Saturday, December 17, 2011

Politico covers my FOIA suit against the Army

In his coverage today of the court-martial of Army PFC Bradley Manning, Politico reporter and Freedom of Information Act expert Josh Gerstein reports on my FOIA lawsuit this spring against the Army. Here my story fit into the larger context of the Army's continued refusal to release documents related to its administration of justice—documents that would otherwise be available for public inspection were the accused before a civilian court.

The text pertinent to my lawsuit appears below:

When Siobhan Esposito, the wife of an Army Captain who was apparently murdered in his office in Iraq in 2005 asked for the official record of the public court martial where her husband's alleged killer was acquitted, the Army eventually released a partial transcript of the proceedings, but deleted the names, grades, duty positions and other identifying information of Army personnel "below the office director level" including the name of the military judge, the attorneys in the case and witnesses. The deletions were made even though the court martial, held at Fort Bragg, N.C., was open to the public and anyone in the room could have heard and written down the allegedly private details.

“It was crazy…..It was like something right out of the Marx Brothers," Fidell recalled.

Fidell filed suit in January of this year on Esposito's behalf. A couple of months later, the Army agreed to provide the widow with a full transcript of the open sessions of the court martial, with only the street address of one witness deleted. The Army also agreed to pay $2500 for the legal fees incurred in filing the case.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fox News: Army Widow Lives with 'Unending Shock'

Tonight, Fox News ran a story on the slaying of my late husband, Capt. Phillip Esposito and 1st Lt. Louis Allen at the hands of Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, a soldier under my husband's command.

I asked Fox to publish my own thoughts on the case, and my essay appears here [link] and below:

My husband, Phillip Esposito, was a captain in the Army. Imagine a man whose conscience made him see evil for what it is and whose compassion made him the protector of others. That was the man Phillip was. I loved him deeply, and we shared the joy of one daughter together.

On June 7, 2005, Phillip was murdered while deployed in Iraq. He and 1st Lieutenant Louis Allen were killed with a claymore anti-personnel mine that tore through their flesh and shattered their bones. Phillip died almost immediately; Louis was conscious and lingered for a few hours before finally succumbing upon the operating table.

I would learn that military investigators believed that Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, a soldier under my husband’s command, had set the blast in order to forestall Phillip from having Martinez drummed out of the military for professional incompetence. By seeking to have him fired, Phillip had threatened Martinez’s livelihood—and thus his fragile ego. I live today with the unending shock that this was Martinez’s alleged motive for the destruction of my husband’s life.

Over time, I came to learn that Phillip’s fellow soldiers had opportunity to prevent his death. Stunningly, prior to the murders, Martinez had told practically anyone who would listen that he hated my husband and that he wished to harm him. Under proper military discipline, Martinez would have been punished for these slurs and threats, but here, they went unreported. In fact, I was shocked to discover that Martinez enjoyed outright sympathy from his fellow soldiers, even as he spoke that my husband needed to die.

With his threats and the circumstances of the case lined up against him, it seemed impossible that Martinez could escape punishment for his crimes, yet in 2008, a military court-martial nevertheless voted to completely acquit Martinez of any responsibility for the death of my husband and Lt. Allen.

How could this come to pass? The answers here are many. The military judge administering the court martial allowed a married couple who were steadfastly opposed to the death penalty to sit in judgment; this after the husband indicated that he would vote to acquit even a guilty man if the penalty was death. One juror stated that he had been falsely accused of a crime by military investigators and that investigators routinely lie in order to secure convictions, and he too was allowed to sit in judgment. Martinez’s statement to investigators—the basis of his being their key suspect—was found inadmissible because Martinez had been improperly arrested by military police. If mercy to the wicked is treason to the good, at the court-martial of Alberto Martinez, there was mercy enough to spare.

I add up all the injuries, from the murder of my husband, to the fact that his death was needless and preventable, to the acquittal of his accused killer, to the pain our daughter and I feel in the cruelty of Phillip’s absence, and it forces me to take stock of life in a way that I never imagined. If we, as Americans, fail to learn the necessary lessons from the deaths of Phillip Esposito and Louis Allen, we permit these two men to have died in vain. These soldiers have been denied legal justice. A larger moral justice demands that we, as a people, correct for it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bozicevich is found guilty, but the Army stonewalls

Yesterday, a military court martial found U.S. Army Sergeant Joseph Bozicevich guilty of murdering Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson and Sgt. Wesley Durbin in Iraq in 2008, although the military panel failed to deliver the unanimous verdict necessary to sentence Bozicevich to death. As always, my sincere condolences go to the families of the victims, and I continue to hope that Bozicevich's conviction helps to bring them closer to the justice and peace that they deserve.

