Sunday, May 18, 2008

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied.

Congress is poised to repay 23 Black soldiers wrongfully accused of murder during World War II.

Twenty-three African American World War II soldiers who were wrongfully convicted of murder are a step closer to financial restitution for their dishonorable discharges and jail time.

Following the Senate’s lead, the House Armed Services Committee also asked that cost-of-living and interest adjustments be added to the soldiers’ back pay in the committee’s version of the 2009 defense authorization bill.

In 1944, 43 Black soldiers were tried in the hanging death of an Italian prisoner of war, Pvt. Guglielmo Olivotto, at Fort Lawton, Wash. Of those, 23 were found guilty of either the murder itself, or of participating in a riot after the murder. All 23 were dishonorably discharged, and several served time at the military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

But according to the research of journalist Jack Hamann, who wrote a book about the case called “On American Soil,” court documents point to a white man, Clyde Lomack, as the real murderer. According to Hamann’s research, Lomack also started the riot to cover up the murder.

Lomack had been upset that the Italian POWs were allowed to roam freely about the base. He was later court-martialed for being unable to account for his time during the riot. He has since died.

Hamann’s research also showed that the prosecutor, Leon Jaworski — later to gain fame as the special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal — withheld evidence from the defense that could have proven the soldiers’ innocence.

After Hamann’s book came out, the Army awarded compensation to the surviving soldiers — only two of the 23 are known to still be living — and their families. But when Sam Snow, now in his 80s, received his check, it was for only $725. Without Congressional action, the Army said could not pay the men or their families more.

If the language in the House version of the defense bill makes it through a floor vote next week, Snow could receive a new check — for $80,000. The other families also would get large payments.

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