Thursday, November 12, 2009

Military Mercy Revisited: Obama and Hasan

The Associated Press has produced an article (here) which notes that the death penalty is rarely used in the federal system and is even more rare in the military system of justice. The interest in the matter, of course, flows from the recent terrorist attack at Fort Hood, Texas, where Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 men and women and wounded 29 others. In the days and weeks to come, we will learn of decisions related to Hasan's mental health and a possible request for a death sentence. PardonPower's interest in the case flows from this observation in the article:
Fifteen members of the military have been sentenced to death in the past 25 years. Commanding generals commuted two of those sentences to life in prison and eight others were overturned on appeal. The president's involvement also sets military death-penalty cases apart. The president can commute any federal death sentence, civilian or military but must personally approve each military execution and sign an order to carry it out. "That's a political act,'' Silliman said. ''The president of the United States personally approving a death penalty is a political act.'' When President Bush signed Ronald Gray's execution order in July 2008, it was the first time a president had done so in 51 years.

But Hasan's case also gives us opportunity to remember other notable examples of federal executive clemency in cases involving members of the military. Arguably, presidents have granted pardons to individuals whose crimes were quite atrocious (see list below).

President Obama's public statements on Hasan's case may provide some insight as to his thinking should an execution order appear on his desk. Obama has warned against rushing to judgment re Hasan and has referred to the soldiers "cracking" under pressure. It appears that a commutation of sentence might also note that Hasan felt as though he was harassed for his political beliefs. Confounding any analysis is the fact that there may be no desire for Hasan to be lifted up as a kind o f martyr for a cause (his or anyone else's). Click on the name associated with each entry below to see additional information:

2000 - Preston King (draft evasion)
1999 - Henry Flipper (embezzlement, first African-America USMA graduate)
1999 - Freddie Meeks (mutiny, Port Chicago incident)
1960, 1977 - Maurice Schick (murder, case to Supreme Court)
1950 - Leon Gilbert (insubordination, cowardice, 600,000 supporters!)
1945 - A Christmas amnesty to thousands of convicts who served honorably in the War
1945 - Sidney Shapiro (formally charged with obstruction of justice one hour before trial)
1944 - General Robert C. Richardson (charged with contempt, preemptive pardon)
1921 - Chaplain Franz J. Feinler (treason and propaganda)
1918 - Houston Rioters (riot, murder, sentences commuted)
1913 - Thomas Franklin (financial irregularities, West Point treasurer)
1907 - John L. Lennon (AWOL, nephew of famous boxer, John L. Sullivan)
1900 - Admiral Bowman H. McCalla (had a thing for cruel and unusual punishments)
1890 - Dell P. Wild (refused to do "menial" work)
1890 - Lewis Carter (assault, robbery, desertion and a 99-year sentence)
1883 - John A. Mason (attempted to assassinate Garfield's assassin, Guiteau)
1882 - Fitz John Porter (disobeying an order, misconduct - blamed for Union loss at Bull Run)
1860 - Aaron Dwight Stevens (riot, assault, later one of John Brown's "officers")
1848 - General John C. Fremont (mutiny, declined pardon and resigned, aka "the Pathfinder")
1814 - General William Hull (surrendered Fort Detroit to British without a fight!)

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