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In the wake of numerous military and congressional investigations into allegations of abuse of Iraqis in U.S. custody at Abu Ghraib prison, nine soldiers were referred to trials by courts-martial on charges ranging from maltreatment of prisoners to conspiracy and dereliction of duty. The whole episode reminded me of my experience as a Navy lawyer trying scores of court-martial cases during the Vietnam era. Like those who said justice would not be done in the prosecution of Lt. William Calley for war crimes at My Lai during that controversial war, cynical commentators and some legal observers forecast that justice could not, and would not, be done in the Abu Ghraib cases. They were wrong. Some predicted that the proceedings would become a whitewash cover-up of systemic misconduct extending all the way up the military chain of command to the very top. To the contrary, all of those responsible, including a brigadier general who was commander of Abu Ghraib and a colonel who was in charge of an intelligence unit (interrogations) at the prison, have received appropriate punishment that effectively will end their distinguished military careers. Others argued that the accused soldiers couldn’t possibly get fair trials. Clearly that was not the case. All the defendants were ably represented by experienced military defense counsel of their choice free of charge, and some added expert civilian criminal lawyers to their defense teams. A jury of their peers Court-martial rules also allow for a more representative “jury of peers” for the accused, as an enlisted defendant is entitled to have a court-martial panel consisting of at least one-third enlisted personnel. For example, in the case of Spc. Sabrina Harman, her court-martial jury consisted of four officers and four enlisted soldiers. That’s due process of a kind not seen in civilian criminal trials. Still others fretted that the verdicts and sentences in the cases might not play well around the world. They feared the punishment meted out to these soldiers might be viewed as a light slap on the wrist in the Arab world, and possibly even among our coalition partners. Wrong again. Surely, most would agree that eight or 10 years’ confinement at hard labor in a military prison is no walk in the park. The sentences have sent a clear and unmistakable message that mistreatment of prisoners will not be tolerated. In contrast with civilian criminal cases, the courts-martial in the recent torture cases moved expeditiously-the military version of a “rocket docket.” Military judges frown on endless continuances. As a result, military cases simply don’t drag on and on. For example, the first Abu Ghraib case was set for trial on July 19, 2004, only months after the shocking allegations came to light, and all but one concluded on May 17 of this year. Of the nine soldiers charged, six pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison terms of between six months and eight years. The alleged ringleader of the perpetrators, Spc. Charles Graner Jr., went to trial, was convicted in January and was sentenced to 10 years in prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. Pfc. Lynndie England’s guilty plea was rejected by a military judge and her plea agreement scuttled. A new trial is set to begin early next month. In the final case, Harman pleaded not guilty, was tried and convicted on May 17, and was sentenced to six months in prison after making a tearful apology to the Iraqis. A model of decorum While the world watched, our military court system has succeeded in “doing justice.” The Uniform Code of Military Justice proved once again why it is the envy of the civilized world. The court-martial proceedings were fair, expeditious and remarkably free of the “circus atmosphere” that has plagued celebrity criminal trials in recent years in civilian courts. Military judges would never tolerate the showboat tactics and overt grandstanding that Judge Lance Ito allowed in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Although the jury is still out on the reaction in the international community to the soldiers’ punishment, by any measure, the sentences handed down were entirely appropriate, carefully balancing the severity of the offenses against mitigating circumstances regarding the young soldiers. The punishment fit the crime in each case. The military judges, prosecutors (trial counsel), defense counsel (military and civilian) and courts-martial members (jurors) should all take a bow. In the glare of international media attention, they did their jobs extremely well and, in the process, did America proud. Gerald D. Skoning, a former U.S. Navy court-martial trial lawyer, is a senior partner at Chicago’s Seyfarth Shaw.

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