Wednesday, October 18, 2006


CNN: Four U.S. Soldiers Charged With Rape And Murder

I've only just heard about this, but I must say, the details sound horrifying.

Two thoughts come to mind. One: as bad as it sounds, I do not approve of the copious details that have apparently been leaked to the press. The soldiers in question have only had a hearing; their court-martial, which will determine if they are guilty (and, if so, what punishment is merited), has yet to be held. Releasing details from their hearing, before the trial, constitutes a trial -- and conviction -- in the court of public opinion, and that's not how our justice system works, nor should it.

My second thought relates to the death penalty, which the murderers and rapists could face if found guilty. To which I reply: good. If they are found guilty of the crimes for which they stand accused, I want them to fry.

* * * * *

I believe strongly, you see, that soldiers on occupation duty have high standards to maintain -- much higher than in other situations. Offenses that might get an American soldier a slap on the wrist, or a night in the brig, if they happened Stateside, could cause an international incident if they happened in Iraq. Even a relatively minor offense -- stealing, say, or extortion -- would reflect badly not just on the soldier committing the offense, but also on the soldier's unit, on the U.S. military as a whole, and even on the entire United States. The punishments resulting from such crimes should reflect that.

And it is hard to imagine a more horrific crime, on a personal level, than the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl (and the murder of her family and the desecration of the bodies). It is part of the military's job to protect little girls.

I could almost wish that, were Spec. James P. Barker, Sgt. Paul Cortez, Pfc. Steven D. Green, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard to be found guilty, that they would be turned over to the Iraqi criminal justice system. But that will not happen, nor should it. The U.S. Army bears responsibility for all of the actions of all of its men and women in uniform, and must shoulder the burden of finding out what happened -- and of punishing the guilty. These obligations cannot be handed off to someone else.

I also regret that, from the sound of it, Steven Green -- since he was discharged from the Army in May due to an "anti-social personality disorder" -- will be facing criminal charges in a civilian court. (He is currently under arrest in a Kentucky jail.) Somehow, I suspect that he may wind up with a much lighter sentence than his alleged partners-in-crime -- which is a damn shame, since he seems to have been one of the ringleaders.

But again, I do not want to pass judgement without the facts -- and the facts will be determined at the courts-martial (and at Green's trial), not at the preliminary hearing. It is not up to us to decide their guilt or innocence, and it's emphatically not up to the press. The courts will decide -- and, if the evidence points to their guilt, I have no doubt whatsoever that the Army will waste no time with kid gloves.

I don't think there's any need to hope for justice; I'm confident that justice will be done. Instead, let us pray for Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, whose all-too-short life ended in a most horrible way, allegedly at the hands of soldiers who should have been protecting her.

UPDATE: Blackfive points out that there are important reasons, other than the report above, to have issues with CNN.

When CNN reprints a story that has been covered worldwide, by al-Jazeera among others -- it's not clear to me where the story broke first -- then the ethical issues can seem cloudy. (Does it make sense to spike a story such as this, on the theory that the soldiers do not deserve to be pilloried in the press before their trial, if the story is covered by everyone else anyway? Reasonable minds may well differ.)

But running a story from the perspective of the terrorists -- while they are actively shooting at American troops, no less! -- is, or should be, beyond the pale for an American news organization. (Whether they like it or not, CNN is an American news organization. They are based in Atlanta, as they always have been -- and it is the laws and society of the United States that enabled CNN to be founded and thrive in the first place.)

Terrorism cannot thrive -- indeed, it cannot survive -- without the press. Without press coverage, a terrorist attack cannot cause terror in the general population, because the general population simply doesn't find out about it. When CNN disseminates the terrorists' press releases and talking points, they are doing more than assisting terror -- they are participating in terror.

On a less theoretical subject, I'd very much like to hear how U.S. soldiers respond -- the same soldiers, perhaps, who were targeted by terrorist snipers in the film CNN so carefully aired -- when next CNN demands military protection.

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