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Opening Arguments

No punishment to fit the crime

This seems like a waste of time:

Marine Corps Pvt. Lazzaric T. Caldwell slit his wrists and spurred a legal debate that’s consuming the Pentagon, as well as the nation’s top military appeals court.

On Tuesday, the court wrestled with the wisdom of prosecuting Caldwell after his January 2010 suicide attempt. Though Caldwell pleaded guilty, he and his attorneys now question his original plea and the broader military law that makes “self-injury” a potential criminal offense.

[. . .]

Active-duty members who try and fail may be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice if the suicide attempt is deemed conduct that causes “prejudice to good order and discipline” or has a “tendency to bring the service into disrepute.”

“You don’t think people will think less well of the military if people are killing themselves?” Judge Margaret A. Ryan asked rhetorically.

[. . .]

This case is not about prosecuting suicide or attempted suicide,” Marine Corps Maj. David N. Roberts said Tuesday. “It’s about prosecuting an act that was prejudicial to good order and discipline.”

Roberts conceded under questioning, though, that even the trial judge thought self-injury was an “odd charge” for military prosecutors to levy. Pressing the point, Chief Judge James E. Baker asked skeptically whether the military would charge someone who’d developed post-traumatic stress after five combat tours.

Yes, I know unit cohesiveness is vital in the miliary, which is the one place where putting the group above the individual is still important. But calling a failed suicide attempt "prejudicial to good order and discipline" seems a tad extreme even given that. Neither of the main purposes of punishment -- to define acceptable behavior and prevent future breeches -- seems especially applicable. People who attempt suicide have given up altogether, so any extra punishment is meaningless to them.


Harl Delos
Wed, 11/28/2012 - 12:39pm

The military's business is killing people, and as they say, business is good.  Perhaps they ought to prosecute members of the military who attempt and fail to kill themselves for gross incompetence.

That's a facetious remark, of course.  It's a lot easier to kill a stranger than it is to kill yourself.  Suicide is damnably difficult.th

But that part of the UCMJ was designed to keep people from shooting off a toe, or something like that, in order to avoid participation in an assault which could be expected to have a high casualty rate.  Suicide isn't the act of a coward to avoid people harming you.  It's an analgesic taken when none of the other pain-killers are effective. If your comrade in arms really wants to die, the honorable thing to do is to help him accomplish that goal.