"51769","2/4/2006 9:35","06BUCHAREST199","Embassy Bucharest","CONFIDENTIAL","06BUCHAREST178","VZCZCXRO6156
OO RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHBM #0199/01 0350935
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 040935Z FEB 06
FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3599
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUFGAID/USCINCEUR INTEL VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE","C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 000199
STATE FOR EUR/NCE BILL SILKWORTH
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/03/16
TAGS: PREL, PGOV, KCRM, ASEC, SOCI, MARR, MOPS, RO
SUBJECT: VANGOETHEM VERDICT: PUBLIC OUTRAGE CONTINUES
REF: BUCHAREST 178
Classified By: Classified by Ambassador Nicholas Taubman for Reasons 1.
4 B and D
1. (C) Summary. The acquittal of former MSG Detachment Commander Christopher VanGoethem on January 31 of negligent homicide continues to receive prominent press coverage, with political leaders and the general public alike questioning the reasons for the verdict as well as the commitment of the USG to ensure justice. Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu stressed to the Ambassador the importance of providing to the victim\'s family and more broadly to the Romanian people a sense that justice had been served. Protesters in front of the Embassy February 2 delivered a letter to the Ambassador expressing \"indignation\" with the way the U.S. \"managed the case.\" Embassy contacts predict more protests in coming days and weeks. Some local analysts have predicted an impact on our broader relationship, including the signed defense cooperation agreement awaiting parliamentary ratification. End Summary.
2. (SBU) Romanian print and broadcast media for a third consecutive day focused extensively on the acquittal on negligent homicide charges, and letter of reprimand for related conduct, of former Embassy Bucharest MSG DET Commander Staff Sergeant Chris VanGoethem. The latter was involved in a December 4, 2004 car accident that led to the death of Romanian rock star Teo Peter. Since the verdict, average Romanians have flooded television call-in shows and internet chat-rooms to express general outrage. Peter\'s son, in a widely broadcast interview, asserted that while he had previously \"believed in the American dream,\" he had now \"woken up to reality.\" Several news analysts opined that the incident in general has led many Romanians to reassess their views of the U.S., which could have a broader impact on our bilateral relationship.
3. (SBU) The press has also focused on details of the trial, asking if the Romanian government did all it could to ensure a fair review of the case. Several journalists interviewed the taxi driver who survived the crash but who had refused to travel to Quantico to testify -- despite urging from the U.S. military prosecutor -- on the grounds that the compensation for the trip would not adequately compensate him for his lost days of work. Other reports have emphasized the possibility of a civil suit by Peter\'s family against VanGoethem or even against the U.S. Government.
PM Tariceanu: Seeking a \"Sense of Justice\"
4. (C) Prime Minister Tariceanu, in a telephone conversation with the Ambassador February 3, expressed continued shock and surprise at the verdict, which he heard while he was visiting Turkey. He said he found it difficult to believe that a U.S. military defense attorney could even present in court \"outlandish allegations\" such as the possibility that Peter was not at the scene of the accident or that he did not die as a result of the impact. Tarciceanu told the Ambassador that he would be meeting with Peter\'s family immediately after the telephone call, but he confessed that he did not currently know what recourse Peter\'s family or the GOR had following the case. He confirmed that he had publicly offered Romanian assistance to the family for a civil case if that is something they are able to pursue. He stressed the importance of being able to provide at some point to the family and more broadly to the Romanian people a sense that justice had been served.
5. (C) The Ambassador conveyed his deep concern about the situation following the verdict and understanding of the bitterness expressed by Peter\'s family, friends, and fans. He cited the already close communication on the issue between embassies and governments in Washington and Bucharest and his commitment to ensuring this continued. He also asked PM Tariceanu to let us know what relief the family is seeking at this point. The PM committed to remain in touch and expressed appreciation to the Ambassador for reaching out so soon after the announcement of the verdict.
Protesters: U.S. Should \"Do What is Right\"
6. (SBU) A group of roughly 30 artists and other protesters February 2 demonstrated in front of the U.S. Embassy and signed a letter protesting the verdict. The Ambassador agreed to receive the letter directly from a representative of the BUCHAREST 00000199 002 OF 002 group, Peter Socaciu, who identified himself as a close friend of Peter\'s. Socaciu underscored the importance of American ideals to Peter and his associates and fans. Now, he said, many were \"supremely disappointed\" by what they characterized as an \"evasion of justice by the U.S.\" He asked the Ambassador to consider other means for giving Romanians a sense that justice had been done -- the U.S. should \"do what is right.\" He further expressed concern about what he characterized as a \"misrepresentation of facts\" during the trial, including the \"outlandish\" assertion by VanGoethem\'s defense attorney that Peter may have not died as a result of the impact. The Ambassador expressed continued U.S. regret over the accident and understanding of the anguish and discontent expressed by many Romanians with the verdict. He committed to forward the letter to the Department of State and Department of Defense in Washington.
7. (SBU) Separately, the Embassy has learned of many other planned actions and protests in coming days. Among other activities, in a prominent square in central Bucharest, a number of Peter\'s fans are collecting signatures on a petition to be delivered to the Embassy. A group of motorcyclists plans to demonstrate over the weekend by positioning their bikes in front of the Embassy and revving their engines.
Embassy Contacts At All Levels Express Outrage
8. (C) Views expressed directly by Embassy contacts have paralleled the strongly negative, often outraged, sentiments expressed by demonstrators and in the media. At a conference on Black Sea security, former defense minister approached PolOff and predicted that what \"you have done\" will have a \"long-term negative impact on U.S.-Romanian relations.\" Visibly upset, he characterized the verdict as inexplicable and indefensible. Separately, an MOD Counselor stated to us that there was \"shock, disbelief, and outrage\" among both civilians and military alike in the Defense Ministry. Senior Romanian Police Officials at the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI) Center also expressed disbelief and disappointment at the result. \"Many Romanians previously held the U.S. on a democratic pedestal,\" one parliament member opined to PolChief, \"now you look just as corrupt as us.\"
8. (C) Comment: Since the announcement of the verdict, the Embassy -- at all levels -- has made every effort to demonstrate compassion, transparency, and engagement on what has proven to be a profoundly troubling issue for Romanians of all political and social backgrounds. Although the parliamentary ratification of the U.S.-Romania defense cooperation agreement may not be in immediate peril, we nonetheless remain concerned that the fallout from the verdict and sentence could contaminate what has thus far been exemplary bipartisan support for ratification of the accord. The agreement is expected to be debated in coming weeks. More broadly, while the VanGoethem case and its immediate aftermath may fade from the headlines in coming weeks, we are also concerned about enduring scars to Romanian perceptions of the United States and the impact of this on our broader bilateral relationship. End Comment.