All I can say is: It’s a good thing that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who apparently killed 16 Afghan civilians in cold blood, will be tried by a panel of his peers (i.e. fellow soldiers) in a military court-martial rather than by a civilian jury. The latter, I suspect, will be more sympathetic than the former to the media-driven image of him as a poster boy for post-traumatic stress disorder rather than simply judging him to be a murderous fiend.
The New York Times, for example, has a lengthy account todaythat portrays Bales as an all-American type—high school football player, family man, patriotic volunteer—who simply snapped, through no fault of his own, under the weight of four combat deployments combined with marital and money woes. The depiction may be accurate enough, and there is no doubt that PTSD is a real problem and that nonstop combat deployments take a toll, but there is no excuse or justification for the heinous act he is accused of committing.
Yesterday, the New York Times devoted considerable space to the story of one Islam Dar Ayyoub, a 15-year-old Palestinian from a village near Ramallah. According to the story, Ayyoub’s childhood was stolen from him when he was thrust into Israel’s military court system a year ago. Ayyoub is the Times’ candidate for the position of poster child for what it calls Israel’s “harsh, unforgiving methods” in dealing with Palestinian violence. But though the purpose of the story was to indict Israel, anyone reading between the lines of Ayyoub’s sob story could see the real villain of this tale is not Israel’s military but the Palestinian “activists” who have exploited their children. They are recruited into gangs explicitly tasked with starting violent confrontations with Israelis by the throwing of stones and other lethal weapons, hoping the soldiers will defend themselves and kill one of the kids.
Ayyoub is depicted as a victim because he gave up his confederates to the Israelis and in particular a local Palestinian adult named Bassem Tamim, who was the overseer of what in any other context would be called a violent youth gang. “Human rights” activists think the prosecution of this person should be scrapped because the kid who dropped the dime on him didn’t have a lawyer or his parents present when he talked. That might be what would happen on an episode of “Law and Order,” but the realities of the Middle East conflict are such that Israel’s tactics are justified.