The key to Armageddon. Part II
By David Hoffman
Continued. Read Part I of the article
Some defenders of America's legal system contend that justice is ultimately served in wrongful conviction cases because those victimized by them receive financial compensation for the years they spent in prison. But that too is a myth. In 1996, Richard Alexander, an African-American man, was convicted of committing several sexual assaults in River Park, a predominantly white suburb of South Bend, Indiana. None of the physical evidence matched Alexander, and the attacks continued while he was in jail awaiting trial. Nonetheless, he was tried for the assaults where no physical evidence existed, only the eyewitness identification of the victims. After a racially mixed jury failed to reach a verdict in his first trial, the prosecution retried Alexander in front of an all-white jury, and he was convicted and sentenced to seventy years in prison. He served a little over five before the real perpetrator was caught.
Since Indiana, a racist, corrupt, and politically backward state where billionaires control the Republicans and Republicans control the Statehouse, has no law to compensate the wrongfully imprisoned, Alexander had to file a lawsuit in federal court to obtain compensation for his years of wrongful imprisonment. This required him to also meet the ridiculous legal burden of proving that he had been prosecuted in "bad faith." Federal Magistrate Christopher Nuechterlein, making a decision that should have been made by a jury, subsequently ruled that Alexander could not satisfy the bad faith standard, and dismissed his case, meaning that, for losing five years of his life, Alexander did not receive a single penny.
If integrity and conscience are flawed social control mechanisms in the organized courtrooms of America's legal system, how effective are they during the uncontrolled chaos of war, perhaps the most dramatic change in environment and circumstances any human being can experience, and one far too many human beings have experienced? Suddenly killing to solve problems, socially and legally frowned upon under normal conditions, becomes, with a government's seal of approval, "heroic" and one's primary objective.
This question caused me to remember one of the most horrific wartime events in American history: The 1968 My Lai Massacre.
While casualty figures are uncertain, it is estimated that between 300 and 500 Vietnamese civilians, including women and children, were murdered by American troops. According to author Susan Brownmiller, some of the women were gang-raped before being killed. Three American servicemen, led by the late Hugh Thompson Jr., eventually stopped the massacre by turning their machine guns on their own troops.
Ironically, the My Lai Massacre failed to answer my questions about whether the environment and circumstances of war are sufficient to override one's internal social controls and the external social controls that a peaceful environment creates. The three American servicemen who stopped the massacre were in the same chaos, and fighting the same enemy, yet they realized that even in wartime what was happening was wrong. But the fact that so many American servicemen readily participated in the massacre also gives credence to the idea that internal and external social controls may indeed be ineffective in certain environments and/or circumstances. And acts of gang-rape, which clearly serve no combat purpose, support the contention that war may have simply been the excuse for some soldiers to engage in behavior they had a proclivity to engage in all along.
What the aftermath of My Lai does make clear is that internal and external social controls are often nonexistent in governments prosecuting a war, which means that actions considered to be atrocities and war crimes when committed by an enemy, suddenly become perfectly acceptable when a government's own troops or allies engage in them.
The three soldiers who stopped the massacre were rapidly denounced as "traitors" by hawkish politicians; the massacre itself was covered-up for eighteen months; William Calley, the only person convicted for participating in the massacre, was given a life sentence, yet only served a little over three years on house arrest; and Secretary of the Army Howard Callaway stated that Calley had just been following orders-a defense that, as a Wikipedia article accurately points out-directly contradicts the precedents set during the Nuremburg trials that followed World War II.
What the aftermath of the My Lai Massacre also established was an unwritten law that says severe punishments for war crimes will only be meted out to those who lose a war, unless they are military or economic superpowers, in which case punishments, if meted out at all, will always be light.
It is this unwritten law that guides the so-called "war on terror" today.