How to get away with murder: military style
Military service members must be held accountable for their crimes
United States military presence is hardly welcomed by people overseas, and not without good reason. Every now and then, a story gets out of a solider committing a heinous crime completely out of line with the American values the military supposedly upholds. The most notorious of these were countless incidences of murder, rape and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan at places like Abu Ghraib prison. But the military isn’t just stationed in countries we are at war with. Currently, the U.S. military is deployed in more than 150 countries around the world for various strategic and economic reasons. What of the men and women representing us in these countries, where we don’t generally pay much attention?
There are currently 3,500 military members taking part in a joint military exercise in the Philippines. On Oct. 11, a 26-year-old transgender woman named Jennifer Laude was found apparently strangled and beaten to death in a hotel bathroom in Olongapo City. The Philippine government has charged a U.S. Marine, Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, with her murder, and many are calling this a hate crime.
Pemberton is currently being detained on a U.S. assault ship while the investigation continues. Under the Visiting Forces Agreement, while the Philippines can prosecute American service members, the service members can still remain in U.S. custody until the end of their trial. Much of the language in the Visiting Forces Agreement also shields service members from Philippine law and essentially grants them virtual immunity to the law of the land.
Unfortunately, this is hardly the first time we’ve heard about this kind of brutality and intolerance coming from members of the military. Many in the Philippines and here at home are skeptical about whether justice will actually be served. The military has an unfortunate track record of committing crimes while on duty and getting away with them — and this is in no small part because of the immunity that is often granted to troops overseas. In the infamous Subic Bay rape case in 2005, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was found guilty in Philippine court of raping a Filipina woman while other Marines watched.
Although the Philippine government sentenced him to life in prison, he was subsequently transferred from Philippine to U.S. custody — his conviction was overturned and he never had to serve out his sentence.
We cannot continue to allow members of our military to literally get away with murder. Military presence in places like the Philippines is largely unwelcome by those who live there, and the behavior of our troops hardly helps. In light of this murder, U.S. military involvement in the Philippines is being seriously questioned and protested by the public, as it should be. Members of our military are representing Americans across the globe, and we should not stand for their abuse of power. It only increases already present anti-American sentiment among the public in these countries.
This is all not to generalize or imply that most (or even the majority) of our soldiers are like this. But it should outrage us here just as much as it does those who are protesting in the Philippines right now that a member of the U.S. military just murdered a person in cold blood. We have to hold these soldiers accountable for their actions wherever they are, at home or abroad. Where’s the publicity on Laude’s murder? She was murdered nearly two weeks ago now, and yet, it is still difficult to find much coverage of the issue in mainstream media. We need to get over the sensationalized news we are so used to (such as the current unnecessary panic over an Ebola outbreak in the U.S.) and start opening our eyes to the atrocities being committed in our names all around the world.