#3 Military Justice Story of 2011, The 5th Stryker Brigade and Successful Combat Environment Courts-Martial
In past years we’ve routinely had posts and stories about the failure of the military justice system in a combat environment, several of them making our Top 10. In 2010 our top story, here, was that very debate, whether the military justice system can function in a combat environment. MAJ Franklin Rosenblatt’s article Non-Deployable: The Court-Martial System in Combat from 2001 to 2009 (at 12), published in the September issue of the Army Lawyer, highlighted some of those failures and was the lead in for the Top Story.
A 2009 Top Story, here, highlighted the problems leading up to the trial of four Navy SEALs for alleged mistreatment of a detainee in US custody. The case resulted in four acquittals, that some , though not me, argued were further evidence of military justice failures in combat envrions. The 2009 Top 10, in fact, featured several combat environment courts. While another 2009 Top 10 story, here, about the PFC Steven Green’s MEJA trial for killings in Mahmoudiya, Iraq ended in success, we questioned the three-year delay in the trial and the relative effect on good order and discipline. Adding to the 2009 total were the Chessani debacle and the ultimately successful prosecution of 1LT Michael Behenna, here. 2008’s crop featuring some ntable problems in the cobat environment, can be found here (#8 – SSgt Alberto Martinez’s acquittal), here (#2 – first civilian court, Ali), and here (#1 – Haditha aftermath).
This year’s combat environment Top 10 story is very different because it features of series of what I can only judge from the outside as a series of successful courts-martial convicting several members of the 5th Stryker Brigade for alleged thrill killings in Afghanistan. See coverage of various plea deals here, here, and here (among others). Ultimately the government convicted and won a sentence of life with the possibility of parole for the alleged ringleader of the death squad SSGT Clavin Gibbs, coverage here. The trial was from all accounts I found, relatively well-conceived and avoided many of the pitfalls we’ve highlighted before. The prime difference in this series of cases seems to be contemporaneous confessions and statements from multiple US servicemembers that corroborated the core story of a not particularly great key government witness, coverage here. But, this case like most other combat environment courts was plagued by a lack of physical evidence, though the 5th Stryker Brigade’s members accused in these cases (like their predecessors at Abu Ghraib) punched their own tickets in some cases by keeping grisly photos or even body parts of their victims, see here. Anyone compared these cases to MAJ Rosenblatt’s recommendations, they must have done something right?
As much as I liked to write more, the show must go on. And then there were two . . . .