Poland retries soldiers in 2007 deaths of Afghans

AP News
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Posted: Mar 06, 2012 12:30 PM
Poland retries soldiers in 2007 deaths of Afghans

Poland's highest court on Tuesday opened a new trial for seven Polish soldiers previously acquitted in the shelling of an Afghan village that killed eight civilians, the latest turn in a case that marks the first time Poles have been charged with war crimes in a foreign military operation.

The soldiers had been charged with war crimes for opening a mortar and machine-gun attack on the Afghan village of Nangarkhel on Aug. 16, 2007. In their defense, they argued they targeted Taliban extremists after being attacked, and said the civilians were killed by mistake.

"It's irresponsible for politicians to send Polish soldiers on a mission in which these same soldiers must shed blood and then to drag them through the courts," one of the defense lawyers, Jacek Kondracki, told the court, according to the news agency PAP.

Prosecutors, however, say they are convinced that war crimes were committed. The first ruling "should not stand," prosecutor Jan Zak said.

A military court acquitted the soldiers last June, saying there was a lack of evidence that they had intended to harm civilians, and that Polish law therefore required a presumption of innocence. The verdict also said there was some evidence that the soldiers were equipped with faulty military equipment that prevented them from accurately aiming their mortar attacks.

The new trial comes after prosecutors appealed and said the original court failed to consider some evidence.

One of the defendants also appealed the earlier verdict because he was unsatisfied with an acquittal based on a lack of evidence and is seeking a ruling that war crimes were not committed.

The war crimes charges shocked many people in Poland, where the military is viewed with great regard. After the 2007 attack, Polish authorities brought three Afghans who were wounded in the shelling to Poland for free medical treatment.

(This version CORRECTS Adds details, photo links; Corrects date in second paragraph to 2007.)