Crime and Punishment and Military tribunals.

Staff Sgt. Frank G. Wuterich, 31, a U. S. Marine Corps squad leader in Haditha, Iraq was charged with war crimes, tried by a military court-martial, found guilty and sentenced to a maximum of 90 days in jail and a reduction in pay and rank.

He will not serve a day in jail. Because of a plea bargain with prosecutors he will avoid brig time all together. The military judge was obligated to abide by the plea bargain between prosecutors and the defense.

The bottom line is that the sentence amounts to a cut in pay and a reduction in rank to private.

As part of his guilty plea, Sgt. Wuterich accepted responsibility for giving negligent verbal instructions to the Marines under his command. He reportedly told them to “shoot first and ask questions later,” which resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians.

In a pre-sentencing statement, Sgt. Wuterich said when he gave that order, “the intent wasn’t that they should shoot civilians. It was that they would not hesitate in the face of the enemy.”

He was accused of being the ringleader in a series of November 19, 2005, shootings and grenade attacks that left two dozen civilians dead in Haditha, a city west of Baghdad. At least three officers were officially reprimanded for failing to properly initially report and investigate the killings.

The killings were portrayed by Iraqi witnesses and military prosecutors as a massacre of unarmed civilians — men, women and children — carried out by Marines in anger after a member of their unit was killed by a roadside bomb.

Defense lawyers argued the deaths resulted from a fast-moving combat situation and that the Marines believed they were under enemy fire.

Did the punishment fit the crime?

LT. William Calley was charged on September 5, 1969, with six specifications of premeditated murder for the deaths of 104 Vietnamese civilians near the village of My Lai. As many as 500 villagers, mostly women, children, infants and the elderly, had been systematically killed by American soldiers during a bloody rampage on March 16, 1968. Had he been convicted, Calley could have faced the death penalty.

It was the military prosecution’s contention that Calley, in defiance of the rules of engagement, ordered his men to deliberately murder unarmed Vietnamese civilians despite the fact that his men were not under enemy fire at all.

Calley’s original defense that the death of the villagers was the result of an accidental helicopter or aerial airstrike was quashed by the few prosecution witnesses. In his new defense, Calley claimed he was following the orders of his immediate superior, Captain Ernest Medina.  Twenty-one other members of Charlie Company also testified on Calley’s defense corroborating the orders. But Medina publicly denied giving such an order. Medina was acquitted of all charges relating to the incident at a separate trial in August 1971.

Calley was convicted on March 29, 1971, of the premeditated murder of 22 Vietnamese civilians. On March 31, 1971, Calley was sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labor at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Of the 26 officers and soldiers initially charged for their part in the My Lai Massacre or the subsequent cover-up, only Calley was convicted.

On April 1, 1971, only a day after Calley was sentenced, U.S. President Richard Nixon ordered him transferred from Leavenworth prison to house arrest at Fort Benning, Georgia. He served only three and a half years of house arrest.

In 1974, President Nixon tacitly issued Calley a limited Presidential Pardon. Consequently, his general court-martial conviction and dismissal from the U.S. Army were upheld, however, the prison sentence and subsequent parole obligations were commuted to time served, leaving Calley a free man.

Did the punishment fit the crime?

On June 26, 2006 Cadet Webster Smith pleaded not guilty in the first court-martial of a cadet in Coast Guard Academy history. The charges ranged from rape, sodomy, and extortion to assault of four female cadets.

With no physical evidence in the case, defense attorneys had hoped to persuade jurors that the testimony of the women was unreliable. There was no DNA evidence, no forensic evidence, no rape kit and no crime scene photos. It was a classic case of “he-said, she-said”. It was one cadet’s word against another.

On June 28, 2006 after about eight hours of deliberation, the panel found Cadet Webster Smith guilty of indecent assault, extortion in exchange for sexual favors and sodomy, which in military parlance includes oral sex. All those charges involved only one of the four female accusers.

He was acquitted of several charges that stemmed from alleged sexual encounters with the other three female cadets. The defense had argued that the sex was consensual and that the women had colluded against Webster Smith. They were all scorned lovers of one sort or another.

Before any charges had been filed against him, Cadet Smith had spent about six months at hard labor and pre-trial confinement.  He was sentenced to an additional six months in jail at a Navy brig, and dismissal from the Coast Guard Academy. He served five months in jail and was released early because of good behavior as a prisoner. He had completed the four year curriculum but was not allowed to graduate in the Academy Class of 2006. For the remainder of his life he must register as a Sex Offender in his home state of Texas.

Webster Smith appealed his conviction all the way to the Supreme Court. The U.S. Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals held oral argument on January 16, 2008 in Arlington, Virginia; but the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) became the final decision in the case because the U. S.Supreme Court, the nation’s court of last resort, denied the appeal without comment.

Did the punishment fit the crime?

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