Billy Budd, three Navy Seals, and the spirit of the law 0

Billy Budd, by Herman Melville, is the story of an innocent, good young man, an illegitimate orphan, who is impressed into the Royal Navy when England is at war with France in 1797. The Captain of the ship on which he serves loves him, and so do all the crew except for one man, John Claggart, the Master-at-Arms. Motivated by malice, hate, and envy, Claggart falsely accuses Billy of planning mutiny. An astounded and disbelieving Captain Vere has to confront Billy with his accuser. Billy cannot answer the charge. Not only is he bewildered by the accusation which he only understands as a blatant lie, and has no idea how to convey his denial having never been taught to express himself, but in addition he is hampered by a speech impediment. In his frustrated and  desperate need to defend himself, he strikes out at Claggart and accidentally kills him. Captain Vere has no choice now but to have Billy court-martialled. As the only witness to the event, he defends Billy, sincerely believing in his profound innocence. But then, deeply paining his own feelings, he himself actually persuades the court-martial panel to sentence Billy to death, because although it is unjust, it is what the law prescribes. If an enlisted man kills an officer in a time of war, even accidentally, the law says he must be executed. So Billy Budd, a personification of human goodness, is hanged as a criminal.

What has recalled Billy Budd to our minds is the case of three Navy Seals in Iraq. One of them, Petty Officer First Class Julio Huertas is being tried today in Baghdad on charges relating to the hitting of  an enemy captive. The accusation has been brought by the captive himself, Ahmed Hashim Abed.

The US Marines had been searching for him as the leader of a murderous attack on four Blackwater contractors. Abed and his fellow Islamic savages killed the Americans, dragged their mutilated and burnt bodies through the streets of Falluja, and hung two of them on a bridge.

In what seemed like a triumph for justice, three brave Seals captured Abed, for which they should be commended and rewarded.

They handcuffed and blindfolded him, and proceeded to interrogate him. Later the prisoner was to complain that one of them had struck him. If so, the Seal was surely being all too merciful, considering that servicemen are paid not merely to strike but to kill the enemy. Astoundingly, however, all three of the Seals are to be court-martialled.

The other two are Petty Officer 2nd. Class Matthew McCabe  and Petty Officer 2nd. Class Jonathan Keefe.

Huertas and Keefe – who is also to be tried in Iraq – are charged with dereliction of duty, not taking more tender care of their captive.

McCabe is the one accused of hitting the terrorist murderer. He’ll be tried next month in Virginia.

Who, we’d like to know,  made the decision to try these three men, and why? Are they torn in their consciences like Captain Vere? Or are they merely small bureaucratic minds, long gone blind to justice as they scurry about in the purlieus of legal minutiae, intent on obeying the letter but not the spirit of the law?

Jillian Becker  April 21, 2010

Update April 22, 2010: Petty Officer First Class Julio Huertas has been cleared of all charges.

Ready, aim, get legal advice 0

This is a way to lose a war –

Stephen Brown writes at Front Page:

It makes one wonder how the West is ever going to win the war against radical Islam. …

Three navy SEALs have been charged for allegedly abusing a terrorist leader they had captured in Iraq last September.

The SEALs’ long-sought target, Ahmed Hashim Abed, is believed to have been the mastermind behind one of the most infamous incidents of the Iraq war: the murder and mutilation of four Blackwater security personnel in Fallujah in 2004. The four men were attacked when transporting supplies and had their bodies burned and dragged through the streets. Two of the corpses were then hung from a Euphrates River bridge.

Abed, the alleged planner of this barbarism, claims the navy’s elite commandos had punched him after his capture and that “he had the bloody lip to prove it.”…

Most right-thinking people would feel that, in the middle of a war, three such brave and highly-skilled warfare specialists, whose expensive training the American taxpayer has funded, should not be facing a demoralizing criminal trial over such a relatively minor matter that may not even have happened.

As far as legality is concerned, terrorists like Abed are lucky to be left among the living after their capture. As conservative columnist Thomas Sowell rightly points out, Islamic terrorists have never followed the Geneva Convention regarding the rules of warfare, as can be easily discerned in the case of the Blackwater security guards alone. More importantly, however, the terrorists themselves are not covered by the Convention’s provisions.

“Neither the Constitution of the United states nor the Geneva Convention gives rights to terrorists who operate outside the law,” writes Sowell.

Legally, under the Convention’s terms, the American military in wartime has the right to shoot any captured enemy not in uniform. Sowell states, “There was a time when everyone understood this” and cites World War Two’s Battle of the Bulge as an example. German troops caught in American uniforms during that battle were shot almost immediately and without trial. Their executions were even filmed and shown years later on American television with no fuss ever made regarding legality.

But in the charges against the three Navy SEALs, one can detect the liberal media’s invisible hand. After the media-induced hysteria about the Abu Ghraib scandal, where American service personnel were rightly punished for subjecting detainees to abuse, some of it no worse than frat party pranks, the American military is supersensitive about the treatment of detainees. It knows the liberal media would love another prisoner mistreatment scandal that can sell papers or earn networks higher ratings as well as simultaneously be used as a stick to beat an American institution it has never liked.

And it is not as if liberals in the media have ever actually cared about Iraqi prisoners. Just the opposite. For 24 years they hypocritically ignored the real suffering of the thousands of people who were tortured and murdered under Saddam Hussein in Abu Ghraib. But that did not stop them from blowing up the scandal involving the American military into something that appeared to merit a second Nuremburg Trials.

This need for scandal that can be turned into a headline, however, has been of greater service to the Islamists in Afghanistan. There, the controversy about civilian deaths caused by American and NATO troops led to a change in their Rules of Engagement (ROE) this year. It is now much more difficult for western forces to drop smart bombs or missiles on targets where civilians may be present. One report states lawyers now have to be consulted and a casualty analysis made before every smart bomb or missile attack. …

Due to the ROE change, one military publication states the Taliban are making greater use of human shields. Taliban fighters spend time in villages or compounds where civilians are present and also bring civilians, whether willing or unwilling, with them as human shields when they go on operations. This has led to their avoiding attacks, in which they earlier would have been killed.

And with the fight becoming more difficult and dangerous for American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, this can only spell bad news.