What makes some military crimes exempt from courts-martial?
A few days ago, the Pentagon announced that, while it has punished 16 U.S. military members for the mistaken air attack on an Afghan “Doctors Without Borders” hospital last fall, these soldiers will not be court-martialed, even though their “mistake” resulted in the deaths of 42 innocent victims. The Pentagon also reported that it has adopted new regulations to prevent similar catastrophes.
According to General Joseph Votel, chief of U.S. Central Command, “This tragic incident was caused by a combination of human errors, compounded by process and equipment failures. We are fully committed to learning from this tragedy and minimizing the risk of civilian casualties during future combat operations.” He released a 3,000 page probe into the attack.
Although the attack was not intentional, and therefore was not a “war crime” per se, the U.S. military had been repeated informed of the hospital’s location and continued to strike for half an hour after the hospital’s first frantic calls to the military. The U.S. will build a replacement hospital at a cost of $5.7 million and has paid $6,000 per death and $3,000 for each of the 170 wounded civilians.
Although none of those involved in the horrendous error will face court-martial, they will receive administrative punishments, ranging from letters of reprimand, to counseling, to removal from command. In most cases, this will mean the end of their military careers.
To many, the punishments and compensation payments seem minimal and disgraceful. Meinie Nicolai, a highly placed member of Doctors Without Borders has declared that the general’s briefing “amounts to an admission of an uncontrolled military operation in a densely populated urban area, during which U.S. forces failed to follow the basic laws of war. It is incomprehensible that, under the circumstances described by the U.S., the attack was not called off.”
Modern technology, designed to intervene when human error contributes to deadly decisions, in this case tragically failed at the most crucial juncture. As horrible as this event was, it was not the result of a military decision to harm innocent civilians and did not, therefore, result in any courts-martial.
Because the military is, in many cases, a self-governing entity, soldiers may be brought up on charges that might not apply in a civilian court of law. If you have been accused of an offense while serving in the military, it is essential that you consult with a law firm that specializes in court-martial law in order to protect your rights.