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Military tribunal for the undeclared war

Jason Mckay

Sunday, October 13, 2019

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William Calley was an American soldier who was convicted of the massacre of 22 people at a village named My Lai in Vietnam in 1968. The actual death count of the massacre was over 500, comprising old men, women and children.

The psychological explanation for the thoughts of the minds that governed the bodies that committed this atrocity has been given by quite a few doctors and rejected by many more civilised people.

This massacre, the cover up, administration of justice and post-trial activities are a disgrace to the United States military, the United States, and Calley is a disgrace to humanity.

He was one of about 100 who, in my view, should have been executed for war crimes relating to this incident. Calley was, however, the lone convicted soldier and was sentenced to five years in an American military stockade.

Despite the extent of his crime, he was never handed over to the North Vietnamese prison system to be punished.

This short narrative of hate, racism and violence is relevant to us in a peculiar way. When our police and soldiers are convicted in combat-related incidents they are imprisoned with Jamaican gang members.

For crimes far less of a disgrace many would say “that's different, it's not a war”. There I disagree. The number of active gang members outnumber the Jamaican police and army by quite a few thousand, especially if you take into account the incarcerated. They are armed and, based on the numbers I am working with, if we assume one gun per member they may have as many weapons as the security forces.

They have structure, intelligence-gathering systems and finance. They conduct operations that contribute to over 1,000 murders per year.

This is, at the very least, the equivalent of not one, but several militia. This, in any language, is a war. It is just bad politics to call it that. So, why do we hand over our servicemen to reside and share cells with the enemy? Well, that's because we do not call it what it is: A war.

Legal terms and designations determine things such as where criminals versus the soldiers who fight for their country are kept. These terms are relevant and important, but become less of a factor when five gang members are about to stab you with their shanks because some academic process just sent you to the same place as them for a shoot-out gone bad.

They suffer this fate because, likely a sky juice vendor, hairdresser, life insurance agent and an accountant believed they did not exercise due care whilst under fire. Well, they did their best with the knowledge they had.

Now, that brings me to our jury system.

Okay, I do not like the jury system. I have said it before. But I really think asking a jury of untrained civilians to determine if a shoot-out demonstrated excess or an incorrect risk assessment is like asking me to conduct an assessment of cooking processes and use of seasoning. I like food, I eat it. But I cannot blasted cook.

This determination requires a body of knowledge not accessible to the average person. Therefore, when normal people are asked to come to judgement on issues of combat, they are likely deciding on a body of knowledge provided by Hollywood.

Jamaica has a history of imprisoning police officers who are later freed by the Court of Appeal. Why this occurs is not because the jurors are evil and the judges are not. It is because the judges know the law and the jurors know whatever their area of employment is.

A military tribunal would make perfect sense and save money wasted on appeals that are only benefiting attorneys at home and in England. I know lawyers have to live too; and some are really good. Others are club owners and failed singers masquerading as lawyers.

Military tribunals would give us trained military men with knowledge of combat, who could also be attorneys. This seems so much more practical than destroying police officers' lives and careers.

Recently, I wrote an article about the Mobile Reserve three who were convicted of the manslaughter of the Immaculate Conception High School student. The feedback was both positive and negative.

The negative is usually like water off a duck's back to me, but this time I was somewhat taken aback because many of my critics were people I hold in high regard. I am not maintaining that the prosecution, or the judge, or INDECOM, did anything wrong. That is for the Court of Appeal. But emotions are big in this case.

I still maintain that the three young officers, who also are 'people pickney', were sent by our Government to a gunfight with gunmen who I believe were proven to be in that car by the recovery of a phone stolen at gunpoint that same night. The issue of collateral damage of innocent people did and will always occur as long as men continue to take up guns to steal what they did not work for.

This case, I believe, is a good one to be the poster child for the introduction of military tribunals. It should also be the reason that we start housing convicted servicemen, whether police or soldiers, in military stockades and not in the belly of the ultimate gangster kingdom: a jail cell.

The time is upon us when most police would prefer to avoid engagements. Most who relish the challenge are already destroyed. A new generation of police need to emulate the great ones before them the warriors who fought and who sometimes died bravely, but served with courage.

We can bring about constitutional change. We can introduce military tribunals. We can have a stockade system. Or, we can continue doing everything to temporarily stem the killing of our poor, whilst knowing that the gangs grow more powerful as association after association is formed to protect them.

Why is this so important?

Just for a moment, consider yourself a police officer in a 10-foot by 10-foot cell surrounded by five people who want you dead. And think of waking up to that reality every day for a decision you made in a split second on behalf of your own Government and for the protection of your own people.

— Jason McKay is a criminologist. Feedback: jasonamckay@gmail.com


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