Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mass murder, lynching and people who defend them both

Richard Nixon's commuting of mass murderer Lt. William Calley made defending war criminals and mass murderers respectable among a large segment of the conservative-minded population. In the segregation world where defending lynch-murder had been passed down from generation to generation, admiring deliberate murder when done for racial reasons was already respectable. And carpet-bombing of cities beginning in the Second World War had also legitimized the killing of civilian noncombatants in many people's minds.

But it took Nixon with William Calley to elevate it to its current level of respectability among good Christian Republican white folks.

The old Southern defense of lynch-murder, when speaking in public where some hidden librul or fedrul revenoorer might hear you, went basically like this: "I think it's terrible that those nigras were killed. I don't know what they may have done to provoke it, but that's not the right way to go about punishing them. But what really, really, really makes me mad is them damnyankees using something like this to smear all Southerners!!

Lynch-murder of the old-fashioned kind is still popular among many conservatives, of course. As The Young Turks highlight in this news segment on the Treyvon Martin murder case, Trayvon Martin Smear Attempt By Glenn Beck's 'The Blaze' 03/21/2012:

The good Rev. Wade Burleson, reacting to my criticism of his advocating for war crimes prior to the Kandahar massacre, in an update to his post adapted the lynch formula to the Kandahar massacre, with those pointing out the serious of the massacre being the ones who are really, really, really objectionable. (Update 10/29/2012: The Rev. Burleson has changed the name and graphics on his blog to Istoria Ministries Blog; he seems to have kept many of the posts from his previous blog but not the one quoted here. As of this update, the post is cached here.)

Respectable New York Times columnist David "Bobo" Brooks wouldn't be so crude. He just wants us to sympathize with the accused shooter because he's just a regular guy.

Paul Rieckhoff, who founded Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, looks at the media treatment of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales as a sympathetic figure and how that in itself smears veterans in How to Stereotype Our Military as Drunken Beggars: A Case Study in #MediaFail by Dr. Drew Huffington Post 03/21/2012:

On Monday night, Dr. Drew did us all a big favor. He covered the Kandahar shooting incident on his HLN cable show in such a sensationalized way, that it should serve as a powerful example for how the media should NOT cover an issue -- particularly one as devastating as this.

On late night TV, Dr. Drew brought on two people who know nothing about the case, but have an emotional, personal connection to the suspect, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. The couple, childhood friends, talked about what a great guy he was. And how he helped a mentally disabled neighbor growing up. It was touching. But it was nothing more than scratching the itch of curiosity and gossip, and not relevant to the bigger issues at stake for our country right now.

For 20 minutes, Dr. Drew continued to push the narrative of Bales as a victim, a baseless one that many in the media have latched onto this past week. This does Bales a ton of good for his defense, but it does 2.4 million troops who have served honorably, and not gone on murderous rampages, a total disservice. It's also pretty damn dismissive of the real victims, the 16 Afghan civilians killed.
The interest of the Bales defense and the PR interest of the Pentagon converge on portraying him as a sympathetic figure, up to a point. It's just that the Pentagon doesn't want him too closely identified with the rest of the Army. David Goldstein and Matthew Schofield report for McClatchy Newspapers on how After Bales' arrest, military tried to delete him from Web 03/21/2012:

Besides waiting nearly a week before identifying the Army staff sergeant who's accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers, the U.S. military scrubbed its websites of references to his combat service.

Gone were photographs of the suspect, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, as well as a recounting in his base's newspaper of a 2007 battle in Iraq involving his unit that quoted him extensively.
The Pentagon claims they did it out of consideration for Bales' family. But it's a reasonable speculation that they also saw benefits in trying to conceal reports on Pentagon websites that may have presented him in a positive or heroic light.

Schofield also reports in Murder case against U.S. soldier presents challenges for prosecutors McClatchy Newspapers 03/20/2012 how the military's removal of Bales from Afghanistan for his future trial and its handling of the crime scene could complicate the prosecution:

Military law experts say that the case will be littered with potential traps for the prosecution, including the fact that both Afghan and U.S. investigators have collected evidence from the crime scene.

"What's the chain of command for the evidence?" asked Eugene R. Fidell, a military law expert at Yale Law School. "Already there have been questions about the roles of Afghan and American investigators, and we're relying on evidence collected by Afghans. Are their evidence standards our evidence standards? Are they putting their investigation first, or ours? We will find out."
Their excuse for not securing the crime scene immediately is telling:

A U.S. military official, who wasn't authorized to be identified because of the sensitivity of the investigation, acknowledged: "In Chicago, or Los Angeles, investigators just head to the scene of the crime. They don't have to arrive by helicopter for security reasons, and they don't take enemy fire while they're collecting evidence."
I wonder how the Army treats individual soldiers if they say, gee, Sarge, we might take enemy fire when we go out on this mission so I think I'll just stay here at base. When you think about the excuse a bit more, it's painfully thin. If a single soldier could go in alone at night and murder 16 people without apparently meeting armed resistance, how serious can the risk really be? And the Army going in to secure the crime scene, especially if done in conjuction with Afghan forces, could have the effect of showing the locals that the US values the lives of the victims.

But what signal does the treatment they're giving this send?

While the investigation presents roadblocks, the standard by which a military case is judged is no different than in a civilian trial: A suspect to be convicted must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

To meet that burden of proof, military prosecutors will need eyewitnesses, solid forensic evidence and a concrete timeline — all the things a civilian prosecutor would be expected to produce.

Yet this case is for a crime allegedly committed in Afghanistan, in a remote part of the southern province of Kandahar. The Afghan witnesses don't necessarily trust the United States. A U.S. military law expert who briefed reporters in Kabul this week on condition of anonymity said at least some Afghans would probably be brought to the United States to testify — an intimidating trip for villagers, many of who have never left Afghanistan.

Afghan witnesses who do testify not only won't speak English, but they also won't have been raised with an understanding of the American legal system. Experts note that they could be terrified by the setting, the process, the travel and the uncertainty in their mind of what is expected of them on the witness stand.
So we see how this prosecution is shaping up: pin all responsibility on a single guy; gin up sympathy for him by portraying him in a relatively sympathetic light; divert attention completely from the 16 murder victims and the wounded; delay the trial until three or four years from now; present a relatively weak case and wind up with a conviction with a relatively light sentence.

Qais Azimy provides the names of the dead and wounded in the massacre in No one asked their names by Aljazeera English 03/19/2012. One of the dead was named Nazar Mohamed.

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