
Army Lt. Col. Mike Ryan, staff judge advocate for 10th Mountain Division, said the Iraqi government has been very cooperative in this effort.
"The new security agreement between Iraq and coalition forces places suspects detained by us under Iraqi jurisdiction," Ruffcorn said. "However, we are allowed to file formal complaints with the Iraqi court system to start the process of prosecution."
The Iraqi judicial system works similarly to that of the United States, Ryan said.
"The process begins with an investigative judge who hears the complaint and evaluates evidence to determine if the case warrants prosecution," he said. "This is similar to what a magistrate does in the U.S."
If an investigative judge determines there is enough evidence to proceed with a case, it is referred to a trial court for further disposition. Under Iraqi law, a panel of three judges presides over trials and examines witnesses personally, Ryan said.
Now that the 12 suspects in this case have been formally charged, they must await trial. The date for trial has not been set, but Ryan said he expects it to start sometime in the next several months.
Ruffcorn said this process is a tremendous sign of cooperation between coalition forces and the Iraqi government.
"After spending so much time, effort and, frankly, emotion finding Jimenez and Fouty, I'm proud to see the Iraqi government stepping up to bring their killers to justice," he said. "There are definitely people in the Iraqi government who are dedicated to seeing their government succeed."
(Army Sgt. Frank Vaughn serves with Multinational Division Center.)