The Innocent and the Guilty
First published in The Pioneer, June 08, 2013
The United States is dictating a new kind of morality based on force
Affairs of the State, and the “state of the State” are always curious matters to consider. Governments the world over are loathe to pursue crimes committed by its officers, however heinous, against “outsiders”, even if those who are killed, raped, maimed or their lives otherwise destroyed are not enemies of the state.
But if those very same officers were to commit crimes against the State, however benign or even in the pursuit of a higher morality and ethics, then the hand of the State will fall heavily on that man or woman, young or old. Thus it is, this week, we have the interesting coincidence of the American government pursuing its case against Bradley Manning, who as a 22-year-old US Army soldier with access to secret government documents passed the same on to Wikileaks; and we have the case of Sgt. Robert Bales, who as a 38-year-old Army officer went on a murderous rampage in Afghanistan last year killing 16 innocent men, women and children in their sleep and burning some of the dead bodies.
The irony is that Bradley Manning, a scrawny, acne-faced youth with gender identity issues was horrified at the American military attacks against innocent Muslim targets or even journalists in Iraq and Afghanistan. He wished to bring those crimes to light. For that act he will most probably be sent to prison for life, without a chance of parole. He has been kept in solitary confinement and in dangerous conditions, and given his fragile personality, might have easily committed suicide. The government would not have blanched, and very few Americans would have cared. He has been demonised by the military, and the Obama administration has given the green light to bringing the heavy hand of Uncle Sam smack on the young man’s head.
However, the prosecution of Sgt. Robert Bales has almost completely escaped the attention of American citizens. The media have been lax in shedding light on the case, pushing the news reports to the back pages. Bales, who murdered innocent civilians, has pleaded guilty to the massacre but his sentencing in September could include the probability of parole. No US soldier has been executed for crimes since 1961. Bales too will escape execution, and if President Karzai or any Afghan leaders were to complain, some “blood money” will pass hands and Americans will not lose sleep.
So here, in short, is the bottom line, the American view of life: We love our soldiers and our policemen here and we will forgive them of even the most heinous crimes reasoning speciously that they were either “misjudgments” in the heat of battle or “accidents” in the line of duty. However, the very same soldiers and policemen would face the wrath of the government and the people if they are perceived to pose “harm” to the security of the State, which as we know is a very elastic term to include anything from the premeditated and dangerous attacks by terrorists to those that are merely pranks by frustrated youth or actions of conscience by devoted peaceniks.
For example, the Obama administration sought early May the incarceration of Sister Megan Rice and protesters Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed till September for breaking into a nuclear weapons plant in Tennessee. Prosecutor Jeff Theodore said the government opposed their release because they did not express remorse for their actions. If you are opposing the running of a dangerous nuclear facility close to populated areas, and you break into the facility to show how easy it is to do so, why would you express remorse? Common sense dictates that such persons should be given prizes for preventing calamities from breaking out. The reaction of the American State is quite inexplicable for a democracy.
But no, the learned Indian-American District Judge in the case, Amul Thapar, said releasing the peace activists would be too lenient. Sister Rice, who is 83, could face up to 30 years in prison for “sabotaging a defense facility” and for causing “damage” to government property. Here again, the irony should not be lost as presidents and their henchmen who have dragged America to war unnecessarily and have inflicted untold horror on innocent people as well as causing the loss in the hundreds of billions of dollars to the exchequer are sent off to retirement with handsome pensions and book deals which earn them millions. But Sister Rice, for an act of conscience that according to inflated government estimates cost $1,000, can spend the rest of her life in prison.
What makes governments pursue such drastic action against conscientious objectors while letting slide into oblivion the most heinous and brutal acts of its soldiers, policemen and officials? What kind of morality enables us to come to the aid and protection of “our” officials even when their criminal actions are beyond comprehension and which we would condemn if committed by others against us? Is this merely tribalism of old in space-age garb?
But we need to beware the blinders that liberals wear in these contexts: we cannot lump all soldiers and policemen into the category of “ogres” despite Joseph Conrad’s warning that “the thief and the policeman come from the same basket”. Conrad was merely stating the obvious: we are all, whatever uniform we wear, part of the same humanity. Liberals can thrive and live in liberal societies only because soldiers and policemen stand guard on the borders and patrol the streets. However, we expect good governments and strong societies to be able to sift and label acts of violence and acts of conscience accordingly, and impose punishment that fits the crime.
The mindless and dangerous harassment of citizens and officials in the pursuit of “State security” could very quickly turn a liberal State into a police State. Americans in general and American administrations in particular are preachy and sanctimonious when they weigh the actions of foreign governments and alien citizens. Not many of us take the time or are true to our conscience when it comes to evaluating the actions of our officials and fellow citizens.
Therefore it is time to provide counseling and a light punishment to Bradley Manning; life in prison for Robert Bales and a million dollars in compensation for each of the innocent Afghan men, women, and children he killed; and an acknowledgement of the dangers of the nuclear facility in Tennessee, a light warning to and immediate release of Sister Rice and her two accomplices. America has done right in the past, and it can do so even now.