Friday, May 14, 2010

Hold fire, earn a medal

U.S. troops in Afghanistan could soon be awarded a medal for not doing something, a precedent-setting award that would be given for “courageous restraint” for holding fire to save civilian lives.

The proposal is now circulating in the Kabul headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force, a command spokesman confirmed Tuesday.

“The idea is consistent with our approach,” explained Air Force Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis. “Our young men and women display remarkable courage every day, including situations where they refrain from using lethal force, even at risk to themselves, in order to prevent possible harm to civilians. In some situations our forces face in Afghanistan, that restraint is an act of discipline and courage not much different than those seen in combat actions.”

Soldiers are often recognized for non-combat achievement with decorations such as their service’s commendation medal. But most of the highest U.S. military decorations are for valor in combat. A medal to recognize a conscious effort to avoid a combat action would be unique.

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, called the idea ridiculous and dangerous.

Said Thompson, “Our troops are already doing an admirable job following the Rules of Engagement (ROE). But when the Taliban purposely uses civilians as human shields, civilian casualties are a tragic, but not uncommon result. The proposed medal will only cause the Taliban to increase their reliance on this cowardly tactic. It will encourage U.S. soldiers to do nothing in the face of danger. And it will lead to the institutionalization of inaction. We need a military that has a basis for action, not inaction.”

The Thomas More Law Center is a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Law Center played an instrumental role in the successful defense of Marine LtCol Jeffrey Chessani against criminal charges arising from the so-called November 19, 2005 “Haditha Massacre.”

In that case, a Marine convoy was ambushed by insurgents after a roadside bomb went off destroying a Humvee, killing one Marine, and seriously injuring two others. The Marines immediately received fire from the ambushing insurgents, who were shooting from nearby, civilian-occupied homes.

A four-man fire team responded as they were trained: they cleared several houses occupied by the armed insurgents. In the ensuing room-by-room, house-by-house gun battle, 8 insurgents and several civilians were killed. For their obvious heroism, the four men and Lt. Col. Chessani were rewarded with criminal courts-marital.

Continued Thompson, “We can’t have soldiers hesitating at a crucial moment when facing the enemy. It could mean their death, or the death of their comrades. Ultimately, the ‘restraint’ promoted by this award will cost American lives.”

1 comment:

  1. The idea that someone deserves a medal because they refrained from killing civilians is as dangerous as the hesitation over rules of engagement.