Today's news that a military judge threw out Army Pfc. Lynndie England's guilty plea regarding Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse marks the lack of logic and commitment to justice exemplified by the U.S. military.
Consider this: when England pleaded guilty yesterday, she was informed that her plea would be revoked if any evidence during the punishment phase of her trial contradicted her plea of guilt. That's exactly what happened, because Charles Graner testified today that England should be treated with compassion given that she was just following orders. Judge Col. James Pohl exploded at England's defense team, saying that Graner's testimony contradicted England's guilty plea and that if she was just following orders, according to Pohl, she should not be pleading guilty at all.
In effect, Pohl is issuing judgement from a vacuum. On the one hand, he's telling England that she is innocent and it's the entire military that should be put on trial, not her. Yet everyone on earth knows that the U.S. military will not be put on trial for prisoner abuse. The system will never have to account as a whole for what it let happen; it will continue to finger certain individuals to take the fall for everyone. And given that, England is effectively prevented from truly defending herself at all. The military is basically telling her that she should've acted with 100% free will, when the first thing men and women are forced to do upon entering the military is to give up their free will.
This ruling pleases no one, and is bound to piss off just about everybody. Personally, I'd like to see England try and put the military on trial, but knowing how hard that would be, I can understand her desire to put this behind her, especially given how crippled any real attempt at defense would be. Her guilty plea should be accepted in the scheme of things and her punishment correspond to an organizational culture that not just allows but encourages people to do terrible things to others. What's clear is that the insular, back-room nature of the military courts does no one justice, especially when judges are entrenched in military culture but ruling as if it doesn't exist.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005