Military Justice and the New York Times

The New York Times has an editorial today with the tag “Guilty… as Ordered”, implying that the outcome of the Hamdan tribunal in Guantanamo was preordained. The imply that undue command influence was exerted on the trial of officers to return a verdict of guilty.

Not surprisingly, several bloggers, including the Instapundit and DrewM at Ace’s, weigh in showing just how stupid the Times editorial is.

One wonders if any member of the Times editorial board has ever even attended a court-martial. The Hamdan proceedings were not conducted under the Manual for Courts-Martial (PDF), but used a system based upon it.

I’ve only attended one court-martial (as a member of the peanut gallery, thank you very much!). My boss, LTC O sat on the court of a young soldier accused of hitting his Sergeant about the head and shoulders with a massive beer stein when said Sergeant paid what the Private thought was entirely too much attention to the Private’s spouse.  It was abundantly clear that the Sergeant has suffered some sort of injury to his head and shoulders, because he was still showing the effects several weeks later. Indeed, the accused admitted in open court that he had in fact struck his Sergeant with the beer stein. The prosecution asked for a guilty verdict of the charge of assualt with intent to cause grevious bodily harm. The counsel for the accused put up a very short defense, arguing that the Private had only struck the Sergeant once.

All this in about an hour of actual proceedings (the “housekeeping items” of the court took about two hours). Off went the court to deliberate. It was an open and shut case- you do NOT smack your Sergeant around.

Comes the court back to deliver its verdict: Not Guilty. How on earth did the court return a verdict like that? Because the officers who made up the court took their oath seriously. They reviewed the evidence and determined that while the Private had indeed committed assault upon the Sergeant, there had been no intent to cause grevious bodily harm. The prosecution, having failed to include counts of lesser included offenses, did not give the court the option of a guilty verdict for simple assault. The officers of the court took the only option open to them. The young Private soldier was free to go.

That case cemented for me the opinion that if I were to ever face a jury, I’d rather face a jury of dedicated, serious officers committed to justice and their oaths than face a jury of my “peers” who were too stupid to get out of jury duty.

For the New York Times to show its disdain for the officers who faced the difficult and perhaps distasteful duty of serving on the tribunal for Hamdan in such a blatant manner says a lot more about their poor sense of honor than anything about the validity of the tribunal system itself.