Beyond the obvious horror of Bozicevich's crimes, there is one aspect of the court martial that I find jarring, particularly in the face of my lawsuit this spring against the Army for access to trial records from the court martial of my late husband’s accused killer. In the Bozicevich court martial, the Army is now refusing to release the name of an expert witness after the military judge ruled that the expert’s testimony was inadmissible. According to Marisa Taylor of McClatchy Newspapers,

Military Judge Col. Tara Osborn handed down the ruling on the testimony Monday after the prosecution belatedly revealed that the analyst with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory had made a mistake on a proficiency test.

The expert was identified as both Monika and Monica Wilk Garcia in military documents. An Army spokesman said the military doesn't believe her name should be publicized although she had testified in a public court proceeding. As a result, the spokesman refused to confirm the spelling of her first name. [emphasis mine].

So here we see that even after the Army settled my lawsuit against it for its failure to provide names from the trial of my late husband’s accused killer, the Army nevertheless continues to operate as if its attempts to stonewall key names and facts stated in open court is permitted under the law. It is not permitted, and it appears that yet again the Army needs to be made aware of it.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press report on my settlement

Here's a link to The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press's coverage of my settlment with the Army.

In this report, the key quote comes from my attorney, Eugene Fidell.
"I hope this will cause the people who are responsible for responding to FOIA requests to take another look at the law," Fidell said. "People shouldn't have to litigate this. It's a shame Mrs. Esposito had to take [the Army] to court. It should have been resolved long before it came to this."
Needless to say, I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Fidell. I too hope that those tasked with answering requests for government information under FIOA recommit themselves to the law. I further hope that the story of my run-in with the Army, coupled with the experiences of other Americans in bureaucratic obfuscation, will compel the Congress to strengthen FIOA in favor of disclosure.

Journal News Coverage: 'Army agrees to give Esposito's widow court-martial records'

Here's the link to Hema Easley's full report on the settlement of my lawsuit against the Army in today's Journal News.

My key quote:

"I will review these records to identify what led to [Phillip's] murder and the acquittal of his murderer," Esposito said Friday. "In fighting for justice for Phillip, my daughter and myself, I also fight for justice for all officers and servicemembers. No other family should have to suffer as we have."

Friday, April 1, 2011

Statement from Phillip's parents on the conclusion of my lawsuit

My parents-in-law, Joan & Thomas Esposito, have released the following statement concerning the successful conclusion of my lawsuit against the Army over the documents from the court-martial and acquittal of Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, the soldier accused of murdering their son and my late husband.

The ruling is instrumental and considered a positive step toward preventing future tragedies. The Army has been a barrier and now, 6 years after the murders, the barrier is coming down. We cannot bring back our son, Phillip, but it is a fitting memorial.

Staff Sgt. Martinez did get away with double murder, the murder of our son, Cpt. Phillip Esposito and Lt. Louis Allen, both were sons, husbands and fathers. Their deaths were needless and preventable.

Since Phillip’s death, not a minute goes by that we do not think about him and it brings us to tears. The death of a child is the most devastating loss parents can suffer and that experience is life-changing. We will never “get over it,” we just live life in a very different way.

Joan and Thomas Esposito, parents of Captain Phillip Esposito

I continue to be grateful to Joan and Tom for everything that they are that made their son Phillip the man that he came to be.

Army FOIA Lawsuit Coverage on Hudson Valley News 12

Today I was interviewed by Hudson Valley News 12 concerning the settlement of my lawsuit against the Army and its release of records from the the court martial and acquittal of Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, my late husband's murderer. The interview is slated to air at 6pm, and should be online on the News 12 website tomorrow.

Journal News reporter Hema Easley is also providing coverage tomorrow, with a teaser story published online here.

My key quote from Easley's report is below:

"The turnaround on the Army's part is stunning," said Esposito, who now lives in Virginia with her daughter. "It took my bringing the Army to court for them to stop their attempt at obstructing the law."

UPDATE: Here is the link to my News 12 interview.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Army settles, and I get the records of US v. Martinez

Today I settled my lawsuit with the Army after it agreed to release an un-redacted version of the court transcript from the court-martial of Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez and withdrew its answer to my suit denying that my husband was murdered.

This is a resounding victory on the two-year-old question of whether I have the right to review the Army's court-martial and acquittal of my husband's killer. As soon as it had a Federal District Court Judge to answer to, the Army determined that my desire for transparency and accountability trumped its desire to bury this case.

