Our troops have earned presumption of innocence

  • Larry Simoneaux / Freelance Columnist
  • Sunday, June 25, 2006 9:00pm
  • Opinion

I’m not sure just how angry I’m going to get about this one, but my blood’s already simmering and boiling isn’t all that far off.

I keep hearing and reading stories about our troops “murdering” innocent civilians or, in another instance, “massacring” people as payback for being attacked.

When I dig a bit deeper, I discover that not all of the facts are in, that some of the “witnesses” are suspect at best, and that circumstances surrounding these incidents may explain what happened and why.

But there are those who are unwilling to wait until the investigations are over. For myriad reasons, there are those who seem perfectly willing to believe the absolute worst about our troops and convict them solely on what’s been presented so far.

And that’s what gets me going.

If there’s one thing that’s been proven repeatedly throughout history, it’s that ugly things happen in war. Some are accidental. Some are avoidable. Some are wrong and deserve punishment.

Do innocents die in war? Do murder and massacre occur in war? Are there those in every army that’s ever existed who’ve committed atrocities?

The answer to each of those questions is yes.

But, as regards our troops, there are things that need to be said.

Ask anyone who’s ever been in uniform about the people they knew. They’ll answer by telling you about the sad sacks, slouches, shirkers and bunglers they knew. They’ll tell you about the pettiness and stupidity that they experienced. They’ll tell you about the martinets and incompetents that they served under.

But if you listen long enough, they’ll tell you something else. They’ll tell you about the men and women they served with who were some of the finest humans they’ve ever known. They’ll tell you that, if there’s ever been a nation whose armed forces are comprised of decent, courageous and ethical warriors, it is this one.

As regards combat, they’ll tell you that the efforts made by our armed forces to ensure that civilian casualties are prevented – even to the point of endangering their own lives – is often unbelievable. They’ll describe rules of engagement that were (and are) so restrictive as to make you wonder if we’re forcing our troops to fight, almost literally, with one arm tied behind their backs.

Yet they do it. And not only do they do it, they do it in ways that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up in pride. They do it because they believe both in what this nation stands for and what the words “American soldier” mean.

So I get angry whenever I hear about murders and massacres having been committed and almost immediately see both a rush to judgment and an apparent eagerness on the part of some to believe that our troops are guilty.

What infuriates me further is when I don’t see a similar response whenever our enemies not only commit unspeakable atrocities, but also publicly revel in the barbaric acts they perform.

The bombing of mosques, theaters, restaurants, buses and schools is commonplace among them. Using women and children as human shields are standard tactics. Torturing and beheading helpless captives are normal and accepted parts of their game plan.

The mere fact that we are willing to bring charges against our own puts us light years ahead of these thugs in the field of morals, ethics and principles.

I know that there are those in our armed forces who are capable of war crimes. However, I also know that 99.99 percent of the rest are courageously performing a difficult task in a harsh environment half a world away from their loved ones. Because of that and for all of the reasons I’ve mentioned, I’m neither going to judge nor condemn those who’ve been charged until all of the facts are in.

In this nation, there’s supposed to be a presumption of innocence for those suspected of criminal acts. This presumption of innocence should extend most especially to those who’ve sworn to protect the rights the rest of us enjoy. It’s something they’ve earned at places like Lexington and Concord. Bull Run and Chickamauga. Chateau Thierry and Belleau Wood. Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. North Africa and Normandy. Inchon and the Chosin Resevoir. Pleiku and Hue. Kuwait and Iraq. It’s something they’ve paid for in blood.

And as for those who are unwilling to afford these men and women that presumption of innocence, who seem willing and even eager to condemn, for all I care, they can go push a rope.

Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Comments can be sent to larrysim@att.net.

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