Robert Bales, Nidal Malik Hasan, Manning: A busy week for military justice

Military courts issued major rulings in three separate cases involving U.S. Army soldiers this week. The defendants were Bradley Manning, who later asked to be called Chelsea Manning; Nidal Malik Hasan; and Robert Bales.

Manning, convicted last month on multiple counts related to the release of hundreds of thousands of classified documents, was sentenced to 35 years in prison:

The long prison term is likely to hearten national security officials who have been rattled by the subsequent leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Manning’s conviction might also encourage the government to bring charges against the man who was instrumental in the publication of the documents, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.

Manning, 25, was acquitted last month of . . . aiding the enemy — but was convicted of multiple other counts, including violations of the Espionage Act, for copying and disseminating classified military field reports, State Department cables, and assessments of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Civil liberties groups condemned the judge’s decision.

“When a soldier who shared information with the press and public is punished far more harshly than others who tortured prisoners and killed civilians, something is seriously wrong with our justice system,” said Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “This is a sad day for Bradley Manning, but it’s also a sad day for all Americans who depend on brave whistleblowers and a free press for a fully informed public debate.”

Julie Tate

Manning’s sentence also included a dishonorable discharge, a demotion, and forfeiture of all pay. The private will be eligible for parole after seven years.

Hasan was accused of multiple counts of murder and attempted murder in the massacre at Fort Hood in 2009. Acting as his own attorney, Hasan admitted to killing 13 people and wounding many more, and did not present a defense. A jury found him guilty Friday:

Hasan. . . was convicted of 13 charges of premeditated murder and 32 of attempted murder by a panel of senior officers. The case will now move to the sentencing phase, during which further witnesses may be called and Hasan could testify before a punishment is handed down.

Hasan, who was paralyzed from the chest down and confined to a wheelchair after being shot by an Army civilian police officer while being apprehended, admitted responsibility for the shooting at the start of the trial, saying he had “switched sides.”

Aside from a very brief opening statement and a few questions of prosecution witnesses, the military psychiatrist has shown little interest in mounting a defense. Hasan, who was prohibited by military law from entering a guilty plea, declined to call any witnesses, testify himself or give a closing argument.

During the court-martial, Osborn refused a request by Hasan’s three standby lawyers to limit their role because they believed the defendant was trying to secure a death sentence.

Experts said that in spite of Hasan’s apparent desire to be executed. it will be years before a potential death sentence could be carried out.

Under the military’s justice system, there are several automatic appeal stages, during which lawyers are likely to be appointed to represent Hasan, regardless of the defendant’s wishes. . . .

The case will then enter the appellate phase, going before the appeals courts for the Army and the armed forces. The case can be appealed to the Supreme Court. Finally, the president must sign off on the death sentence. The last time an active-duty soldier was executed was in 1961.

Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School, said he expected the appeals process to take several years. “It’s most likely to be the next president that’s going to have to make the final decision,” he said.

Billy Kenber

Also Friday, a jury sentenced Bales to life in prison without a chance of parole for the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians last year:

Bales did not recount specifics of the horrors in court when he testified Thursday or offer an explanation for the violence, but he described the killings as an “act of cowardice, behind a mask of fear, bulls--- and bravado.”

“I’m truly, truly sorry to those people whose families got taken away,” he said in a mostly steady voice during questions from one of his lawyers. “I can’t comprehend their loss. I think about it every time I look at my kids.”

Bales said he hoped his words would be translated for the nine villagers who traveled from Afghanistan to testify against him — none of whom elected to be in court to hear from him. . . .

Attorneys for Bales made much of Bales’ repeated deployments and suggested that post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury may have played a role in the killings. But they offered no testimony from psychiatrists or other doctors, saying they saw little point in making the case a battle of the experts.

Instead, they had Bales and some of his fellow soldiers testify about the difficulties they endured and the images that stuck with them after earlier tours in Iraq. They rested their defense after Bales finished speaking.

In his closing argument, the prosecutor, Lt. Col. Jay Morse, displayed photos of a young girl who was executed as she screamed and cried, as well as surveillance video of Bales returning to the base with what Morse called “the methodical, confident gait of a man who’s accomplished his mission.”

While questioning other witnesses, prosecutors noted Bales’ checkered past, including a fraud investigation and eventual $1.5 million judgment, a drunken-driving arrest in 2005, a driving under the influence crash in 2008, and lies on re-enlistment documents about his criminal history.

Bales’ lawyers did their best to paint a sympathetic picture of a patriotic man who was an ideal father and had been his senior class president and quarterback of the high school football team in Norwood, Ohio.

Associated Press

Bales pleaded guilty in June to avoid the death penalty.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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