Monday, September 27, 2004

Whitewashing war-crimes

A while ago I blogged about the difference between British and American attitudes towards crimes committed by soldiers. The British prosecute in open court whereever possible, pour encourager les autres; the Americans seem happy to give their criminals a slap on the wrist - even for torture. Today there's more startling evidence of this disparity. While there are honourable exceptions,

by more than a 2-to-1 ratio, military officials have handed down administrative discipline rather than pursue criminal punishments for service members accused of prisoner abuse or sexual-assault crimes in war zones, according to records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and a Pentagon source.

"Administrative discipline" means

reprimands, fines, rank reductions, bars on Internet use and "Chapter 10" agreements, which allow some soldiers who admit guilt to leave the military under less-than-honorable conditions but without being prosecuted.

The examples quoted in the story should give an idea of the ludicrous injustice of this approach. Murder a prisoner? Resign. Rape a fellow soldier? Resign. Beat and abuse POWs, resulting in broken bones? Resign. Oversee that as an officer? Resign. This isn't justice. These people should be facing trial and imprisonment, not a plane-ticket home to civilian life.

As for those who want to continue to claim that this is "just a few bad apples", this sick parody of justice is condoned at the highest levels of the US military. Local commanders cover up for their men by declining to prosecute, and their superiors rubber-stamp the decisions - all the way up to General-officer level. And the incentives it sets? Abuse or kill Iraqis, and you get to go home. Now that's a discouragement.

This process simply has no credibility, and it will not have any until the decision on whether to prosecute is placed in completely independent hands. Until then, the US military can rightly be accused of protecting its own, and of whitewashing war-crimes.