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The following is from my book (in draft) The Next Golden Age of America – We Can Give Our Grandchildren a Better World
I’m watching the news this morning on the sentencing trial of Sgt. Robert Bales, the U.S. Army sergeant who in a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty admitted to murdering 16 Afghan civilians on March 11, 2012. The AP reports (Tri-City Herald, August 20, 2013) that the sentencing trial is expected to take a week, and will determine whether he gets life with or without parole. Forgive me, but this looks more like an orchestrated media circus than a purposeful trial.
Why should it take a week for Army jurors to decide a sentence? Why have we flown in nine Afghan villagers to testify? With the admission of guilt and plea bargain, it should take a Court Marshal about five minutes to determine that he gets life without parole, period. And why the Afghan villagers? This will simply be an exercise in frustration for them. In their country, under their laws, the only sentence that would be considered justice is death. I agree with them. If someone committed a similar crime in the U.S., most of us would say the death penalty is appropriate. The exception being those categorically opposed to capital punishment
My recommendation: The U.S. should establish a policy that if military personnel are found guilty (by admission or by U.S. military trial) of premeditated murder of foreign citizens, then they are turned over to that country for trial and sentencing. The military trial would protect them from a potentially unfair trail in the host country. I recognize that turning Sgt. Bales over the Afghans would be an automatic death sentence, but justice would be served. He murdered 16 civilians, many of them children. It might at least improve international relations a little, by showing that we hold ourselves accountable for our actions.
Extenuating circumstances: The above news article reports that Sgt. Bales was on his fourth tour in the Middle East, and during a prior tour he had been given a malaria drug later determined to cause, “serious psychiatric side effects.” The U.S. deploying our military personnel multiple times to the Middle East, and without better medical care and oversight, makes us all a little guilty. History shows us occupational wars are bad for all. We elected the political leaders making these decisions. We need to vote smarter. However, this does not relieve Sgt. Bales of his personal responsibility for his actions. Would he have done this if his commanding officer was standing behind him with an M-16? No.
My heart goes out to his parents and wife who sent a fine young man off to proudly and honorably serve his country, only to have their country return a disgraced murderer. My heart goes out to his children who will live with this forever, no matter how many times they are told, “Children are not responsible for their parents’ actions.” And let us not forget the families of the 16 murdered Afghans. Loss of love ones is a grief we can share across boarders, languages, and cultures.
If we are to give our Grandchildren a better world, we need to vote for and support leaders who: 1) will carefully weigh military force versus all other options, and 2) consider the “What next” when military force is to be used.