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Trib's Prine wins major investigative award

| Thursday, April 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine has won a coveted 2012 Investigative Reporters & Editors Medal for an eight-page special section, “Rules of Engagement,” about the slayings by an Army Small Kill Team leader of two deaf, unarmed Iraqi teen brothers tending cows in As Sadah.

Sgt. Michael Barbera also ordered the shooting death minutes later of the brothers' deaf teen cousin, who was going to help with the cattle when he came upon the Small Kill Team's chaotic evacuation. Though five members of the squad told superiors about the shootings and Army investigators recommended Barbera be prosecuted for murder and conspiracy through the military justice system, two Army generals at the 82nd Airborne in Fort Bragg, N.C., decided to take no action.

Barbera was later promoted to staff sergeant. A phone threat to Prine's wife that he back off the story or risk harm to her and himself was traced to Barbera's cell phone, but no criminal charges resulted.

The Kill Team soldiers told Prine they believed the boys' March 6, 2007 slayings led to two truck bomb attacks by insurgents on their forward outpost in the village that killed a total of 10 comrades — the 82nd's worst combat loss since the Vietnam War. Trib graphics artist Jason Lanza used animation for an online presentation that told how the killings and the truck bombings occurred.

The IRE judges praised Prine for “relentlessly” pursuing the story, including traveling at “personal peril” with only an interpreter-driver from Kurdistan to the Iraqi village to interview the boys' families. At the time of the December 2011 trip into Diyala province, American troops had already left for Baghdad as part of the U.S. withdrawal.

“A stunning example of good, old-fashioned, shoe-leather reporting,” the judges said of Prine's work. “A courageous story and a wonderfully spun tale.”

Other newspaper winners among IRE honorees in 16 categories from among 490 entrants included: three Chicago Tribune reporters, who won the Freedom of Information Award for exposing rampant absenteeism in city schools and indifference by officials; USA Today reporter Brad Heath, who won the Tom Renner Award for revealing that dozens of men had been locked up on gun possession charges even though a federal appeals court ruled they had committed no federal crime; two New York Times reporters who described how Wal-Mart used bribes and other practices to fuel growth in its Mexican subsidiary; two Belleville (Ill.) News Democrat reporters, who revealed the deaths of severely disabled adults in their own homes were not being investigated by the state agency assigned to protect them; and Alex Stuckey, a reporter with Ohio University's student newspaper, The Post, who compiled a database of items seized by or forfeited to area law enforcement agencies during drug arrests to show the agencies weren't tracking what happened to them or could not account for them.

To see all the winners, go to http://bit.ly/10TeGhN.

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