IS THIS JUSTICE?

UCMJIs This Justice?
One Woman’s Opinion
By – Sheri de Grom

I’m having a difficult time reconciling the equality of military justice in the treatment of Army Major Nidal Hasan and that of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. Both men are charged with multiple counts of murder along with other charges. The similarities stop with the charges.

I wrote about how Army Major Nidal Hasan entered the Soldier Readiness Center on Fort Hood, Texas, and opened fire with two pistols blazing. Hasan killed thirteen people and wounded more than two dozen others. My original blog is here. The crime occurred November 5, 2009.

At Fort Lewis, Washington, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales awaits a September 3, 2013, court-martial for massacring sixteen Afghan villagers during nighttime raids on March 11, 2012. Bales faces sixteen counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder. The Army is seeking the death penalty.

Meanwhile, back at Fort Hood, defense attorneys claim Hasan wants to plead guilty to thirteen counts of premeditated murder, but Army rules prohibit a judge from accepting a guilty plea in a death penalty case. If the death sentence is removed, Hasan’s punishment would be life without parole—which he already faces if convicted of the charges of murder and attempted murder in the attack at Fort Hood.

Hasan’s date for trial has not been set and we’re in excess of three years after the shootings. Hasan’s victims have not received any compensation for injuries sustained nor have the families that lost loved ones.

However, the Washington Times reported on March 25, 2012, that the United States was paying $50,000 to Afghan families for each victim of Staff Sergeant Bales!

How it is the United States halted the war in Afghanistan for a time after Staff Sergeant Bales allegedly killed sixteen civilians? Then we paid $50,000 in restitution for each Afghan victim. Meanwhile—in the United States—over three years after the massacre at FortHood, the victims of Hasan have not received a dime.

I am outraged. The United States government by way of the U.S. Army sent Staff Sergeant Robert Bales on his fourth deployment. He’d requested that he be made a member of the rear detachment (in other words, asked that he remain at Fort Lewis, WA during that particular deployment) while his unit went to Afghanistan. Records indicate Bales didn’t feel he was well enough for another deployment.

Staff Sergeant Bales was already a decorated veteran of three previous combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wasn’t that enough for one soldier to endure? Hadn’t he been away from his family long enough? As a result of his previous three deployments, Staff Sergeant Bales had already been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

Add the PTSD and TBI together and we know an individual’s personality can change and become an exploding time bomb. There’s no warning. The individual doesn’t confide in anyone. It simply happens. I refer you to a former blog I posted titled, “Do We Need To Bring Back The Draft?” You may read it here.

It’s reported Staff Sergeant Bales diagnoses were made in early 2012 before he was sent to Afghanistan. This should have been a clear sign to his command that he was not fit for combat duty.

While Staff Sergeant Bales appeared in his courtroom wearing an Army Dress Green uniform; Hasan held up his proceedings for eighteen months because he refused to shave his beard.

Hasan has yet to be convicted of anything. He’s still a military officer—hence, he’s still bound by military rules that state “males will keep their face clean-shaven when in uniform or in civilian clothes on duty.”

Exceptions are made to the clean-shaven requirement when specific military operations or a medical condition meets specifications.

I wonder, if Staff Sergeant Bales grew a beard, would that delay his court-martial by three years?

The defense attorney representing Staff Sergeant Bales told the judge hearing Bales’ case that he would need at least a year and a half to prepare Bales’ defense.

Some doubt as to Bales’ sole guilt has been brought forward in indirect accounts. It’s been suggested that one or more other soldiers may have been involved.

In Hasan’s case, he’s accused of firing in excess of two hundred rounds, killing thirteen soldiers and wounding thirty-two people! Hasan’s defense has asked the court to set aside the death penalty against Hasan. The defense is also arguing for a change of venue on the grounds that Hasan cannot get a fair trial at Fort Hood. Many of the wounded and family members of the deceased have said they will take off work to attend the trial of Hasan. They are desperate for closure. The new judge may grant the change of venue motion.

It seems to me the United States government is doing everything possible to not move forward with Hasan’s trial. And Hasan won the battle to keep his beard. It may be petty of me but I say let the man await trial in the general population at Fort Leavenworth—the only maximum-security prison within the Department of Defense, unofficially called ‘The Castle.’ I suspect Hasan’s beard would be gone within twenty-four hours of his arrival at Leavenworth!

As my grandmother was fond of saying, “Those folks over there must be drinking from a different cup.” I had the same thought when I read the military prosecutors at Fort Lewis argued Staff Sergeant Bales should not be allowed to have any expert witnesses testify about what effect his mental health might have had on his guilt. Nor do they want any medical expert to testify during the penalty phase of the trial, should it get that far, as to whether any history of traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder should spare him the death penalty.

In my opinion, justice is not being served in either case.