And thus now begins the work of systematically reviewing these records in search of errors that demand action. I will not quit—I will not relent—until every substantive error of justice surrounding the murder of my husband Phillip is addressed.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Army FOIA Lawsuit Coverage in the Army Times

Today Army Times reporter Joe Gould covered my lawsuit against the US Army for its refusal to provide records from the court martial and acquittal of Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, my late husband's murderer.

My key quote is below:
"I will not be deterred in my pursuit of justice on behalf of our daughter, my husband's memory and myself," she said. "My husband's murder demands transparency and accountability, and I shall not rest until I have it."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

CNN: Army disciplines nine for not flagging Fort Hood suspect

CNN reports that the secretary of the U.S. Army has disciplined nine officers for failing to warn of problems with Maj. Nidal Hasan -- accused of committing the 2009 Fort Hood, Texas, shootings -- before he was assigned to Fort Hood.

Secretary John McHugh's move comes after the service reviewed the circumstances leading up to the Fort Hood shootings, in which 13 people were killed and 43 others were wounded.

McHugh "initiated adverse administrative action against nine officers for administrative and leadership failures relating to the career" of Hasan, according to an Army statement released Thursday.

The officers were not identified. The Army statement said the severity of the discipline varied depending on the actions of each officer.

The Army report found no single factor ultimately led to the shooting but "certain officers clearly failed to meet the high standards expected of their profession."

I seek commensurate accountability and discipline for those responsible for failing to warn of problems with Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, to include the hundreds of threats he made against my late husband's life. I wonder precisely why there is such a disconnect between the Army's actions with the Ft. Hood tragedy and the tragedy of my late husband's murder. I mean, quite seriously, what is the secret here?

More Army FOIA Lawsuit Coverage in The Journal News

Today Journal News reporter Hema Easley covered my lawsuit against the US Army for its refusal to provide records from the court martial and acquittal of Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, my late husband's murderer [link here].

My key quote is below:

"The Army is essentially rewriting the facts in order to hide from the galling truth that my husband's death was needless and preventable," said Esposito, describing the Army's response as dishonest and insulting.

"I'm frustrated and angry that I have to argue with the Army that Phillip was actually murdered," she said.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Army’s Answer: Phillip’s Murder Denied

On Friday, I received the Army’s answer to my complaint arguing that the Army is illegally denying my demand for records from the court-martial and acquittal of my late husband’s killer. In its answer, the Army not only denied that it is acting against the law in refusing my demand, which was expected, but it also did something that was completely unexpected. In its answer, the Army had the gall to deny that my late husband was the victim of murder.

In my complaint filed with the court, I listed the nature of my dispute with the Army. In a paragraph intended merely to lay out my identity and my interest in the case, I stated that I am:

“[t]he widow of Captain Phillip T. Esposito, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point who was murdered on June 7, 2005 by means of a Claymore mine placed on his office window while he was serving on active duty as a Company Commander with the New York Army National Guard at Forward Operating Base (“FOB”) Danger, in Tikrit, Iraq.”
In a civil trial, such as the one that I am now engaged, a defendant is required to “answer” a plaintiff’s complaint by either admitting the plaintiff’s allegations or statements, denying them, or stating that they do not possess sufficient knowledge to answer. From these answers, the court determines the nature of the dispute between the parties so that it may properly adjudicate the matter.

In a normal course of events, one would have expected the Army to quickly admit my statement of identity as the widow of a murdered Army officer and move on to the more concrete and fundamental legal issues surrounding my demand for documents from the court-martial. Yet in its answer to my complaint, the Army conceded only that I am “Solbhan [sic] M. Esposito, widow of Captain Phillip T. Esposito, a graduate of the United States Military Academy, who died while in his office and on active military duty in Tikrit, Iraq” [emphasis added].

The implications of the Army’s answer above are astounding. In the space of a few words, the Army just denied that my late husband was murdered.

Of course, the Army’s claim that Phillip merely “died while in his office” is absurd on its face, offensive to Phillip’s memory, and disrespectful to my grief and the grief of Phillip’s family. Phillip did not merely die in his office as if from a cold, a slip, or a spoiled MRE. After exhaustive investigation, military investigators determined that Phillip died horrifically when a Claymore anti-personal mine was placed in the window of Phillip’s office and intentionally detonated by a soldier believed by Army prosecutors to be Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez.

Thus, I reject the Army’s flippant denial of the manner of my husband’s death for I have no reason to accept it. On the contrary: I have every reason to believe, based upon the volumes of evidence collected by investigators and presented at trial by the Army’s own prosecutors, that my husband was murdered “by means of a Claymore mine placed on his office window” as I state in my complaint.

