Travesties of justice

By guest author Dr. Dahlia Wasfi

On August 27, 2012, the US Marine Corps announced “non-judicial administrative punishments” for several Marines who were videotaped urinating on three dead bodies in Afghanistan.

Rachel Corrie crushed by a bulldozer

Rachel Corrie crushed by a bulldozer. Photo by Joe Carr, used under CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Such minor punishments can include “a reprimand, reductions in rank, forfeiting pay, extra duties or being restricted to a military base.” These Marines will not face criminal charges for their deviant behavior which could be considered a war crime.

While the dead victims have often been identified in the media as Taliban fighters, I have not seen any evidence for this allegation or any justification for their deaths.

On August 28, 2012, the travesty of justice continued with an Israeli court’s ruling in the civil lawsuit brought by the family of American activist Rachel Corrie.

Rachel was a member of the International Solidarity Movement in the city of Rafah in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory of Gaza. With her colleagues on March 16, 2003, she was practicing civil disobedience to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes.

Rachel was crushed to death by two Israeli soldiers commandeering a 60-ton, D9 militarized Caterpillar bulldozer.

This week, the Corrie family’s case charging that the Israeli military was responsible for Rachel’s death was dismissed. As reported by The Guardian, the verdict stated that Israel “could not be held responsible because its army was engaged in a combat operation.”

This ruling blatantly contradicts international humanitarian law that was created to protect civilians during armed conflict.

Rachel’s mother, Cindy Corrie, pursues justice for her daughter and for all human rights defenders and those suffering under oppression. The night before the verdict, she said:  “Craig [Rachel’s father] and I have been so blessed because Rachel gave us this opportunity to focus here. There’s no end to the work that can be done around this issue, and other peace and justice issues.…”

Since justice is lacking from the institutions created to serve it, we must continue our work on whatever issues are dearest to our hearts.

As long as we are without justice, we will be without peace.

For more information on Rachel and the Corries’ work, please visit:

Dahlia Wasfi

This entry was posted in Armed conflict, Champions of peace, Human rights, Protest and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Travesties of justice

  1. Gold Dust Twin says:

    “His commanding officer, Colonel Pinhas Zuaretz, told the court that Rafah was a war zone in 2003 and said that “reasonable people would not be there unless they had aims of attacking our forces.” It is appalling that due to specious reasoning like this the charges against Rachel Corrie’s murderers have been dismissed. I applaud Rachel’s mother for not giving up on her pursuit of justice for her daughter and for joining the ranks of other defenders of human rights.

    • Dahlia Wasfi says:

      Beautifully said, Gold Dust Twin. I have met Rachel’s parents and I remain in awe of their strength and fortitude. Thanks to you, another defender of human rights, for your passion for justice and compassion for all.

  2. kathiemm says:

    Thanks for this powerful essay, Dahlia. I agree with Gold Dust Twin that exonerating the perpetrators of Rachel Corrie’s cold-blooded murder because she was in “a war zone” is specious and worse than specious. It is also a prime example of moral disengagement–blaming the victim, denial of responsibility. Clearly the perpetrators knew that they were at no physical risk from Rachel, and no way could their running her over be considered self-defense. The risk to them was in violating reasonable moral codes and international law. They should be held responsible for those violations.

  3. Sadia says:

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me that the U.S. soldiers will get away with this crime. It’s happened in former wars, like in Vietnam and Korea, and among the other internal issues within the police departments. As the other commenters said that they should be held accountable, but, in reality, will not be held accountable. Great article, though.

    • kathiemm says:

      Thank you for your comment, Sadia. It is distressing when anyone gets away with inhumane behavior towards others. Fortunately, not everyone behaves badly. When I think about the Vietnam War, I think about not only the inhumane behavior, but also the protests by many servicemen and women against that war–including disobeying orders. Indeed, I believe they helped bring it to an end to that war.

      • heather murdick says:

        kathiemm and Sadie,

        I would of have to agree with kathiemm that not every person is inhumane. Sadie, I would have to say that not everyone who has fought a war gets away with any crime that he or she might have done while fighting. I know individuals who have been discharged from the military for the crimes that they have done plus were punished. So it is just not everyone.

