The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), enacted by Congress, defines the military justice system and lists criminal offenses under military law. The law requires the President of the United States, acting as commander-in- chief of the Armed Forces, to write rules and regulations to implement military law.
The significant difference between the civilian justice system and the military justice system is the unique requirements for military commanders to ensure “good order and discipline” among the military personnel under their command. The UCMJ provides a unique set of rules and standards that guide our soldiers in their military service to make appropriate decisions during regular duty and combat operations.
Last week President Trump intervened in a military justice case and usurped the proceeding of military courts to pardon a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes in Iraq. This action, according to Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, cited the president’s intervention as “shocking and unprecedented” and criticized him by saying, “the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices.” Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher had been charged with murdering a prisoner of war and then posing with the body which is a violation of the UCMJ and the Geneva Convention. Shortly after Secretary Spencer raised his concern over the presidents intervention in the military court proceeding, he was fired by President Trump.
While I was serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, I heard many rumors of atrocities committed by both the Viet Cong and American servicemembers, but it wasn’t until I returned to America that New York Times reporter, Seymour Hersh, reported the horror of the massacre at My Lai.
On March 16, 1968. Army Lt. William Calley ordered the men in his infantry company to kill all the older men, the women and the children in the small Vietnam village of My Lai. Over 351 civilians were the victims of this unbridled savagery. Was it not for a courageous Army helicopter pilot, Major Hugh Thomas and his crew, who landed his aircraft between the advancing soldiers and the frighten villagers, that the death toll would have been even larger.
After efforts to coverup the massacre by military officers failed, Lt. Calley was the only individual charged by a military court which ultimately convicted him of murder and sentenced him to life in prison. However, President Nixon intervened and reduced the sentence to three years of confinement at his home.
For decades the Uniform Code of Military Justice has been responsible for enforcing the “good order and discipline” and providing an honorable code of conduct by which our members of the armed services must follow and provides a set of rules that clearly informs servicemembers of the consequences for violating those rules. It also provides an explanation of all the due process rights afforded them.
The military command staff has raised concerns over President Trump’s intervention into the military justice system and fear that it will harm the commander’s abilities to dispense fair and impartial judgments when deciding on cases coming before them.
I agree with those concerns and urge the president to no longer intervene with our military justice adjudication procedures.
A soldier’s loyalty cannot be gained by bending the rules, rather “good order and discipline” is gained by following them.
2018 All Rights Reserved. Villager Publishing |