Thursday, May 19, 2016

Group Advocating Pardons for American War Criminals

Mark Heyrman, center, clinicallaw professor, and law students Michael Lockman and Hayley Altabef talk about the Combat Clemency Project, which Heyrman heads, at the University of Chicago on May 4. (NATHAN WEBER/NYT) A 72 year old conservative U.S veteran by the name of Herbert Donahue has come into contact with an unlikely ally. Donahue is the head of a group known as the United American Patriots. Their organization has advocated for the pardons of U.S war criminals charged with assaulting or killing civilians. Their unlikely ally is a group of young left wing law students studying at the University of Chicago.

 Donahue having served in the army during the Vietnam War, has defend the vets by reason that they are subjected to the orders of Senior officer who don't have experience on the battle field. For example, Donahue and other soldier have to ask for permission to shoot an enemy. After his first patrol Donahue never asked for permission to kill someone unless "he was on a pile of bodies."(Donahue) He describe the current situation of permission before killing as "Requiring a guy to have a lawyer with him in the fox hole."(Donahue) On the other hand the law students at the University of Chicago, are defending these soldiers on the status of their mental states. One soldier they are attempting to pardon for,(Robert Bales) was arrested for killing 16 Iraqi civilians seven of which were children. However, even before he joined the army Bales had experienced PTSD, and the terror on the front line only made it worse. However, the group will not represent criminals with charges such as rape or murder.(Will Bales being a special case.) Henceforth, the two groups have come together, and made the consensus that there are some U.S soldiers who are or were wrongfully imprisoned while serving their country. Thus, they have decided to push President Obama for the pardon of these war criminals. 

Personally I do not believe the soldiers should be given a pardon for such a crime. People should not get benefits within the legal justice system just because they have served their country. Unless they proven to be mentally unstable. There are many other soldiers out there who have served their country without committing a crime.

Now given the circumstances do you believe that these soldiers should be pardon? Does the fact that the criminals in question are veterans affect your answer? Why or why not?

Shouldn't the Officers who gave these soldiers the orders to kill innocent civilians be prosecuted as well?

Do you think these two groups working together will make any difference? Why or Why not?


Monika Kepa 1 said...

I agree that war criminals who have unjustly killed unarmed civilians should be charged and not pardoned pardoning them would be placing them above the law and open the door for others to do similarly and expect pardons. If the soldiers feared some threat when they fired, for example if the civilians were approaching them armed with a knife or gun they deserve to be pardoned because they were simply acting in self defense. However that said I am less worried about the soldiers who fight for our country getting off, because there is small chance they will do something similar in the future versus others such as wealthy people who act recklessly and rely on their lawyers to keep them from getting in trouble, for example the article read last year in AP English language, or people in lower class neighborhoods who turn to crime because they believe there is no hope in ending the cycle of poverty. In general If anyone were to be pardoned I would prefer it would be someone with a small to no chance of repeating the offense they were charged and soldiers who killed civilians in the line of duty, in a war zone, are unlikely to commit a similar offense.

Scott Liu said...

While I agree with the general direction of Monika’s point. I think a factor that we need to consider aside from the inevitability aspect of the crime, we also need to consider the psychological effects of being in war. The law students at the University of Chicago are referencing this effect when they are attempting to defend Donahue on the basis of mental health. It is not only that he has PTSD, but that when you kill someone in the middle of war, it is different from killing someone in the middle of the street. In a war there is an authority figure that is reassuring you that your actions are justified and your training serves to desensitize you to the idea of taking lives. It is only if you can be desensitized to the idea of taking lives that you would be willing to risk your own life and take others in the process of saving your own life. The psychology of war in general makes this war criminal concept complicated. Perhaps, the system should establish a new standard and process for evaluating war criminals that takes that psychology into account.

Jonathan Liu said...

Perhaps I'm just too skeptical because of the general history of war criminals, but it seems to me that these crimes aren't really worth trying. The Nuremberg Trials were a big deal of course, but really those were just the very top of the Nazi regime that was being out on trial. To me, war crimes are very different in the sense that war is the one time where standard human decency and regard for human life aren't nearly as treasured. Sure, what they did was bad. Really bad. Human lives are important, and we can't just go around killing people. But it's a war, and if they need to ask for permission to kill people in a war, then they're going to lose the battle of simple efficiency and speed. Besides, if every person in the chain had to ask the person above them whether or not they are allowed to kill, doesn't that mean the president is indirectly authorizing these war crimes?
Also, like Scott said, psychology is an important factor to consider. War is supposed to be extremely tough on the mind, and even the most well-trained and experienced of individuals are bound to be affected by the death and chaos surrounding them. PTSD is by definition stressful and traumatic, and it shouldn't be too hard to believe that the situation and surroundings of the war led the veterans to become temporarily insane or act without a sound state of mind.

