Equal justice for all? Not for enlisted personnel

McChrystal gets an award for being fired

By March Forward!

General McChrystal left the military after making disparaging and insubordinate remarks about other U.S. military and political officials. He leaked sensitive information in order to pressure President Obama to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Bradley Manning, on the other hand, has been accused of releasing documents exposing war crimes and violations of the sovereignty of oppressed countries.

For over a year, Bradley Manning has been held in solitary confinement, stripped naked in his cell and humiliated every night, allowed only one hour of exercise and is deprived of basic necessities. Manning, a Private First Class, has not been convicted of any crime yet has been vilified by much of the media.

McChrystal’s punishment? An early retirement with a $12,475 a month pension, supplemented by his involvement in a number of corporations and lucrative lecture tours, for which he receives six-figure honorariums for a single speaking event. He has been praised by Secretary of Defense Gates as “one of America’s greatest warriors” and instantly started making a lucrative salary teaching at Yale. Even after being fired as commander of operations in Afghanistan, he was awarded medals upon his departure.  

The extreme privileges of the top brass are clearly on display when these two cases are compared. The officer McChrystal is rewarded for very real breaches of military conduct, while enlisted service member Manning is brutally abused for allegedly exposing criminal actions.

This is not the first time that members of the officer class have been given a free pass while service members are punished. Stunning acts of torture carried out at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were exposed in 2004. A dozen enlisted soldiers were court-martialed for their involvement, many of them receiving jail time.

Lt. Col. Stephen Jordan was the only officer to be put on trial for his role in the scandal. He was acquitted on charges of detainee abuse. No effort was made to follow the abuse further up the chain of command, much less to hold Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld responsible.

The culpability of the officer corps for ordering these terrible crimes and others does not exonerate the GIs who carried them out. In fact service members have a right to refuse unjust or illegal orders. However, the incredibly lenient treatment the top brass received does highlight one of the many injustices of the rigid military hierarchy.

Completely unaccountable to anyone other than the wealthy elite they serve, the Pentagon brass and the entire officer corps will continue to send us to our deaths with impunity.

The vast difference in treatment for officers vs. enlisted makes crystal clear why enlisted personnel have the right to organize to collectively defend and fight for our own interests.


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