Wednesday, February 13, 2008

But Are They War Crimes? - The Gitmo Trials

Anticipating international criticism over plans to seek the death penalty for accused September 11, 2001, terrorists, the State Department is advising U.S. diplomats to point out that Nazis were executed after their war crime trials.
CNN, 2008 February 13

Since the War Tribunals, the US military has rarely imposed the death penalty*. In fact, it last carried out a death sentence in 1961, when it hanged a certain John A. Bennett, Pvt. 1st. Class. His crime? Rape, and attempted murder, of an 11-year-old Austrian girl. No, there were no fatalities. In fact, the girl and her parents wrote letters to President Kennedy asking him to spare Bennettt's life.

What media reports on the new Gitmo trials do not tell you is that Private Bennett was an African-American.

ADD (February 14): The huge dissonance between the title and the substance is intentional, but I realize now that it is very confusing. My intent was to place the politicization of the military criminal procedure system (the Gitmo suspects in a constitutional limbo between the military and the civilian, Private Bennett falling in the societal abyss between the Jim Crow and post-Civil Rights Act worlds) as the backdrop to the many doors that the small historical footnote in the articles on the Gitmo trials opened. But it obviously does not work too well, as ross’s comment shows.

I still have a lot to learn about this craft. My only excuse: I’m new at writing for myself.


ross said...

Should I draw parallels to the eight Japanese who were tried, convicted and executed for waterboarding Americans? I wonder if the State Department will be advising US diplomats on that.

Jun Okumura said...


I was astonished that anyone in the modern era was executed for a single ordinary crime (if any crime can be ordinary, but you know what I mean) with no fatalities, and also a little surprised that no soldiers had been executed since then when there had been several well-reported murder cases in very recent years (and by inference surely many more over the years). That’s why I went looking, and found out.

There are doors, ross, and one of them leads back to the naked racism of the early sixties America, and the distance you have travelled since then; another one leads to Okinawa, where the War, hot or cold, has never ended for its people. Most generally, there is the need to satisfy the sexual desires of a group of young and not-so-young men (but you know how we are) away from their families and communities and how that spills over into the environs.

There are so many doors, but I couldn’t really see past any of them. So I just put it out there, just to see if anyone else could do better.