For either man to be executed, a military jury must unanimously find him guilty of the eligible crime and at least one aggravating factor that largely outweighs any mitigating circumstances. Premeditation must also be present.

The military justice system also requires the U.S. president to approve the execution of a service member, which last occurred in 1961.

What’s your opinion? Is justice being served? Do we have a dual set of standards exposed with the treatment of Major Hasan and Staff Sergeant Bales? I’d like to hear from you.

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About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
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29 Responses to IS THIS JUSTICE?

  1. Sheri, you always have the facts and present everything so logically. Justice is definitely not being served and the delays are completely unacceptable. It is shocking to see the Afghani families have been compensated and yet nothing done for the American victims. I don’t get it.
    Thinking of you today and wishing you a speedy recovery!

  2. Patty – The more I read the more concerned I become. So many men from previous wars did not apply to the VA for assistance of any type. We have more veterans seeking care from Iraq and Afghanistan than ever before. Of course we also are saving more seriously injured soldiers than ever before. Soldiers still experience the issue of the mental health stigma. They are afraid of seeking help while they are active duty so it doesn’t show up as being service connected. When they get out of service, there’s nothing in their record and they can’t receive help from the VA or receive any disability. It’s a terrible situation we’ve put thousands upon thousands of men and women and their families into.

  3. I have been sort of following these stories but had no idea about the injustice involved. I appreciate your honesty in reporting these things and for keeping us informed. Something is indeed wrong with our government – I am so sadden to see what this once great country is becoming. Prayers are much needed for this young man and for the families and victims from the Ft Hood shooting.

    • Patty – Thanks for bringing your comments to the table. I’m very concerned for the wife and children of Staff Sergeant Bales. Their world has been blown apart and the Army has absolutely no support for families in these situations. As you are well aware, the military frowns upon any type of mental health care support and for the Bales family, I can only imagine the terror they are living through.

      At present I’m researching the wave of suicides among active duty military family members and it all goes back to ‘we are strong, we are invincible, and we can’t get help because it will get back to my husband’s command. Nothing much has changed when it comes to the military and mental health care.

  4. Sheri- I’m sure you already know that I completely agree with you on this one. There are times when I just want to throw my hands up in the air in frustration at the way we handle things.

    On a side (and unrelated) note…your Liebster Award post seems to be malfunctioning. I’ve not been able to like or comment on it.

  5. Sheri, I love the way you write the facts, regardless of where the chips may fall. I’m 1000% with you on this one, as usual.

  6. Hi Sheri – amazing post. You have really thought this through so carefully.

    According to the New York Times (Dec. 4, 2012), Hasan’s defense team is from the U.S. Army Trial Defense Service… all paid for at no cost to him.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Army_Trial_Defense_Service

    Didn’t want to post it publicly if that isn’t the case or if there are limits I don’t know about. Does that help?

    Jacques had a very rough weekend but I think he’s turning a corner now. We’re waiting on calls re urology follow-up (complications with catheter) and home nurse visit. We had a very poor night. Jacques was intubated last Wednesday to send a camera into his heart as a pre-op procedure. They must have scraped his esophagus because he has a lot of phlegm and it’s worse at night because he’s lying down.

    We’ll be so happy when he recovers and finds his new normal. We spent five hours in ER on Friday night en route to home from Montreal… catheter had pulled and we didn’t know blood in urine is normal after-effect for many males. We finally got in at 12:30 a.m. on Saturday… animals happy to see us.

    Will call before Friday for a chat before you have your surgery. Tomorrow okay?

    Hugs! Mary

    On Sun, Feb 10, 2013 at 9:10 PM, Sheri de Grom

    • Mary – Did you take a look at what the defense team is costing the US tax payer? They are the elite of the elite. There’s also another team of civilian attorneys that work on items such as change of venue motions, the religious conceptions that can be argued in the courts and on and on.

      Tomorrow looks good for a chat. I’ve been thinking of you and Jacques and praying that all went well – sounds like you’ve had a real adventure. Prayers coming your way.

  7. Interesting to compare the two cases. I had no idea they were on such different tracks. It appears that, in fact, Justice is not blind. In both cases, a “hearts and mind” battle is being waged over the heads of the two accused. In Bales’ case, paying off the families quickly was no doubt seen as a way to soothe outrage in Afghanistan over the indiscriminate murders of innocent civilians. Delaying Hasan’s case may be seen as a way to reassure the American Muslim community that every possible defense is being explored. But, I’m with you Sheri – there are definitely two cups in play. Leavenworth… hmm … good idea!

