Within the last two days, a video went viral of Marines urinating on the bodies of alleged Taliban fighters. Presumably, the Marines had recently completed a firefight, and the bodies are those of the enemy killed-in-action.
Many people are calling for blood. They want the President and Secretary Panetta to summarily sentence the Marines to life in prison for war crimes or try them at the Hague.
None of that will happen.
I spoke with several veterans of Iraq/Afghanistan. They think the Marines are immature, misguided, and possibly a little war-punch-drunk. It happens. If you read the book With The Old Breed by EB Sledge, he describes mistreatment of enemy KIA on islands stormed by Marines in the Pacific. Numerous accounts of similar acts arose out of the Vietnam War. We can’t expect someone to kill another human being and then be 100% mentally straight after the events.
Today’s generation is no different from previous ones. Knowing that you killed a fellow human being has a profound effect on a person’s mind–whether done with an M-1 Carbine, an M-4, or a tank. Knowing that the person you killed was trying to kill you and your buddies only compounds matters.
Sherman was never more correct than when he asserted “War is Hell.” Sending people anywhere to kill other people is a nasty affair. Technicolor and Kodachrome haven’t changed war, they just brought evidence in support of it’s realities to the general public.
Just look at D-Day Invasion portrayals. They started with sanitized, John-Wayne-esque hero worship where only secondary characters died, and even that was done without showing blood, dismemberment, or gore.
Now, Steven Spielberg showed us what it was really like, complete with splattering red goo and guys running around with their own severed limbs.
D-Day didn’t change through the years, but our ability to portray it has.
But, back to the Marines…
Essentially, their actions are to the military as whipping-out a Sharpie in the endzone is to professional football. (H/T to JMo). Immaturity, lack of perspective, and lack of involved leadership results in idiotic behavior.
The Marines disregarded much of their training. Having completed pre-deployment training myself along with my prior 5 years as a Lieutenant and Captain in the Army Infantry, I can tell you that much of military training focuses on obeying the Geneva Conventions, following the rules, taking-care of your buddies, and acting in a way that supports mission accomplishment. That includes displaying respect for enemy KIA/WIA and civilians-on-the battlefield as a means of winning hearts and minds. We even practiced these principles at Ranger School.
The act, while public, will be addressed by military authorities using the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). I promise you that the justice process in this matter will be as boring as possible, and the treatment of their cases will be given scrutiny by at least 4 levels of command (just like every other court-martial (and assuming their cases are actually brought to court-martial)). Leaders will consider the acts themselves, the stress experienced by those (presumably) young Marines, and the impact those actions have/had on the overall mission. It’s all very formulaic, and boring. I’d give you more detail, but then you’d stop reading this article.
How will they be punished? For starters, consider the two elements of Article 134, UCMJ (General Article):
That the accused did or failed to do certain acts; and
That, under the circumstances, the accused’s conduct was to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces or was of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.
There you go. Nothing new. Nothing to see here. The punishment can range from nothing to whatever the max is calculated to be. Ho hum.
Some don’t want it to be so sanitary and boring.
Some people want to bemoan their treatment as an indictment upon society and how each will be made into a scapegoat for our government’s (and society’s) shortcomings. None was more obvious than Norm Pattis’ blog. He spins the situation to support his own agenda and perhaps as a means of selling copies of his book.
It is distasteful to me.
As he begins the summation of his post, he states the following:
“Odds are the young men in this film will be strung up by military authorities. They will be treated like political road kill. Expect them to stuck in a military brig right next to Bradley Manning, and to be presumed guilty by the commanders who told them to run headlong into the arms of death. We will sacrifice them to make ourselves feel better.”
Let’s presume that they are brought to court-martial, per the previous quote.
Norm, did you consider that, when they are brought to justice, their disposition will be considered by a Company Commander, Battalion Commander, Brigade Commander, and Commanding General (not to mentioned their Noncommissioned Officer right arms)? Did you also include at least 2 lawyers on the prosecution side along with the Colonel who advises the Commanding General?
How about the appointed Defense Counsel provided by the government at no expense to the Marine (plus his assigned paralegal and possibly even an assigned co-counsel)? Did you factor-in the fact that, if one of the young Marines chooses to hire civilian counsel, they get to keep their appointed counsel (thereby receiving 2 for the price of one)?
Did you consider that they will continue to receive full pay and benefits until they are either a. sentenced to lose them at court-martial or b. discharged from the service?
