The Legal Services building at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, about 45 minutes south of Seattle, is old school. In fact, memories of a 1950s-era school house come to mind. Long wooden benches line even longer linoleum hallways. But the subject matter is quite adult in courtroom No. 2. In fact, it’s quite restricted. The U.S. Army alleges Pfc. Andrew Holmes of Boise participated in crimes, including murdering Afghan civilians, collecting and keeping body parts, and heavy drug use.
An Article 32 hearing convened Monday morning at Lewis-McChord, with a witness list comprised of investigating Army special agents, a traumatic injury specialist, a forensic pathologist and numerous members of Bravo Company, Second Battalion, First Infantry Regiment, Fifth Brigade. Holmes and four other members of Bravo Company are charged with operating a “kill team” while stationed in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province. Seven other members of the company are accused of conspiracy to cover up the crimes.
The equivalent of a judge in an Article 32 hearing is an investigating officer. In this case, Maj. Michael Liles, who has no legal background, was assigned to oversee the evidentiary hearing. At the conclusion of the Article 32, Liles will make a report of conclusion and recommendation on whether to move forward with a full court martial.
An Article 32 is often compared to a civilian grand jury hearing, but there are significant differences. For one, grand juries are closed, secret proceedings. An Article 32 is open to the press and public. Two benches are accommodating family members and the press in the crowded courtroom, which officials say is the largest on the base.
As Liles began Monday’s proceedings, he asked Holmes a series of routine questions.
“Do you understand your rights?” asked Liles.
Holmes jumped to his feet. “Yes sir,” he said.
Liles told Holmes he could simply answer yes while sitting down, reminding him that he had many more questions and the day was expected to be quite long.