This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
Cracked Groucho Marx, “Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.”
Groucho may once have been right, but military justice has come a very long way. Witness the Article 32 hearing unfolding this week at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for the soldier accused of the worst American war atrocity since Vietnam.
The hearing has the look and feel of a criminal trial. By all accounts it is not going well for Army Sgt. Robert Bales, who lived in Lake Tapps before he was accused of massacring 16 noncombatants in Afghanistan during the early hours of March 11.
Since Monday, witnesses have testified that Bales left his NATO base that night, that gunfire was heard from the direction of a village Bales is accused of attacking, that he came back alone and heavily armed. A fellow sergeant testified Monday that Bales told him, “I shot up some people.”
Bales’ defense attorneys are probing witnesses for signs that he was under extreme stress or the influence of mood-altering drugs. Prosecutors are depicting a carefully planned and executed mass murder.
What’s remarkable about this preliminary procedure – from a civilian point of view – is how open and elaborate it is. It will even include testimony from villagers transmitted from a military base in Afghanistan.
After hearing out the witnesses, prosecutors and defense, the presiding officer – an Army Reserve colonel and assistant U.S. attorney – will recommend whether Bale should face a court-martial. Only then will the trial get under way.
Read more »