        • kathiemm says:

          Thanks for your comment, Heather, especially sharing information about punishment for misdeeds done in the military.

        • Dahlia Wasfi says:

          I think both Sadia and Heather make good points. I don’t think everyone in the military is inhumane, but one of the major goals of basic training is to teach one human being to kill another human being: that is inhumane. I’ve also learned from my husband, who is a veteran, about what psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton termed “atrocity-producing situations.” Lifton concluded that war crimes can be committed in such situations by someone who is not ordinarily inhumane or mentally ill. In our history of wars, soldiers and Marines are rarely held accountable for crimes committed against the foreign population. Infractions of drug use or theft may bring consequences, but crimes against civilians overseas rarely does. Perhaps that reflects the inhumanity of our society as a whole, which allows men and women in uniform to literally get away with murder.

          • kathiemm says:

            Thanks Dahlia. I think it is critical that we learn to understand and anticipate all the factors that allow people who may in many situations behave humanely to become able to perpetrate inhumane acts. In your view, when a “foot soldier” or marine follows orders and commits atrocity, who should be brought to justice? how? what form should “justice” take?

          • Dahlia Wasfi says:

            Hi Kathy–In my view, there should be accountability for both the “foot soldier” and his/her superior who gave the order. The punishment for each should take into consideration the role played; for example, as Robert Jackson noted in his opening statement as Chief Prosecutor for the US at the Nuremburg Trials, “A conscripted private on a firing squad cannot expect to hold an inquest on the validity of the execution.” Still, Jackson emphasized that all individuals involved, from bottom to top, should be held accountable: “The [Nuremburg] Charter recognizes that one who has committed criminal acts may not take refuge in superior orders nor in the doctrine that his crimes were acts of states. These twin principles working together have heretofore resulted in immunity for practically everyone concerned in the really great crimes against peace and mankind. Those in lower ranks were protected against liability by the orders of their superiors. The superiors were protected because their orders were called acts of state. Under the Charter, no defense based on either of these doctrines can be entertained. Modern civilization puts unlimited weapons of destruction in the hands of men. It cannot tolerate so vast an area of legal irresponsibility.” Today, the Nuremburg Charter and results of the Trials set the precedent for holding US soldiers, Marines, officers, and politicians accountable for their illegal actions.
            (Jackson quotes from http://www.roberthjackson.org/the-man/speeches-articles/speeches/speeches-by-robert-h-jackson/opening-statement-before-the-international-military-tribunal/)

          • kathiemm says:

            Thanks so much for your well-deliberated and well-informed views, Dahlia. I think it is very valuable but everyone to be reminded about the principles in the Nuremburg Charter. It is very dangerous if the people in any country think that such principles should not apply to them. And thanks for the link to the full document–full of food for thought.

  4. K says:

    I’m wondering, what is your definition of justice? How can there be a unified justice considering the diversity of cultures? I had a discussion with someone today, where they laughed at “basic human needs” becoming human rights – but they ARE rights, and often, people forget that before things like equality, LGBTQ freedom, there need to be sufficient resources, healthcare, and security.

    This was very well written, but I would’ve liked to have more of a definition of justice and peace.

    • Dahlia Wasfi says:

      Thanks, K, for reading and posting. That’s fair criticism that my use of the term “justice” was vague; your point is well-taken that that as cultures and traditions vary, so may specific ideas of “justice”, e.g. reparations, fines, prison time, etc. To clarify, my use of “justice” was in reference to the uniform implementation of the standards of international law and the Declaration of Human Rights and Declaration of the Rights of the Child. (I would also include a Declaration of the Rights of Living Things and the Planet, if it exists.) There can be no double standards in holding individuals or governments accountable. Specifically for the cases in this article, there shouldn’t be one standard of behavior for the US and Israel and their state-sponsored terrorism, and a different standard for other nations.

  5. Gold Dust Twin says:

    Re the term “moral disengagement,” I remember well my feelings of distress over the clearly unjust war on Vietnam. When Vietnam Veterans Against the War took their stance, I sent them a check and said, “Good for you!” I think they qualified as morally ENgaged as opposed to the morally disengaged war supporters.

