Posted by: bklunk | September 3, 2006

Possible Death Penalty for GI's Accused of Premeditated Murder

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bughes4 makes this interesting post in his Iraq and the US blog:

Possible Death Penalty for GI’s Accused of Pre-Meditated Murder

By bhughes4

an army investigator recommended the death penalty for four soldiers
who were accused of pre-meditated murder.  Here is the gist of it
(story copied from the Associated Press):

The soldiers, all from the Fort Campbell, Kentucky-based 101st Airborne Division’s 187th Infantry Regiment, are accused of killing three Iraqi men taken from a house May 9 on a marshy island outside Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.

Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard, Spc. William B.
Hunsaker, Pfc. Corey R. Clagett and Spc. Juston R. Graber have claimed
they were ordered to “kill all military age males” during the raid on
the island. According to statements from some of the soldiers, they
were told the target was an al Qaeda training camp.

Hunsaker told investigators that he and Clagett were
attacked by the three men, who were being handcuffed, and shot them in
self-defense. Clagett said he was hit in the face, and Hunsaker claimed
he was stabbed during the attack.

Prosecutors argue the soldiers conspired to kill the
men and then altered the scene to fit their story. They contend
Girouard stabbed Hunsaker as part of the killing plot.

Clagett, Girouard and Hunsaker also are accused of
threatening to kill another soldier who witnessed the slayings.
Girouard, the most senior soldier charged, faces several additional
charges, including sexual harassment and carrying a personal weapon on

I believe the soldiers are guilty of pre-meditated murder, but not
in the way most people think of pre-meditated murder.  First, the 187
are a group of soldiers that are constantly under attack from mortars,
bombs, and other explosives.  And sadly, this means that a few good
soldiers may have gotten injured.  I have a few friends in the marines
and after consulting with them, they told me that all the soldiers over
there just want to come home.  Keeping these things in mind, the vexed
soldiers are ordered to raid an Al-Queda training camp.  I would think
that most of these war-weary soldiers see this as an oppurtunity to end
the war and speed up the process of going home, so whats a logical
conclusion for these soldiers: KILL EVERYTHING.  And maybe when they
were making arrests those individuals may have done something to
trigger the kill response, which obviously led them them to pull the
trigger.  And fearing that they would face punishment, they made up a

That is how I see the actions of these soldiers and I do not think
they deserve the death penalty.  If anything this is an oppurtunity for
the military.  Nothing would make the world happier than to see some
stuck up American GI’s executed for killing innocent civillians.  What
the military should do is make a big deal out of the incident which
would show the world, and hopefully the citizens of Iraq, that the
American military does not tolerate the deaths of innocent civillians. 
And then all the military has to do is exploit the legal system and
keep the courts delayed until the incident dies down, then they can
punish the soldiers with a demotion or even a dishonorable discharge,
but not the death penalty.

bhughes4 has made some interesting observations here.  It seems inevitable that situations like this will arise during armed conflicts.  While the U.S. military is equipped and trained quite well to engage in conflict, it may not be as well prepared to carry out an occupation. 

I wish that bhuges4 had said more to explain what he means that “the soldiers are guily of pre-meditated murder, but not in the way most people think of pre-meditated murder.”  Pre-meditated murder has a fairly specific legal definition, and bhughes4 could tell us more about why this case does not fit the legal definition. 

The case also raises these two points.  Two of the most basic just war principles are that (1) non-combatants are not to be attacked and (2) that force against combatants should be proportional to the immediate battlefield situation, that is you don’t kill when less violence will get the job done.  This seems to be just what is in dispute here.  Of course, the fact that the soldiers tried to cover up suggests, but does not prove that they believed they had done something wrong. 

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  1. I have heard about this same case as reported by the New York Times. The case presented assumed that the soldiers were in fact trying to cover something up that they had done. What made the accusations even more believable is the fact that they had threatened the life of another soldier who knew what really happened if he testified.
    We must always be cautious when trying soldiers for murder, because having a judicial precedent of Marines convcicted for murder in a war zone will be a severe psychological blunder to the rest of the soldiers. In a profession where killing on behalf of a country is warranted insofar as the target is a combatant or aggressor, restrictions on the soldiers’ ability to pull the trigger when they feel they are in danger will make the soldier, and their objective, in serious jeopardy.
    That is not to say that these particular soldiers should not be held accoutnable. Bhughes brought up the possibility that soldiers’ motive to kill is to finish the mission as quick as possible and get home. This is a very juvenile assumption about the American soldier and a very unrealistic means for acting by said motivation. I am not going to judge or make assumptions of the motive these individuals possessed: that is for the court to decide. What I do know is that unarmed civilians who show no sign of aggression should never be killed: this is murder.
    Not only should the soldiers be held accountable, but those who gave the order must be as well. As reported, the soldiers said their commanding officers told them to “kill all military age males.” The chain of command does not allow soldiers to roam on their own, so the order must have come from somewhere.

  2. Just a reminder as to tone, which should be respectful. “Juvenile” seems to border on disrespectful.

  3. Apologies to bhughes, I didn’t mean to be disrespectful; I simply wanted to point out that jumping to conclusions will only leave you empty handed when all the facts are juxtaposed to your assumptions. 😉

  4. I find BHughes entire outlook and the rationale to have been a a bit contradictory despite having some good arguements embedded within the blog. As for the idea of making a huge scene about the incident to prove to the rest of world that innocent death’s are not tolerated, the sense that prosecution is necessary is brought forth. However, in hughes stating that the soldier’s should be allowed to avoid the death penalty, a sense of mercifulness is shown. With the pro-prosecution followed by an anti-death penalty, I belive the entire solution aspect that hughes provides is a little insecure in the sense that neither one of hte options is strongly purusued. I find hughes wanting to show the world that the action was wrong only through a slap on the wrist. It is not to say that I am for the death penalty (which i certainly am not) but I also do not agree that making a scence for such a small punishment will show the rest of the world how strong our standards are.

  5. I feel that a lot of great points were brought up. Yes, these soldiers are are at war and I feel they are owed a little compassion. Whether or not these soldiers intended to murder these individuals up front, the situation they were in and have been in can cause some obvious problems, including psychologically induced trauma. The soldiers may have not been totally wrong. In an intense situation like that, they may have felt insecure about the situation and vulnerable and reacted poorly. When they attempted to cover up what they did, although mainly intentional at first, they were thinking of how the sitaution would look to the rest of the world. They were scared and it definitely showed. I dont agree with cesar lunas view of hughes. I dont think he wants to give them a “slap on the wrist” but doesnt want to go to the extremes of the death penalty. The best option may be to hype it up to the rest of the world, even if our intentions of punishment arent as great as we make them seem.

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