Justice in Afghanistan

Imagine that a team of British soldiers is on a joint training mission with U.S. armed forces here in the United States. One of these hypothetical British soldiers leaves the base where they are training, drives into a nearby town, and begins shooting at innocent American citizens as they go about their daily business. He kills 16 men, women, and children. How would we react?

I can tell you one thing: the perpetrator of the violence would not be permitted to leave the United States. We would not accept the British Army airlifting him home and declaring that he’ll face military justice there. No, his crime would have been committed in the United States, under U.S. jurisdiction, and we would insist that he be brought to justice under the U.S. system. It’s quite simple: when you are a guest in a foreign country, even when you are there as part of an active military force, you must obey that country’s laws.

Sadly, a variant of this hypothetical situation played out Sunday in Afghanistan. A yet-unidentified U.S. Army Staff Sargent went on an inexplicable rampage in an Afghan village, killing 16 innocent civilians—nine children and seven adults. And what did we do? We promptly airlifted the perpetrator to Kuwait, and he is expected to be brought back to the U.S. soon to face trial. We’ve told our outraged Afghan brethren not to worry; we’ll make sure he faces justice.

Nonsense. The accused committed a horrific crime as a guest in a foreign country, and that country has the right to detain, try, and punish him for what he has done. The fact that the accused is a U.S. citizen is irrelevant. The fact that he is a U.S. Army soldier is irrelevant. When he went ‘rogue’ and started committing acts of violence outside of his military duties (and clearly outside the agreed-upon rules of engagement), he lost any protection he might otherwise have been entitled to. As an individual American on the streets of Afghanistan, outside of his official duties, he is clearly subject to Afghan legal jurisdiction.

We must immediately return the accused to Afghanistan and turn him over to the Afghan authorities so that he can face justice in the jurisdiction where the crime was committed. We would not accept anything less if the nationalities involved were reversed.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.