VIEW FROM THE COURTROOM:
WHAT PURPOSE IS SERVED?
Defend Our Marines | Nathaniel R. Helms | Tuesday, August 26, 2008 | pdf
Riverside, California--After two years, countless thousands of dollars and the destruction of far too many reputations, the manslaughter trial of former Marine Corps Sergeant Jose L. Nazario is almost over.
Tuesday afternoon at the close of business US District Judge Stephen Larson told the lawyers and spectators in the crowded court room in Riverside that the case against Nazario will go to the jury Thursday morning.
From the sound of the things, the news didn’t reach the nine women and three men any too soon. They were already asking Larson when the trial would end, he said.
Despite watching the investigations unfold, from the first revelation by Ryan Weemer when he thought the war was behind him, it is still difficult to determine what the trial was really about. And it is impossible to say who or what it served.
Finding the truth obviously wasn’t the reason. The truth didn’t survive the battlefield.
The version of events presented in the Riverside courtroom the past weeks bore scant resemblance to what the Marines who were at Fallujah say happened on the battlefield when the al Qaeda inspired insurgent army decided to take on the United States Marine Corps.
Serving justice certainly wasn’t the purpose. There is no one seeking vengeance except the government that sent the Marines to war. There are no Iraqi grieving families to mollify, no known widows except wives of dead Marines either, only ruined American lives, anxious parents, and the financial and emotional ruin of good men who volunteered to serve in a vicious war where most people feared to tread.
Finally, there are no criminals to corral. When Nazario arrested, he was patrolling Riverside as a probationary police officer. Before that he was a Marine doing his duty in a fiery cauldron that literally drove men mad. Some of them testified at his trial Tuesday afternoon.
After listening to testimony, defense attorney Joseph M. Preis, a dapper former Marine enlisted man working pro bono on behalf of the Pepper Hamilton law firm, equated it to a group of people interpreting the Bible. Each one comes way with a different interpretation.
Preis belongs to the group of former Marines and one civilian who jokingly call themselves the Marine Dream Team. In addition to Preis, former Marine colonel Doug Applegate, former captain Kevin B. McDermott, and Vincent LaBarbera vigorously defended Nazario without any reasonable expectation of ever being recompensed.
Preis’ assessment of what happened Tuesday afternoon is a fair one. The Marines who testified couldn’t even agree on the weather or the clothes the alleged decedents were wearing.
One of them said it was in the 30s and 40s during the day and freezing at night. Another fellow said it was 90 degrees in the sun.
There were other conflicts as well. One Marine said there was two Humvees outside the house where Nazario and his two co-defendants allegedly killed four captured enemy combatants.
Another Marine who was standing outside the entire time said there were eight or nine.
Most importantly, though, no one saw Nazario kill anyone and no one could explain why he would. The real explanation was stifled during a pre-trial agreement to keep the reasons behind the accusations simple. Nobody was interested in putting the Marine Corps or its policies on trial.
The Bible didn’t enter my thinking while I watched the former Marines tortured by the recollections they were forced to try and recall. Their honest attempts to tell what happened reminded me of the Indian fable about six blind men describing an elephant they could only feel.
'It is a great mud wall baked hard in the sun,' the first man said.
'I can tell you what shape this elephant is - he is exactly like a spear,’ the second man said.
The third man said it resembled a rope.
'Ha,’ the fourth man declared. 'This elephant much resembles a serpent.'
‘Even a blind man can see what shape the elephant resembles,’ the fifth blind man declared. ‘He's mightily like a fan.'
The sixth man said the elephant was the trunk of a great areca palm tree.
All of them were right and all of them were wrong. It sort of depended on which blind man was looking.
All I could think was thank goodness justice is blind.
Nathaniel R. Helms
Nat Helms is a Contributing Editor to Defend Our Marines. He is a Vietnam veteran, former police officer, war correspondent, and, most recently, author of My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story (Meredith Books, 2007).