Commentary by Lieutenant Colonel John Lewis Cook, USA (ret.)
American military justice is highly regarded throughout the world due to the safeguards against abuse built into the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The military is justly proud of the fairness of this system, free from political influences that could determine the outcome of any court martial proceedings. Everyone involved must swear a sacred oath to be impartial and be influenced only by the evidence presented against the accused. All oaths are taken seriously in the military because the penalty for violating any oath is swift and usually severe. The accused is even allowed to bring in civilian attorneys to mount a defense. As a result, the decisions rendered at a military count martial are rarely challenged in federal court. The key to the system is the fact that it is applied the same way, hence uniformly, across all services and all ranks.
However, two cases currently working their way to trial presents a cause for concern. First is the Sergeant Robert Bales case. Bales has been charged with sixteen counts of capital murder as the result of an alleged shooting spree he went on in southern Afghanistan on March 11th, 2012. He is charged with murdering unarmed Afghan men, women and children. Bales was on his fourth combat tour at the time and had previously been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, he was cleared for his fourth and final tour in spite of that. Last week, the Army announced it will seek the death penalty in the case and plans to move it quickly to trial. The last time the military carried out an execution was on April 16th, 1961, when John A. Bennett was hanged at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Now consider the case of Major Nidal Malik Husan. Husan has been charged with shooting forty-two Americans at Fort Hood, Texas on November 5th, 2009, killing thirteen. This was over three years ago and the case has not yet proceeded to trail. The government is not expected to seek the death penalty in this case. Husan, a devout Muslim, has never served in combat and it is unlikely he can raise the PTSD defense. We know now that he had ties to radical Muslims and that his colleagues and superiors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center were very concerned about his irrational behavior before he was assigned to Fort Hood. Yet no one intervened. Why? What were they afraid of?
So why are these cases being treated so differently? We know that President Hamid Karzai has demanded that the shooter responsible for killing the sixteen Afghans in southern Afghanistan be “severely punished.” In the Muslim world, that means the accused must be executed. Is the administration putting undue pressure on the Army to dispose of the Bales case as quickly as possible, in the severest possible manner, in order to appease Karzai? How else do we explain this unusual rush to judgment in such a serious case? And how does the Army explain the unusually long delay in getting the Husan case before a court martial. And why does the administration insist on calling the shooting at Fort Hood “work place violence” rather than a domestic act of terror committed in the center of the Army’s largest installation? No one ever called the Afghan shooting “work place violence.” Is this a case of discrimination based on rank, where an enlisted man is more severely punished than an officer? Or is there a deeper, darker agenda at work here? At this point, it appears that both cases are headed for a gross miscarriage of justice and the highly respected military justice system is about to be permanently stained. If that is allowed to happen, we all lose. Was Karzai secretly assured that Bales would be “severely punished” in order to appease the Afghan president? And if he was, who assured him? Certainly not the Army. Could it have been our President, who has shown unusual deference to the Muslim world since taking office? Was the Muslim world secretly told that Husan would escape the death penalty in order to appease Islam? Right now, we don’t know. The problem is the perception of unequal treatment that the Army has allowed to fester in both of these cases. That’s why professional journalists need to dig into both cases and get to ground truth. As of now, no adequate explanation has been offered by the Army and it doesn’t appear one will be forthcoming willingly. Why the difference? Is military justice about to be sacrificed at the alter of political correctness in order not to offend Islam? Both of these cases scream out for answers immediately because neither case passes the smell test right now.
About the Author
Lieutenant Colonel John Lewis Cook, United States Army (Retired), “served as the Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Interior in Kabul, Afghanistan, with responsibility for developing the force structure for the entire Afghan National Police. As of 2012, this force totals 157,000. From March 2008 until August 2012, his access and intimate associations with all levels of the Afghan government and coalition forces have provided him with an unprecedented insight into the policies which will determine the outcome of the war. It is this insight, coupled with his contacts and associations throughout Afghanistan that form the basis of Afghanistan: The Perfect Failure
Click to read more about Lt. Colonel John Lewis Cook