• Navy SEAL’S Acquittal Has Something Vital to Say to Every Other American

    If we have “ears to hear”, current events can be useful for a lot more than fodder for the papers — err, internet — or personal diversion. They can, in fact, serve as regularly scheduled billboards reminding us of the things that are truly important.

    David French demonstrates as much in a recent piece in which he alludes to the acquittal of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher as an occurrence which should “remin[d] us to never rush to judgement” and “also make us thankful for the due-process rights afforded every American by our Constitution.”

    Those would be huge, potentially life-shaping lessons.

    French, among other things a lawyer by training, Iraq War veteran and writer concedes,

    I’ve transitioned firmly from a law-and-order Republican to a civil libertarian, and the constitutional value I hold every bit as dear as the rights to free speech and free exercise of religion is the right to due process of law. A person’s liberty is precious, law enforcement is far more fallible than I wanted to believe, and social-media kangaroo courts are no substitute for the evidentiary rigor of a court of law.

    These latest reflections were prompted directly from the not-guilty verdict towards Gallagher on charges of “first-degree murder (he allegedly killed an ISIS prisoner in Iraq) and attempted murder (he allegedly sniped at Iraqi civilians).”

    [T]he publication of a detailed New York Times report in April, [which] chronicled his alleged crimes and … painted a “disturbing picture of a subculture within the SEALs that prized aggression, even when it crossed the line, and that protected wrongdoers” convulsed the twittersphere into a sweeping frenzy of indignation…

    He was accused of stabbing a teenaged ISIS prisoner in cold blood, bragging about the murder in a text message, and posing for a picture with the corpse. He was also accused of targeting and shooting civilians, including a young girl, with no conceivable military justification.

    French began investigating the claims against the forty-year-old Petty Officer First Class, along with the case of the private security forces of “Raven 23” (“a Blackwater convoy that engaged in an infamous shootout in Baghdad’s Nisour Square”. French ultimately concluded the latter were deserving of a pardon.).

    French proceeds:

    I also spoke to individuals with deep knowledge of Gallagher’s case, and I had an immediate thought: He may not need a pardon. The individuals I spoke to pointed to flaws in the prosecution’s case. Evidence that Gallagher sniped civilians was nonexistent. The evidence showed that rather than killing the ISIS prisoner, Gallagher had tried to save his life. And the claims against him were brought by SEALs who resented his leadership and were acting out of a vendetta against him.

    Then, during the trial, in a flash of near-cinematic drama, another SEAL, medic Corey Scott, testified that he’d killed the prisoner to save the man from imminent torture by Iraqi forces — an act of mercy.

    The jury of five Marines, one Naval officer, and one SEAL deliberated for roughly eight hours before finding Gallagher not guilty on every count but one — the charge of taking a picture with the dead ISIS terrorist.

    Gallagher had not contested that charge, which is as it should be because such an act is utterly unprofessional and unacceptable in any civilized army – but it’s not homicide. (Fox News updates: his sentence for this will reduce his rank, which will affect both his pay and benefits, and includes four months of confinement, which he has already served.)

    French continues:

    To be clear, I’m not arguing that the trial verdict proves Gallagher’s virtue as a SEAL, but that wasn’t the question at issue in the case. Instead, it was yet another example of the reality that cases that can seem compelling at first glance often collapse under scrutiny.

    As a former JAG officer who dealt with war-crimes claims in an intense, deployed environment, I understand the moral imperative of granting service members the right to a trial by a jury of their peers.

    The lawyer/military vet finally advises,

    rais[ing] a glass to our Constitution, which grants accused men and women a fair chance to contest the most serious claims against them. Among the blessings of liberty, few are more precious than the right to due process.

    He underscores “no nation is truly free without this vital check on the power of the state.”

    For each of us, especially in this day of so much cyber-nonsense, we’re challenged to never, never, never jump to conclusions just because a headline or even “news” story – “fake news” anyone? – receives a bit of hyperventilating internet, television (or even talk radio) attention.

    And, yes, to repeat the point once more: at moments like this, intentionally cherish, all over again, our fifth and fourteenth amendment rights to due process before the law. It ain’t just for military types who are facing retributive justice.

    Image: Screen Shot: SBS World News; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikA5NvQTdQ4

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