Haditha Massacre Sentence Outrageous But Correct
My latest for The Atlantic explains, "Why We Should Be Glad the Haditha Massacre Marine Got No Jail Time."
My latest for The Atlantic explains, “Why We Should Be Glad the Haditha Massacre Marine Got No Jail Time.”
When Marine Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich was handed a suspended sentence of three months on Wednesday for his role as squad leader of a group that massacred 24 unarmed Iraqis in Haditha six years ago, it naturally sparked an outrage. To many here in the U.S., in Iraq, and in the Muslim world writ large, this will likely be seen as the U.S. military excusing a heinous crime. But we should instead look at this, even if it is difficult to do so, as the price we pay for a justice system that prioritizes the rights of the accused over a desire to punish criminals.
Even though we now have a pretty good idea what happened that day, it’s incredibly hard to prove it in court without the active cooperation of reliable witnesses. Alas, as the Associated Press reports, “The prosecution was also hampered by squad mates who acknowledged they had lied to investigators initially and later testified in exchange for having their cases dropped, bringing into question their credibility.” And the few Iraqi survivors declined to testify, fearing for their safety.
Awis Fahmi Hussein, who survived the attacks, lamented, “I was expecting that the American judiciary would sentence this person to life in prison and that he would appear and confess in front of the whole world that he committed this crime, so that America could show itself as democratic and fair.”
Unsatisfying as it seems, a democratic outcome is exactly what we got. In an authoritarian society — probably even in today’s post-Saddam Iraq — governments will happily sentence citizens to jail to slake the public thirst for justice. In a liberal democracy, however, we put a very high burden on the state in taking away the liberty of a citizen accused of a crime.
Much more detail at the link–the piece is over 1300 words–but that’s the gist.