    • Mary – With all you have going on, thanks for coming to the table on this issue. Yes, paying the families of the victims of the families in Afghanistan was a way to soothe outrage over the murders of innocent civilians. However, we are now learning, two of the individuals killed were maybe not as innocent as once reported. And, what about the innocent soldiers, husband, fathers, sons, lovers killed at Fort Hood, TX by a known Muslim. Why haven’t they been compensated for their loss? The American Muslim community has expressed concern that Hasan’s trial is bringing negative media attention to their peaceful existence. I do not believe either case will play out well.

  8. Jane Sadek says:

    It’s being served a pile of excrement in both cases. If I had been in any doubt about who’s really in charge around here, this would solve it. The media is judge and jury. Far be it from the courts to make a stab at justice.

    • Jane – I think this one is more about politics than media. I believe the US is being cowardly in their approach to both cases. Maj Hasan is being treated ‘hands-off’ because of his religion (although religion is not supposed to matter in the armed forces with his being allowed to keep his beard a case in point). In the meantime, the judge for Staff Sergeant Bales wants to expedite his court-martial and not allow evidence into the trial. These are issues being guided by a far stronger hand than the media. These are directives coming from commands high above the individual JAG Corp wherein these individuals are being prosecuted. Thanks for bringing your opinion to the table.

      • Jane Sadek says:

        I hear you. I have a tendency to blame everything on the media. I admit that I’m not as familiar with the Bales case as I am Maj Hasan, but I have friends down at Fort Hood and I’m plenty angry about that. You’re 100% right that Hasan’s religion is the hot button. They’re scared of the backlash if the media reported that they’d forced him to cut off his beard or said anything that might tie Islam to his deed – even though he himself did that when he called on Allah during his killing spree. Religion should have zero zilch to do with it. It doesn’t matter to me which god he was ranting about as he mowed people down. He’s killed people and ruined the lives of those left behind. Let’s quit pussy-footing around and tie up the loose ends.

        • Jane – I so agree it’s easy to blame the media for everything. The fact that you have friends near Fort Hood makes this an additional hot button and I bet the media is in a constant state of frenzy there. The media is purposely being cut out of the Bales case. It’s hard to find any real information and what’s found is not always reliable.

          We know Hasan killed innocent people. The government knew his mind-set before he acted. Does that excuse what he did? IMO, absolutely not. He killed innocent people. I’m all for getting on with a conviction.

  9. Sheri, those folks always drink from a different cup. I had a good friend who was a Supreme Justice in NYC. When I railed over the cockeyed way our government does things, or that there was a different set of rules depending upon who you were … he said … “REmember that justice is blind, and we are given the task of leading her like a guard dog.”

    Also, if there is no sound bite or publicity benefit from paying off the victims, Big Brother doesn’t feel the need to make restitution. What a sorry mess this system is in );

    • Amen, Florence. It’s all about the PR.

    • Florence – Some days the heart on my sleeve is larger than other days. The classic story of these two men has crawled under my skin and I don’t like the process being used. It makes me angry to see what our founding fathers intended for justice to be sent so far afield. It turns my stomach when I read how Major Hasan continues to manipulate the judicial system at every turn. The true injustice IMO is that the judge is allowing it to happen. The 1st judge was removed with prejudice. However, the 2nd judge shames me to be associated with the judicial process.

  10. Denise Hisey says:

    Sheri, you always have so much background understanding to bring these stories to life. Both are tragedies, but the discrepancy of how the cases are being handled is terrible.

  11. I agree with the other two commenters…I will say should Leavenworth be involved I am only 25 mins from there I will stand in line to watch him roll thru the gates, and pray that justice takes place behind the walls of the castle!!!

  12. I’m also wondering what can be done? It’s clear to me that justice is not being given fairly to Bale’s and over so to Hasan. I suspect we all know the reason why, but I’d like to hear from the government what their rationale is. I’m liking your suggestion of Leavenworth!

    • Tameri – I thought you might like my idea of Leavenworth. If I weren’t scheduled for surgery this Friday on my hand/arm, I’d volunteer to assist the defense of Bales. It’s not that I think he’s innocent. I do think he’s innocent until proven guilty and with the information set forth, the prosecution has a task ahead of them. Thanks for bringing your opinion to the table.

  13. Oh my goodness, Sheri, this is terribly involved. My initial reaction is that no, equality in justice is not happening in these instances. The delay in Hasan’s trial and then ignoring the PTSD and TBI in Bales’ case is unbelievably unfair. But, what can be done?

    • Patti – You are correct in assessing the situation as being terribly involved. There’s much that will never see the light of day. I ache for the victims of Hasan. As I commented to Tameri, if I didn’t have hand/arm surgery scheduled for Friday, I’d volunteer my services to the defense of Bales. It’s not that I believe he’s innocent but I do believe the Army is at fault for deploying him with a dual diagnoses of PTSD and TBI. It’s also reported that Staff Sergeant Bales’ defense team is almost out of money and money has never been a problem for Major Hasan.

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