The three Navy SEALs accused of detainee abuse, dereliction of duty and lying to investigators have broad public support, but are taking a high-risk gamble. NJP carries only limited punitive potential, but a court martial conviction – should one be made – can have a more permanent effect.
McCabe and Huertas both deferred a decision on whether to be tried by a military judge or jury. Lombardi said they couldn’t choose because they still have not received the prosecution’s evidence.
The men could have accepted a nonjudicial reprimand but wanted to go to trial to clear their names, Lombardi said. A reprimand could have resulted in a loss of rank; if they are convicted at trial, they could get up to a year in jail, a bad conduct discharge, or a loss of rank or pay…
Military officials have cautioned against a public rush to judgment, saying a true picture will emerge when all the evidence is heard. However, more than 45,000 people have signed onto a Facebook page supporting the SEALs, and U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said in a letter to Gates last week that the prosecution was an overreaction by the military.
The gamble could well work out: Courts martial have defined rules of evidence and procedure, while a captain’s mast depends much upon the commanding officer’s personal whim as his professionalism. A man who knows he’s guilty would do well to stand before his CO and take his knocks, such as they are. One who knows he’s innocent would do far better to go before CM. In between there is a gray area.
At sea, by the way, a sailor may not choose to refuse mast in favor of court martial.
Still, a court martial is not all beer and skittles, and the service – subject to such intense media scrutiny – may well have its back up. I’m reminded of the final two articles in the Laws of the Navy:
Uncharted the rocks that surround thee,
Take heed that the channels thou learn,
Lest thy name serve to buoy for another
That shoal the “Court-Martial Return”.
Though a Harveyised belt may protect her
The ship bears the scar on her side;’
‘Tis well if the Court should acquit thee –
But ’twere best had’st thou never been tried.
To be fair to all parties, you can at least trust that a military court martial has certain advantages over purely political prosecution decisions.