It’s a scenario that’s launched a thousand “miscarriage of military justice” stories and more than a few movies during and after three wars, now; soldier gets into difficult, ambiguous situation; soldier, believing himself to be threatened, shoots. Judge Advocate General jacks the soldier up over an arcane technicality in the “rules of engagement”, adjudicated by a bunch of officers and lawyers sitting in a secure base camp, an office or the Pentagon. And the soldier(s), having followed the rules in all but the one, most arcane, most-technical sense of the term, and having acted otherwise blamelessly, get sent to prison.
Some of the dimmer bulbs on the Twin Cities’ Sorosphere’s intellectual Festivus pole were grunting and argling yesterday about this piece here, from “Think” Progess, by one Jon Soltz, claiming that Florida’s (and by extension, Minnesota’s proposed and vetoed) “Stand Your Ground” laws “gives George Zimmerman more protection than soldiers overseas”. It’s written by one Jon Soltz, listed as founder and chairman of VoteVets.org,
The Trayvon Martin case has gripped the nation, and forced the country to re-examine our gun laws. But the horrible affair has struck me in another way, because of my two tours in Iraq. One fact stands out in my mind: The “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida, which may let George Zimmerman off the hook for the killing of Martin, gives more leeway to shooters than our own military gives to soldiers in war.
That sounds serious. And it is. Seriously misleading, anyway.
We’ll come back to that.
VoteVets.org has more than 105,000 members who take a wide array of views on gun control and the 2nd Amendment,
…although the group itself is a left-leaning “veterans” group affiliated with the whacko-left “Center for American Progress”, “Moveon.org”, and which is supported by the Soros-affiliated “Democracy Alliance”.
But this is less about the organization than about the spreading of chanting points in which Soltz is participating.
but the Trayvon Martin case is less about the right to bear arms than it is the “use of force.” It’s impossible to ignore the legal protection George Zimmerman enjoys in suburban Florida vs. the Rules of Engagement that outline when one of our troops can shoot while in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Soltz is half right…
…well, no. He’s half on topic. There is something that’s impossible to ignore.
But comparing rules for self-defense among civilians out and about in a civil society is nothing like the rules of engagement for the military in a combat zone.
The U.S. military issues Rules of Engagement (ROE) for every conflict to guide servicemembers’ ability to protect themselves from deadly threats…
…which Soltz goes on to describe in great detail and, I’ll presume, accurately (although I’d love to have some of combat veterans who read this blog go over his version of the ROE just to make sure), he misses a key point. And by “key”, I mean, “so vital that his entire point makes absolutely no sense if you get it wrong”.
A key component of the ROE used during the height of violence in Iraq in 2007 was the requirement to use “Graduated Force” when time and circumstances permit. Section 3.G.(1) states that if an individual “commit[s] a hostile act or demonstrat[es] hostile intent” — meaning he or she attacks U.S. or designated allied forces, nationals, or property, or threatens the imminent use of force against any of them — U.S. Force “may use force, up to and including deadly force, to eliminate the threat.”
A soldier (or sailor, airman or Marine) in a combat has a lot of firepower at hand; a selective-fire assault rifle (sometimes with a grenade launcher), a machine gun (anything from a squad automatic weapon to an M2 .50 caliber or a fully-automatic grenade launcher on top of their Hummer), or more; antitank rockets, grenades, and more. They can be supported by tanks with cannon with cannon that can pick your nose from a mile away with a depleted-uranium dart that flies at a mile every second and a half and that can go through a foot of armor steel. They’re a radio call away from calling in artillery – 40-to-100 pound shells in barrages of dozens of shells that can level a city block faster than a bunch of drunk Detroit Pistons fans – or air support, in the form of Apaches with rockets and automatic cannon, A10s and F16s flying close support, dropping 2000 GPS-guided bombs that can fly down your toilet more accurately than the Roto-Rooter guy, or even a B52 that can drop thirty or forty of them, if you really need to dig out of a jam.
The rules of engagement are there to make sure that the 19 year old kid with the aweseome responsibility of being at the business end of all that firepower knows how to use it to advance, rather than degrade, America’s interests in the area.
On the other hand, the law regarding civilian self-defense is there to judge whether homicide is justified or not. In every state, the questions are “is the citizen’s fear of death, rape, maiming or other injury reasonable enough to justify using lethal force”, “was the citizen a reluctant participant”, “was the force they used reasonable” and in some states, “did the citizen make a reasonable effort to retreat”. In some states, the citizens have to prove all of the above; in others – Florida – the state has to prove they didn’t.