  6. Maraya Rodriguez says:

    In regard to the Travesties of Justice (Sept. 17, 2012) post, I led a small discussion group discussing the murder of Rachel Corrie, the ways in which it violated just war principles, and the relationship between that tragedy and family violence in the US. Here is a summary of that discussion.

    The discussion group did not agree with the verdict finding the perpetrators of Rachel’s death not guilty. Based on the Just War Principle that, “The use of force must be proportional to the object to be achieved,” everyone agreed that the use of force (“Bulldozing” and killing Rachel) was in no way proportionate to the “object to be achieved,” which was the demolition of (empty) Palestinian homes. It was agreed that the use of force could even be considered a war crime, because of “violating international agreements.” Whether classified as a war crime or not, we believed that the verdict neglected international guidelines for the conduct of war, and should have held the “bulldozer” legally accountable (in some way) for the death of Rachel Corrie.

    The apparent perception of Israeli Army regarding the actions of Rachel and other activists resisting the demolitions was that “International activists were intent on obstructing the actions of the Israeli military and acting as human shields ‘to protect terrorists’ (“Dismissed” link in Travesties of Peace blog).” While the group believed Rachel’s death was unjustified, we also agreed that when looking at her case one needed to consider the perspectives of the Israeli Army, which may have perceived the demolition of “Terrorist” (Palestinian) homes as increasing the chance of success in ensuing peace by preventing further “terrorist acts” of abuse and violence to their people. Further, they could have considered Rachel a threat to that peace, and that saving the lives/welfare of countless individuals outweighed saving her life. We agreed that principles like Just War principles and international law allow for so much subjectivity that it is very difficult to use them as evidence in an international case, or even as guidelines, because the interpretations them are endless.

    Similarly to Rachel’s case, there are other contexts that in the U.S have allowed justifications for levels of abuse/violence that would in no way be tolerated in other contexts. For example, the book Family Violence in the United States discusses rape within the context of marriage. Until 1977, rape was considered to be intercourse forced only on a woman who was not the aggressor’s wife. Therefore, behaviors constituting rape were considered justified in the context of marriage and were not criminally charged or punished. However outside of marriage rape was considered a serious violation of human/women’s/men’s rights subject to criminal charges.

    In the U.S. today, spousal rape is considered a crime in all 50 states. However, it is still considered a lesser offence that other forms of rape. Marital rape is punishable only by 2-10 years in prison, while other forms of rape are punishable by 10-35 years, suggesting that marital rape is not seen as blameworthy when committed in the context of marriage, is not as severe as when committed outside of marriage.

    While it is impossible to separate any form of maltreatment/abuse/violence from the context in which it occurs, our group argued that it is hypocritical by definition, to make justifications for behaviors that are considered morally and legally unacceptable in one context in comparison to another. Morals aside, the U.S law system has greatly influenced, if not created the majority of the population’s interpretations of how “wrong” behaviors are based on the severity of the punishment, resulting in a conscious or unconscious understanding that if a particular form of aggression is justified or less severely punished in a particular context, the behavior must not be severe in general.

    However, while we can make this correlation, we also concluded that only in a perfect world could we stop the justifications made for behaviors of abuse and violence. Even though it seems that with certain behaviors/criminal charges no justifications should ever be allowed, taking away ability any leeway regarding, for example, aggressive behavior, would create a “Black and white” legal system that would charge/punish even for accidents, and acts of self defense. Therefore, the next question we strive to find an answer to is how to make the legal system/just war principles and crime definitions more clear, despite subjectivity on both a national and international level, to both lower crime rate and to also better protect the victims of abuse/violence.

