Hold soldiers accountable

Editorial

It is painful to read or hear about the five U.S. Army soldiers accused of raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and murdering her and her family. If the accusations are at all accurate — and we must still presume the soldiers to be innocent until proven guilty — they not only committed this crime, they planned it and made efforts to disguise themselves during an evening fueled by too much whiskey and too much exposure to death and demoralization.

The cries of a young girl for mercy can’t help but ring in your ears and make you feel more than a little sick at heart. These are the kind of people who represent the United States in a foreign country?

As painful as the situation is, however, it is important that the case go forward — assuming there is enough evidence — to courts martial for those still in the service and a criminal trial for the soldier who has left the service. The foundation of a civilized society is a rule of law that applies to all, including public officials and those called upon to wage war overseas, and personal individual responsibility.

These proceedings — hearings were held in Baghdad to determine whether to convene courts martial and a decision is expected next month — uphold these traditions of decency and civility.

It is not difficult to understand how soldiers could have become so demoralized as to consider such a heinous act. They are deployed in a dangerous place, putting their lives on the line within the context of a strategy that can seem amorphous to nonexistent. They have seen their comrades killed. It is almost impossible to determine from which direction danger might come. Any day in such an environment could easily be their last.

However, there are 130,000 U.S. servicepeople in Iraq today, most of whom face the same daily dangers and stress. Most of them don’t crack in such a way as to commit such heinous crimes. It is appropriate and necessary to hold those who are alleged to have committed such acts, sullying not only themselves but their services and their country, responsible for what they did. Only by so doing can the military and the country reassert their own honor.

This news has been painful and courts martial could extend the pain. Nobody wants to be reminded of what these men are accused of doing. But holding them responsible is the only course open to a society that aspires to make the rule of law something more concrete than an empty slogan.