The Army’s euphemistic whitewashing of the manner of my husband’s death speaks to the desperate need for full transparency. Since Phillip’s death in 2005, the Army’s actions have repeatedly failed to deliver justice and engender trust in government, or reflect wise public policy. From the lack of discipline and accountability that contributed to Phillip’s murder, to the botched investigation of his killer, to his killer’s acquittal by military court-martial, the Army has only managed to take a horrific tragedy and make it worse.

I seek to correct these errors in order to lessen the likelihood that any American family will be made to suffer as mine has. And thus the American public and I shall require the full and complete record of my husband’s death and the court-martial of the soldier acquitted of killing him, for justice demands no less.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

An Anonymous Smear Against My Slain Husband

Today, I received the following anonymous comment in response to my post “Army FOIA Lawsuit Coverage in The Journal News.”

OMG its time to move on and go on with your life....YOUR HUSBAND was an ASSHOLE I KNOW I WAS THERE IN IRAQ WITH HIM.....

The venom above is apparently in response to my writing that I desire to prevent future tragedies such as my late husband’s murder by understanding exactly how my husband was killed and how his killer was permitted to go free.

According to my website’s logs, the commentator used a computer associated with Computer Sciences Corporation in Falls Church, Virginia after searching for “widows for justice/allen and esposito” via Yahoo. Reviewing my logs, this commentator has repeatedly visited my website from this IP address as the address shows up several times as the product of the same search terms and search engine. Needless to say, I will be contacting Michael Laphen, CEO of Computer Sciences Corporation, to ask him why an anonymous coward affiliated with his company is publicly smearing my slain husband using his company’s computers and internet connection. I expect a full and proper answer.

I will also briefly address the anonymous commenter’s claim that my late husband was an “asshole” and that I need to “move on.” As much as these comments are beneath my contempt, they nevertheless speak to the larger issues that animated the needless and preventable murder of my late husband and 1LT Allen.
My husband was murdered because of his virtues. A hardworking, just and moral military leader, Phillip was brought into the 42nd Infantry Division to command a grossly undisciplined and unprofessional unit and prepare it for the rigors combat in Iraq. Yet Phillip’s dedication and sense of duty was not met in kind; quite the opposite, the court-martial of his murderer revealed that soldiers of the 42nd Infantry Division deeply resented the discipline and accountability that my late husband worked to instill in his unit.

So when Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, the man who murdered my husband, told practically anyone who would listen that he hated Phillip for holding him to account for his professional incompetence and that he wanted to kill him accordingly, Martinez found a largely sympathetic audience among the soldiers of the 42nd Infantry Division. Certainly none of these soldiers ever reported Martinez for his statements and gestures of contempt against my husband as demanded by the Uniform Code of Military Justice and their enlisted or commissioning oaths. Certainly Martinez’s murderous rage was never checked by anything these soldiers did or said to him. And today, much as it was during Martinez’s murder trial, the justification for this galling failure to act has been made plain. As the anonymous commentator posted on my website, my murdered husband was an all-caps “asshole”--the implication being that such “assholes” deserve everything they get, to include their murder at the hands of an unrepentant coward.

The anonymous commenter will no doubt be disheartened to learn that I reject their smear against Phillip and their free advice in regards to my own actions. On the contrary; their post helps to affirm my view that Staff Sergeant Martinez would not have been able to slaughter my husband and LT Allen but for the appalling lack of professionalism and military discipline in 42nd Infantry Division.

I shall not accept my husband’s murder and I shall not “move on” because it serves the vicious interest of some miscreant that my husband had the misfortune of serving with in Iraq. I seek nothing less than justice, and I shall be neither deterred, nor denied.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Ominous Parallel

On Thursday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee issued its report on the Fort Hood shootings; this report faults the Army and FBI with missing warning signs that could have prevented the massacre:

Our basic conclusion is as follows: Although neither DoD nor the FBI had specific information concerning the time, place, or nature of the attack, they collectively had sufficient information to have detected Hasan's radicalization to violent Islamist extremism but failed both to understand and to act on it. Our investigation found specific and systemic failures in the government's handling of the Hasan case and raises additional concerns about what may be broader systemic issues. [P. 7, “A Ticking Time Bomb: Counterterrorism Lessons From The U.S. Government's failure To Prevent The Fort Hood Attack” (emphasis mine).
This conclusion parallels my own concerning the murder of my late husband Phillip Esposito by Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez in 2005; that is, leaders in Phillip’s unit did not have specific information concerning the time, place, or nature of Martinez’s attack against my husband, but they did have sufficient information to have detected Martinez’s vicious animus toward Phillip, only to fail to act properly against it.

