Saturday, October 27, 2007

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

SEATTLE - Black soldiers court-martialed 63 years ago in the rioting death of an Italian prisoner of war at Fort Lawton were unfairly denied access to their attorneys and investigative records and should have their convictions overturned, the U.S. Army said Friday.

On August 14, 1944, several dozen African American soldiers riot at Seattle’s Fort Lawton against Italian prisoners of war, and the next morning one of the Italians, Guglielmo Olivotto, is discovered hanged. Newspaper accounts in the coming days attribute the riot to the resentment of the black soldiers toward the Italian Prisoners of War due to the seemingly lenient, congenial treatment of the Italian soldiers. This is the story that receives nationwide attention, that Seattle officials and citizens react to, and that goes down in history. It is the story related in an earlier version of this file. What actually happened was suppressed at the time: the Army classified its investigation, and contemporary newspaper accounts were based on hearsay gathered in a bar days later and on similar dubious sources. The ensuing court martial results in the conviction of 23 African American soldiers, including one for killing Olivotto. Sixty years later the Army’s investigation conducted by Brigadier General Elliot D. Cooke is declassified, and researcher Jack Hamann discovers that what was alleged to have happened was not what really happened. This file is largely based on his book, On American Soil.

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