After three weeks, I am finally out of trial. Well, out in the sense that I am waiting on a jury verdict. Waiting is a killer for everyone in this situation, and I don’t write about cases while they are being tried. So more about that case soon, but this morning I read a little blurb about Boise soldier Andrew Holmes, who is undergoing a pretrial hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma. I spent a little time at then Fort Lewis when I was in the Army ages ago, before austerity brought about its consolidation with McChord.
Last night a friend asked me what the hearing was akin to on the civilian side of the world. The military uses an Article 32 hearing like the grand jury proceeding in state or federal court. The focus of the hearing is to determine if there is probable cause to conclude that a crime was committed by the charged service member. In Holmes’ case, additional evidence was ruled admissible by an Army Court, thereby allowing him to re-open his Article 32 hearing. He likely hopes the new evidence will create doubt as to his involvement and it will also lock in the testimony of those appearing.
But the bottom line is probable cause. If the presiding officer finds probable cause, the soldier is headed to trial.
Here’s one more thing to think about – the fundamental rule our service members live by in conflict areas is this: we do not intentionally kill noncombatants. Civilians are never targets. That rule gets blurred in war generally and in the middle east perhaps more so because it is so difficult to pick out the bad guys. They don’t always wear uniforms. That task is not easy but it is achievable.
There is much to watch in Holmes’ case. What happens at that Joint Base will speak to the difficult decisions our soldiers have to make every day they are at battle. But don’t judge this kid too quickly. Probable cause (if they find it was more likely that a crime occurred) is not the same as proof beyond a reasonable doubt.