Dhruv Rohatgi said...

I agree with Scott and Jonathan. I really think it is horrible to kill unarmed civilians and those actions should be punished. However, at a time of war, like Jonathan says, all these lines of or civil life and standard regard for others diminishes. Additionally, while in war soldiers go through a very high amount of stress and while facing an ambush they may accidently shoot a civilian thinking they are an enemy. I think just be because the officers were not the ones who pulled the trigger but ordered the killings make them as liable and if the veterans were to be tried the officers should also be tried.

Lea Tan said...

Even though war is innately violent and immoral actions are going to take place, I don't think that makes it okay for members of the army to kill unarmed civilians without being ordered to do so. In the cases where the officer was ordered to shoot civilians by his/her superior, they should not be tried because they were simply following orders. However, I don't think that soldiers who decide to kill a bunch of innocent civilians on purpose with the intent of just killing should get away with it. I know that there are many factors to consider, such as the psychological aspects of war like Scott said, as well as possible mental disorders, so it's hard to tell exactly what their intentions are. But pardoning all war crimes only continues to make war more violent and makes people think that killing innocent civilians is okay. It's bound to happen in war, but that doesn't mean it's okay nor should it be encouraged. In addition, if people knew that war crimes were a lot easier to get away with, it could cause more killings than necessary or even persuade some people to join the army for the wrong reasons. The officers who order soldiers to kill civilians may also abuse their power.

Horace He said...

This is a tough topic, obviously. Nobody wants to simply allow crimes like killing innocent civilians to just go free, but soldiers are put in a very unique set of circumstances. There's a lot of things that make their experience very far away from how we would imagine ourselves acting, from the stress of actual combat to the regimented power structure in existent in the army.

There's a lot of things that are tough in war, and this is just another one of them.

Alton Olson said...

I agree with all the others above - the conditions of war move the goalposts of morality and skew situations to have different outcomes than what we are familiar with. Like Jonathan mentioned above, the Nuremberg trials set a precedent that war criminals cannot simply use the excuse that they were only following orders. It's hard to determine who exactly is at fault for war crimes and who should take the blame, or whether the problems are institutional.

Justin Chan said...

Thank you Alex for your post. Contrary to what Jonathan said and supporting what Lea stated, I believe that the soldiers should be fully responsible for their actions. The issue at stake can be political, and although I'm not trying to play a side, what I find frustrating is those who are in power, such as policemen and soldiers, and abuse it. I fully respect many policemen and soldiers, yet I feel that the amount of leeway and power that they possess make them feel above the law, which in most cases should not be true.

Policemen and soldiers are trained to be obedient and follow orders. Touching on the psychology aspect of war, which was previously commented on, conforming is much easier than maintaining an independent mind, especially when one is in a large group. In the article, it seems that Donahue deliberately disobeyed orders, which is the opposite of what happened in the Nuremberg trials, as those who committed war crimes in Nazi Germany were following orders. I believe that because Donahue needed permission to shoot an enemy, he should not be pardoned. Situations in which head officers tell their soldiers that they can shoot civilians need to be looked at on a case by case basis.

How can we ensure that people are held accountable?
Do the representatives and senators who create war crime punishments misunderstand the emotion and thought-process when one is in the face of war?

Christopher Duan said...

A crime is a crime, and no one is above the law. Therefore, the idea that those convicted of war crimes, in this case killing 16 civilians, 7 of them children, is no exception. When thinking about this problem, the precedent of pardoning may be a sort of 'slippery slope' situation in which those that are pardoned set an example for other soldiers to assume immunity from law because of their status as soldiers. The rules of engagement in modern combat often require the combatants to be armed in order to be fired upon US soldiers, probably among other laws. There are reasons for laws, and so one is not free to interpret whether they are above this law. PTSD or other disorders are not much of an excuse, unless the person is insane, in which the question should be asked, who was this person allowed near a gun?? In the end, this seems like an idea that is appealing at face value but requires further thinking than instinct.