Guglielmo Olivotto was a shy Italian soldier who didn’t stray far from the base in Seattle where he, and many of his comrades, were kept as prisoners of war during World War II. But on an August night in 1944, a riot broke out between African-American and Italian soldiers and he was found dead, the victim of a lynching. People immediately assumed the black U.S. soldiers were to blame.
The Army convicted 28 black soldiers and sentenced them to a combined total of 200 years in prison. It wasn’t until journalist Jack Hamann investigated the case that the truth was uncovered: the soldiers were innocent, and a white Army policeman was most likely guilty of killing Olivotto.
In October, 2007 the US Army admitted the trial was “fundamentally unfair.” Now society is struggling with how to repay these innocent men — only two of whom are known to be alive — and their families. At Fort Lawton this week the surviving soldiers will receive honorable discharge from the military as part of a three-day celebration of their lives (and the life of Guglielmo Olivotto). The Senate plans to vote soon on what kind of settlement to award them and their descendants.
What do you think is society’s responsibility when people are wrongfully convicted? What should the US Government do for these Fort Lawton soldiers and their families? Is there concern that such a thing could happen today? Or is today’s military justice system entirely different?