The difference is that I believe that leaders in my late husband’s unit understood Alberto Martinez’s hatred toward my husband, but they simply allowed themselves to be disarmed in the face of it, either because they resented my husband for his role in instilling proper military discipline among those under his command, or because they were charmed enough by Martinez to grant him exception to the rules that govern the conduct of members of the armed forces and forbid gestures of hatred and contempt toward one's commanders.

This explains one of the reasons I seek the records from the court-martial of my husband's killer: I seek to understand why leaders in my late husband's unit failed to protect my husband's life and how such failures may be prevented in the future. I believe that Phillip's murder reflects systemic problems within the Army as do the killings at Ft. Hood, and that to leave these problems unaddressed is not acceptable, neither to me, nor the American people.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Army FOIA Lawsuit Coverage in The Journal News

Today Journal News reporter Hema Easley covered my lawsuit against the US Army for its refusal to provide records from the court martial and acquittal of Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez, my late husband's murderer [link here].

My key quote is below:
"My monument to Phillip's life is to work to prevent future tragedies such as his death," Esposito said in a statement.

"To fulfill that purpose, I need to fully understand why my husband was murdered and how his killer was permitted to go free. I need the records of his accused murderer's trial," she said.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Widow of Slain Soldier Sues Army for Access to Trial Records

Today I filed suit against the Army for unjustly denying me records of the 2008 court-martial and acquittal of Army Staff Sergeant Alberto B. Martinez, the soldier accused of murdering my late husband Phillip and First Lieutenant Louis Allen. Below is the text of the media release I submitted to newspapers:
Widow of Slain Soldier Sues Army for Access to Trial Records

Summary: Siobhan Esposito, widow of slain US Army officer Captain Phillip Esposito, is suing the Army for records from the 2008 court-martial of a soldier who was acquitted of murdering her husband.

ALEXANDRIA, VA, January 19, 2011 — Siobhan Esposito, the widow of murdered US Army officer Captain Phillip Esposito, has filed suit against the Department of the Army for its failure to turn over records surrounding the 2008 court-martial and acquittal of Army Staff Sergeant Alberto B. Martinez, whom the Army had accused of murdering Esposito.

Mrs. Esposito’s lawsuit, filed today before the US District Court for the District of Columbia, asserts that the Army wrongly denied her Freedom of Information Act request for the record of Martinez’s 2008 murder trial. She believes the court-martial and acquittal represent an unacceptable low point in the Army’s administration of justice and that the injustice of her husband’s death demands public scrutiny.

“My husband was a West Point graduate and a dedicated officer who upheld the highest standards of personal integrity and leadership. He was a wonderfully loving husband and devoted father. Phillip’s absence in our daughter’s and my life is deeply painful,” says Esposito, “and his needless murder and the inexcusable acquittal of his murderer is a nightmare that demands a full and just accounting.”

“My monument to Phillip’s life is to work to prevent future tragedies such as his,” says Esposito. “To fulfill that purpose, I need to fully understand why my husband was murdered and how his killer was permitted to go free. I need the records of his accused murderer’s trial.”

“There is no legitimate reason for the Army to further insult Phillip’s memory by denying me the ability to review its files surrounding his case so that I may learn from these records and press the Army to take the necessary action to prevent similar tragedies in the future.”

Esposito is represented by Eugene R Fidell of Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell LLP. His practice includes federal administrative law and military justice, a field in which he frequently serves as a commentator for national and foreign news media.

Media Contact:
Siobhan Esposito

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Show lewd videos, get fired. Allow two men to be murdered, don't get fired.

According to the AP, a Navy Captain has been removed from his command because of raunchy comedy videos he made and showed to his command several years ago.

"While Capt. Honors' performance as commanding officer of USS Enterprise has been without incident, his profound lack of good judgment and professionalism while previously serving as executive officer on Enterprise calls into question his character and completely undermines his credibility to continue to serve effectively in command," Harvey said in a statement read to reporters in Norfolk on Tuesday afternoon. [AP]
Contrast the Navy's action here with the Army's actions surrounding the murder of my late husband, Captain Phillip Esposito and First Lieutenant Louis Allen by Alberto Martinez, a soldier under my husband's command. In my late husband's case, Martinez issued hundreds of death threats prior to his act of murder; nevertheless, none of the individuals who heard these threats and failed to act against them have been held to account for their own "profound lack of good judgment and professionalism."

The fact is that Capt. Honors' video hurt literally no one, yet the Navy's punishment of this officer was infinitely more severe than any imposed upon those whose inaction led to my husband's murder. It goes without saying that there ought to be more justice for my late husband and Lt. Allen than what we have received.