    • Dahlia Wasfi says:

      Dear Maraya–Thank you for holding such a discussion and sharing its outcome. Such dialogue is critical to understanding, and I thank you for this effort. You wrote, “everyone agreed that the use of force (‘Bulldozing’ and killing Rachel) was in no way proportionate to the ‘object to be achieved,’ which was the demolition of (empty) Palestinian homes.” It is critical to note that Rachel’s murder was a crime committed by the Israeli army as its soldiers were in the process of committing another crime. Home demolition–the “object to be achieved”–is a tactic employed by the Israeli government/army as collective punishment (which is illegal) for the purpose of ethnic cleansing (which is illegal). As recently as June 2012, the Charge d’Affairs of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the UN documented these house demolitions continue as “grave violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and human rights law.” (http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.nsf/40FDC200EC43046A852577290052125F/4A9E59F789296CA685257A2A004F8ACC)
      Furthermore, it is not uncommon for the army to bulldoze homes with family members inside. Many Palestinians have been injured or killed as a result: scroll down to “The Plaintiffs” at http://ccrjustice.org/learn-more/faqs/factsheet%3A-home-demolitions-and-caterpillar. On March 16, 2003, Rachel was practicing non-violent civil disobedience to prevent the destruction of the home of pharmacist Dr. Samir Nasrallah and his extended family, who were inside.

  7. Natasha Phillips says:

    Regrettably, the military has created a culture where crimes such as this are treated as minor disciplinary infringements instead of egregious wrongdoings. In an institution that is supposed to represent the most honorable and patriotic aspects of our country, it instead reflects some of the ugliest parts of American culture. Military culture is a direct reflection of the tolerant culture the United States has adopted towards violence and aggression. According to Family Violence in the United States, we are one of the few Western countries where corporal punishment for children is legal. Schoolteachers are allows to exact corporal punishment on students, parents are allowed to physically punish their children, and military officers are given permission to use corporal punishment on subordinates they see as needing discipline. “Cultural norms allow parents and teachers to aggress against children, and most parents accept physical punishment as an acceptable and even desirable method of child rearing” (Family Violence in the United States). The same is true of military officers—physical discipline is treated as acceptable, appropriate, and even desirable in the training and punishment of solders. And, as in some cases with abusive parents, when military officers are tried for questionable actions in military tribunals the tendency is to trust the commanding officer’s judgment and the punishment meted is cast as acceptable for what the circumstances may have “required”.
    Just as we accept parent’s decisions to use corporal punishment to “correct” their children, we accept the officers’ decisions to “correct” their subordinates in ways that can be perceived as violent and abusive. The incident where Privates were subject to “non-judicial” administrative punishments for urinating on the dead bodies of enemy soldiers is similarly remarkable. Because we have accepted dehumanization of the “enemy” in order to justify mass violence against other peoples, the moral digression is considered excusable and judged as only a minor infraction—yet another reflection of our overwhelming tolerance and justification of violence as a nation. Just as we justify corporal punishment as necessary, we justify acts against humanity as being minor infractions by viewing the “enemy” as less human than ourselves and not deserving of the same justice. Under the ambivalent moral code of the United States we provide justifications for and explain away every act that would otherwise be uncomfortable and unspeakable, thereby morally disengaging ourselves from reality.

    • kathiemm says:

      Thank you for your very informative comment, Natasha. You make very good comparisons concerning tolerance for different forms of corporal punishment. Although many people in the US have come to see that corporal punishment is not the most effective way to rear responsible, self-monitoring, reflective and caring adults, the majority of families in this country still use corporal punishment, particularly on very young children. We lag far behind other countries in which there has been acceptance of the notion that corporal punishment violates children’s rights as well as leading to a variety of unfortunate outcomes for the children, their families, and the broader society–to the point where more children are killed by their parents in the US than in any other “developed” nation. Food for thought.

    • Dahlia Wasfi says:

      I also say thank you, Natasha, for your insightful post. I appreciate how you described the theme of the article as “yet another reflection of our overwhelming tolerance and justification of violence as a nation.” Thanks also for keeping the dialogue going…I was unaware that more children are killed by their parents in the US than in any other “developed” nation, as Kathie noted. Horrifying, yet not so surprising in light of how violent our culture is.

  8. heather murdick says:

    I remember watching on the about how young college students travel the world to visit different cultures. I remember watching on the news and reading about a young woman who arrested for possiblity of being a spy. Of course that this is during the time that we are currently at war in Iraq. This poor girl if found guilty would or could have gotten life in prison or even death because this is a war zone. What this family went through for not knowing what could be the faith of their child because in Iraq that is a harsh crime. That girls family went all out to prove that their daugther to be innocent. Rachels family just wanted justice for what had happen to their daughter no matter if it is in a war zone or not. no innocent person should have been ran over by a bulldozer.

