An Afghan man strolled through the defensive perimeter of a US mortar site and was stopped by the sergeant in charge. Not believing the man out on the stroll, the sergeant straddled him and shot him in the head. Premeditated murder was the court ruling. The soldier has been imprisoned for life with no parole. Sounds just right. But.
The soldiers dilemma is that he is trained to kill the enemy and protect himself and his unit. And protect any other civilians. The sergeant almost certainly thought that the man was a threat to his men doing a recce and whacked him. Those areas can get fuzzy at times, when the enemy has no uniform, and at times are completely ignored when one feels oneself to be in mortal danger.
During the invasion of Normandy it was general practice for the airbourne troops to take no prisoners and the practice was mutual. Prisoners were routinely killed on both sides during the opening phases of the battle and allied soldiers were ordered not to take prisoners, who would merely hinder their movement. Snipers on both sides were routinely killed upon capture. And then we have the behaviour of the Taliban who torture, mutilate and execute at will. In the face of that soldiers develop a certain mind-set and their commanders know that mond-set only too well.
One soldier set to guard several dozen ss men in a newly liberated concentration camp during WWIIlost it completely after the horrors he has seen and mowed then down with his heavy machine gun.He was court martialed. The General in charge tore up the court martial order. He too has seen the horrors of the camp.
The Russians, on their entry into Prussia and along their march on Berlin, raped and murdered at will on an unimaginable scale.After the Germans had killed 18 million of them.
Churchill wanted all SS men to be summarily executed after capture after a summary trial conducted by an officer of sufficiently high rank.
In battle situations since time immemorial soldiers have in cold blood killed captured enemy soldiers.
In the heat of battle, after seeing close friends killed and mutilated one views the enemy through extremely hostile eyes.
But one wonders why the law was applied so forcefully in this case and not in the many murders committed by Blackwater security men, involving the death of far more innocent civilians.The cases against them have fallen away into obscurity, whereas the said sergeant will spend the remainder of his days in prison.
Recall the case of the fighter pilot who was put on trial for bombing the observer post rather than the target, killing several observers from several NATO countries? His lawyer argued in open court that he could not be convicted because Amphetamines are regularly issued to fighter pilots who have to make split second decisions. At that point the court was closed and I for one never found out what happened.
And then we have Bomber Harris and his men. Night after night, day after day, bombing German civilian cities, indiscriminately killing hundreds of thousands of civilians.Berlin, Hamburg, Dresden and dozens more. The latter day equivalent, albeit it not on the same scale, are the operators of the predator drones. In the comfort of a room in the USA they kill from the skies. More often than not several civilians are killed. What about their culpability? The U-Boat forces sinking freighters at high sea.
And then we come to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.And after the war 90% of the Nazi murderers got away with it scott free.
GUantanamo Bay, renditions, secret prisons, torture, murder, waterboarding. All pardoned by Obama.NOt one of those CIA operators serving time.
Where does one draw the legal line?
It appears that it is the Lt.Calleys and Sgt. Derrick Millers who, to use an American term, have to take the symbolic rap of justice being upheld in the armed forces of the USA, or any other nation for that matter.One has to set examples and those examples are random and always involve members of the Rank and File. One can just imagine the bitterness of Sgt. Miller, who knows he is the unlucky one amongst hundreds to be singled out in order to set an example. When one is controlling soldiers under immense strain who have lost buddies as well as their sense of justice, examples have to be set, but would it not be great if they were set by court martialling a general?
The men higher up on the ranking scale are seldom if ever put on trial. Nuremberg was an exception, albeit flawed and the Court in the Hague a good start. A very good start. ANY court of law that tries leaders and not necessarily those who follow their orders is a good thing because recognized or not they are way back in the mind of those officers and Presidents who issue the orders.
July 28th 2011