Saturday, May 24, 2008

Crime and What Punishment?

One of the big stories in the world this past week, until Clinton opened her mouth, was the spate of apologies issued by the US Government (first by Brig. Gen. Jeffery W. Hammond and then by President Bush )for a US soldier's use of a Qu'ran for target practice in Iraq.

At least there is some general consensus that apology was an appropriate response. The NY Times reports a general bipartisan consensus the act was wrong, and the apology the right thing to do. It's also the smart thing to do: social science evidence documents the importance of formal apologies for smoothing over relations between aggrieved groups, and reproducing collective standards of appropriate behavior. Some of it is documented in this book.

So an apology was in order. But was it be enough? Seems not. Interestingly, the dance of contrition seemed to be more of a news-story than the shooting itself. The USG has emphasized the apology but carefully protected the identity of the offending soldier and whisked him(her?) out of the country.

Iraqis didn't ask for a mere apology and Afghani protesters don't seem satisfied with one. The Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars made a very simple request: that the soldier receive the "most severe punishment possible." It's worth considering what that would be.

Though it is often said (and I seem to have read)that desecrating religious objects is a crime under international law, I've had a hard time identifying the clause in the laws of war that would actually cover this type of behavior. Even if it does, it would not be considered a "grave breach" of the Geneva Conventions, so the US isn't actually required under treaty law to prosecute the individual in question.

So the question becomes: how will Soldier X be tried under the Uniform Code of Military Justice? I am not well versed in military law (Cleitus?) but it strikes me that since Lieutenant William Calley got only three years of house arrest, and a quick pardon, for butchering 500 civilians, and since the US has decided not to prosecute those responsible for the deaths of that the "most severe punishment possible" under US law for shooting a Koran might not be as severe as Iraqis hope.


hank_F_M said...

The sniper is in the details from Get Religion

The story implies (s)he received Non-Judicial Punishment under Article 15.

The Charge would probably have been Article 92(1) disobeying a general order. Punishment would very depending on the Rank of the officer imposing the punishment. At any rate (s)he has no career left in the military, There is an article about Geneva Convention violations but that applies to things which are not covered under other articles. Since this was a target range misconduct in the presence of the enemy would not apply.

Double Jeopardy probably applies so from a criminal trial point of view the issue is closed. Not he ICC where Double Jeopardy protection (Article 81) is a joke.


It was the civilian court system that let LT Calley loose, under a decision that makes no sense except for a bias against the Military justice system on the part of the appeals court or political interference.

Roy said...

Wow, what an emberrassment! I can't tell you how many times I ask, "What in the hell were they thinking?"

Speaking of, you've gone lean on the Star Trek posts as of late. Gargantuan heart...please fill.

Diodotus said...

Hank - thanks for the info on the mil law system. However, is it non-judicial punishment if there is a court-martial? Seems like that's what I read last.

Roy - Friday, my friend, this Friday. Stay tuned.

hank_F_M said...

Non-Judicial Punishment is not a Court Marital.

A court marital conviction is a Federal Criminal Conviction. It follows you forever. It can also result in an extensive period of jail time.

Non-Judicial Punishment is more or less the action an employer would take against a serious offense by wayward employee. Fine, reduction in rank, extra duty, corrective custody (which looks an awful lt like jail.) A solider can request a Court Martial in lieu of NJD, but I have never heard of some one doing it.

The session is conducted like an informal trial, I actually had a soldier who got the CO to throw out one of the counts against him.

What I read implied Non-Judicial Punishment. Double jepordy normally applies if there is NJD, I never bothered out figure out the multiple conditionaly claused paragraph where they explained the exceptions. Only a lawyer would like it.

Diodotus said...

Right - that's my whole point. I think it goes beyond non-judicial since there's a court-martial in the works. However, I must say I've not continued to follow the story. In all honesty the military has bigger fish it ought to be frying.

"; urchinTracker();