  9. Kimberley Brunner says:

    For the most part, many would agree that if someone commits a violent act, that person deserves to be punished to the fullest extent that is reasonable for the crime committed. However, this is not always the case. For example, when several Marines were videotaped urinating on the three dead bodies in Afghanistan, many of them received only minor punishments. These minor punishments included a reprimand from a superior, forfeit of pay, reduction in rank, extra duties or being restricted to the military base. None of the Marines involved in the incident, faced criminal charges, nor will they ever. However there is no justification as to why these soldiers did not/ will not face criminal charges. Just because a crime takes place during a time of combat or war does not excuse the severity of the crime or provide sufficient justification for a reduced punishment. As I read this post, I found many parallels between the topic that was discussed and family violence.

    As the topic of domestic violence has gained more notice among lawmakers, and the courts, one controversial topic has been deciding whether maternal substance abuse during pregnancy can be considered to be child maltreatment. Courts and lawmakers can’t agree whether a child should be removed from his or her mother because of maternal substance abuse during the pregnancy, according to Hines and Malley-Morrison’s Family Violence in the United States (Chap. 12, 299). Between 1986 and 1991 the number of children who had been placed in foster care because of maternal substance abuse during pregnancy increased from 17% to 55%. In many of these cases, instead of trying to keep the child with the mother and offering therapy and treatment for the addiction, the child was taken away from his or her home, the mother lost custody and often faced criminal charges as well (Chap. 12, 300). By the mid-1990s, 70% of states were criminally persecuting women for taking illicit drugs during pregnancy. Many lawmakers and social workers believed that the penal law was being misused in these situations and recently there has been a move away from criminally prosecuting women who take illicit drugs during their pregnancies and many courts have begun to rule in favor of the defendant (Chap. 12, 300). Many states still consider fetal abuse through substance exposure a legally reportable type of abuse.

    This is a very controversial issue because to what extent are the courts under punishing or over punishing women who take drugs or drink alcohol during their pregnancies. Some research has indicated that exposure of unborn infants to illegal drugs is dangerous for the fetus and carries severe risks such as poor nutritional status, health deficits. Other studies have indicated that it is difficult to separate the ill-effects of substance abuse during pregnancy from the consequences of poverty (Chap. 12, 300). Therefore based on this research to what extent can the courts actually punish the mothers? Would it be more beneficial to have a social worker monitor mother’s that they consider being at risk during their pregnancy and for the first few years of the child’s life. In addition, the mothers who often lose custody of their children because they abused illegal substances during their pregnancy often are single mothers from minority groups who are unemployed, undereducated and poor. Is it possible therefore that these mothers lose their child because it is easier to take away their children than to work with the mothers to provide them with more education and the resources necessary to get job and rise out of poverty. In the late 1980’s and 1990’s when mothers were losing their children because they abused substances during pregnancy, was the criminal prosecutions that these women underwent more in response to their socio-economic status. If a mother who was middle or upper-class abused drugs or alcohol during her pregnancy, it would be easier for her to keep her child. Some of argued that such practices have turned the war on drugs into a war on women, with low-income women of color often becoming the victims.

    This type of practice does not protect the unborn child, but unfairly punishes mothers for being poor, pregnant and addicted to substances. Rather than prosecuting these women criminally, it would be beneficial to place these mothers in treatment centers during their pregnancy where they not only overcome their addictions but also learn how to properly care for a child. While these women are theoretically committing abuse, the punishment must fit the crime. Many of these women are reacting from pressures in their environment. If women who do abuse their fetus by ingesting harmful substances are criminally persecuted, then all women who commit such acts should be prosecuted not only those who are low-income or a minority. If fetal abuse is committed by a middle or upper-class woman, that does not lessen the severity of the crime. Similarly, if a crime is committed during a time of war by a soldier, that does not lessen the severity of the crime and therefore the punishment should not be reduced simply because the crime was committed during a time of war.

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