Manning Up

February 23, 2012

Did you see that video a little while ago where the American soldiers were videotaped urinating on the corpses of deceased Taliban fighters?  It was disturbing, to say the least.  Understandably, it made newspaper headline all around the world.

What ever happened to that story?  Were the soldiers identified and brought to justice?  Was a formal apology issued?  Were other military personnel educated about the inappropriateness of those actions?  As a non-American civilian, I may never know.  I can speculate that all of these things would be a best case scenario.  Ideally some of these things would happen as part of a larger recognition of wrongdoing.  Hopefully the response would be as much about repairing harmed international relationships as it would be about saving face. One can dream.

While we don’t know what happened there, we do know what is happening in a similar case. A few years before this urinating soldiers video, there was another video released secretly that became known as the “collateral murder” video. It showed video footage taken from a US military helicopter. In the video, you can see unarmed civilians (two of them were later identified as Reuters journalists) being fired on and killed by the soldiers in the helicopter.  The video also provides audio of the soldiers laughing about the scene. Whereas the other one mysteriously appeared on YouTube all of a sudden, this one was released by Wikileaks, a website that invited people to anonymously submit secret information.

While we may hum and haw about what might happen to the soldiers in the peeing video, there is one person I hadn’t asked about.  What about the person who released the video to the public? The video was probably shot with military equipment, or at least by military personnel on military time.  Shouldn’t this person face military discipline?  But sure, you might be saying, surely someone who witnesses this kind of immoral and/or criminal behaviour is obligated to release evidence and should be protected when they do so.

In the second case, there has been no mention of what happened to the soldiers who fired on and killed unarmed civilians. There has been no explanation made of what, if anything, was done to apologize the families of those killed. There is however one ongoing criminal case, which had a hearing today, that is connected to this video’s story.

The man who released that video to the public has been held in captivity for two years, much of that time in solitary confinement.  During the arraignment hearing today, he chose not to enter a plea, which buys his defense team some time to strategize.  He faces 22 charges, the most serious of which is aiding the enemy.

Every now and then, there is an event that foreign journalists are more interested than the local ones, and this was it. Perhaps if this played out in the open, the military might lose the public opinion poll. Does a video like this aid the enemy?  Does this kind of thing enrage the enemy so much that more soldier’s lives are endangered?  If the answer to both of these question is no, and I believe that it is, then an innocent man is being put in prison for the rest of his life.

Not only is he innocent, but he should be help up as a hero.  After WWII, the Americans tried all sorts of German prisoners with war crimes.  The common plea was that they were just following orders.  The American judges declared that despite the political and legal climate at the time, each of them as human being were called to a higher level of dignity and should have refused the Nazi orders.  Even the American legal system requires that soldier report war crimes.  So, is it a war crime to shoot innocent, unarmed, uninvolved civilians and journalists, or is it a crime to release a video of that?

The trouble with war crimes is, that when you win, there is no one to try you for the crimes you do. This case, unfortunately has nothing to do with war crimes. It has everything to do with making the US military look bad.  Rather than punish the decision makers at the top for giving them a bad name, they punish the ones at the bottom who haven’t bought 100% in to the propaganda machine.

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