We’ll come back to that.
Soltz gives an example of how Rules of Engagement caused a problem for one soldier:
In fact, Richard Allen Smith, the vice chairman of VoteVets.org, recently told me a story he had heard during his time in Afghanistan, which illustrates this point.
The Scout Platoon leader for Richard’s Battalion was in a situation in 2007 where they detained someone, but he managed to get out of their truck and flee. While he was running away, the Platoon Leader fired at him and caught him in the thigh. They called for a medevac, but he bled out before the bird could get there.
Under military law and rules of engagement, the Platoon Leader was clearly in the wrong: he pursued an unarmed guy who wasn’t posing a threat to U.S. Forces and shot him to death. He was charged (although he was never tried because he was injured a few days later when his truck was hit by an IED and he was deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial).
I’m not sure why Soltz brings this up: does he think a citizen would skate on shooting a fleeing attacker? As a rule, they would not.
But Soltz is slowly cutting to the chase, here. He starts out with an honest admission:
Of course, comparing the Trayvon Martin case to a war situation is neither fair nor clean, and we still don’t know all of the facts surrounding Trayvon’s death.
But the facts end there:
But insofar as what I’ve read about the case, it sounds to me that if Trayvon had been an Iraqi soldier, and George Zimmerman had been a U.S. Soldier, there would have been an immediate investigation, and most likely a manslaughter charge, and victim’s family financially compensated for wrongful death.
And that goes to show you the risks in going by “what you’ve read” when, as a lefty (and I’ll be charitable and assume that Soltz isn’t purely reciting the party line, which, given his groiup’s funding, is probably more charitable than warranted, but I’m a uniter, not a divider), the stuff you read is produced by groups that are trying to use the Martin case to fan racial tension to boost the President’s fortunes – or lefty-vetted “Experts” who are, in fact, not.
If Zimmerman was attacked, then under either military law (as Soltz recited it) or under criminal law, he was arguably justified in shooting. I say “arguably” because these things do need to be investigated.
Was it? Do we know the facts? As Soltz himself allowed, we do not.
Which doesn’t justify just making up facts to fill in in place. LIke this:
But Zimmerman is a civilian in Florida where, as the country now knows, a shooter is often immune from criminal prosecution and civil liability if he believed he had been threatened with deadly force.
But only if the investigation shows that the evidence warrants that conclusion. After – y’know – due process, according to the law passed by the relevant legislature. Same as in the military!
Yes, I did say “making stuff up”:
One of the striking components of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law — or, more appropriately, “Shoot First” law — is that it eliminated the “duty to retreat” embedded in centuries of common law about self-defense. Traditionally, a person had the duty to retreat from dangerous situations if they could, and the use of deadly force was justifiable self-defense only if a person could not have otherwise safely gotten away.
Except that’s both not true – it’s not “embedded in centuries of tradition”. It’s a feature of some self-defense laws. Not others. They vary. And simply saying “it was part of common law” isn’t a carte-blanche guarantee of validity; slavery was a part of “common law”, until it wasn’t anymore.
“Duty to Retreat” is not a feature, it’s a bug; it means that the citizen is supposed to make a “reasonable” effort to disengage (which, when you’re a civilian with a carry permit, is always a good idea even if it’s not a legal requirement). Reasonable according to whom? If you have a bad knee and your attacker is 18 and faster than you? If you are outnumbered? If you are in a stopped car and someone points a gun at you? What is the “reasonable” course? The answer – under the law in half of the states – is ambiguous, and entirely at the discretion of a county attorney. It’s ambiguous.
And ambiguity makes bad law – just as it makes for lousy orders for soldiers. Which is why Rules of Engagement are so detailed.
Soltz claims that “Stand Your Ground” gives citizens more protection than it gives soldiers in the field. Leaving aside the apples-and-axles non-sequitur of trying to compare the situations, he’s 180 degrees wrong; “Stand Your Ground” removes ambiguity from the citizen’s case, giving them a similar standard (not “the same” – combat and self-defense are not the same) as the soldier has.
It’s another entry in the library of chanting points the left is trying to use to keep the Martin case alive as a wedge issue.
Read Soltz. Judge for yourself.