Did you also consider that, should the matter be considered for court-martial, the Marine has the choice of having a bench trial (judge-alone), a jury of all officers (officer panel), or a jury comprised of at least 1/3 enlisted members (enlisted panel)? Did you figure the liberal (and required) military clemency procedures or the fact that each, if convicted, will likely receive an automatic and free appeal (with a different appointed counsel who specializes in appellate matters, and, yes, they can also hire a civilian to bolster their appellate team, if able)?
Did you consider that, if they choose a jury, most (if not all) have also been to combat. Odds are that a couple of jurors will have killed in their careers. I suggest that all will probably have lost a buddy or two during combat operations. Did you consider that the average military jury member has a Bachelor’s Degree (at least) and more than 10 years of military service? They get it, and they get it much better than you, Norm.
But, hey, that’s what the military does when someone is “strung up by military authorities.” They provide all that stuff I just listed when they “sacrifice [the Marines] to make ourselves feel better.” Clearly, the accused is provided all these procedural safeguards when they are “presumed guilty by the commanders who told them to run headlong into the arms of death.”
Aside: Did it ever occur to you, Norm, that those commanders are Marines themselves?
His analysis and presumptions are akin to someone who will push their agenda regardless of facts, conditions, outcomes, changes, or concessions. Give him a million dollars, and he’d condemn you for not providing a bag in which to carry it.
He continues his analysis of the process:
“The soldiers will be prosecuted. Their trial should be public. A key question at trial will be the matter of selective prosecution. Were these men prosecuted for what they did, or because there is a public record of what took place? I suspect it is the latter, and that we hypocrites don’t mind a little desecration in the service of military necessity. We just don’t want to be forced to watch it. Open the records. Tell us this never happened before; that it is unprecedented. We all know better. We know war is hell, and those who survive are singed forever by hellfire.”
Norm, at least two Commanding Generals out there are mentors of mine. I knew them when they were younger and of lesser rank. For one, I was his Adjutant, spending time in his office nearly every day. I saw what he thought, and I saw how he operated. They are trained as leaders, not politicians. They scrupulously guard their command. They don’t have an axe to grind or books to sell like you, Norm. They want to take care of the uniforms in their command, because that is how they are measured.
Unfortunately for the Marines in the video, the video is evidence. Believe it or not, the vast majority of military courts-martial never make the news. They are prosecuted using evidence that is not splattered upon CNN. The proceedings occur solemnly, professionally, and in accordance with established procedures. Just because you don’t read about a court-martial in the papers does not mean one doesn’t happen. The trials are almost always public (with the exception of those handling classified information), but few attend because they just aren’t that interesting to the average person.
Should the SecDef or President or other superior authority seek to influence the proceedings, the Defense Attorney will receive a grand gift, that of Unlawful Command Influence (UCI), universally accepted as the “Mortal Enemy of Military Justice,” and a silver bullet for any defense lawyer.
Did you consider, Norm, how much hay can be made by a military defense attorney when UCI rears it’s ugly head? Let’s put it this way, it is only ugly for the Command, not the defense.
Everyone in the military knows that crude acts have always occurred on the battlefield to enemy killed-in-action. How? They train on it. They receive classes on it. They learn the Geneva Conventions. Most importantly, they understand that it has happened before, and they know that those acts can destroy our ability to accomplish the mission and, subsequently, bring as many servicemembers home alive as soon as possible.
Those Marines in the video will be considered, investigated, judged, and (if guilty) sentenced by others who wear the uniform. They will be adjudged by other servicemembers. There will be Marines who have always been leaders. There will be Marines who served in combat. There will be Marines who lost friends in the mountains of Afghanistan and the plains of Iraq. There may even be a few who wear a purple ribbon on their uniform. They will use their experience, their compassion, their wisdom, and their understanding to dispose of this unsavory chapter in Marine history in a way they feel is fair and just. I can’t think of more capable, understanding, and able hands.
It is they, not the American public or Islamic leaders or advocacy groups, who will decide the fate of these Marines.
In the end, those Marines will be judged by their brothers and sisters in arms, and it’s a shame you find that so distasteful, Norm. These Marines are not pawns for you to use in waxing poetic about your perception of the American justice system or the fallacies of our society. Find some other way to establish yourself as the heir apparent to Gerry Spence.
The biggest shame is the fact that those with agendas will seek to utilize these Marines to enhance their own selfish talking points. That, in my mind, is the greatest injustice that could ever befall these young men.