Lead in from wired: Don Ayala — the U.S. Army contractor who pleaded guilty to a revenge killing in Afghanistan — won’t be going to prison. Instead, U.S. District Court Judge Claude Hilton sentenced Ayala, a member of the Army’s Human Terrain social science project, to five years probation and a $12,500 fine.
Ayala killed a subdued prisoner in custody, who had doused his partner in gasoline and set her on fire, after he learned that she had been severely burned.
This is a horrifying and tragic story, and perhaps it should be unsurprising that it's bringing out the worst in people on Wired message board. Many are arguing that Ayala shouldn't have been punished at all, or that the killing of unarmed prisoners is okay if the prisoner deserved it, or that Ayala did "the right thing." One even posted out-right racist comments (is anyone at Wired moderating or paying any attention to these messages?).
I may very well be a liberal softy, a title several posters pre-emptively denied, but most of all I'm an American who believes in the value of laws and feels it's important to uphold the very values we are trying to spread. Fortunately there were a few thoughtful responses that held true to American ideals. As posted by FarmerMonkey | 05/8/09 | 12:33 pm:
"This is a tragic case. I certainly sympathize with what Ayala did in the heat of the moment, but I disagree with anyone saying he did the “right” thing. Killing a subdued prisoner is a pretty black and white issue, with many unintended negative consequences."
Americans achieve justice through a legal system. Vigilante justice is exactly the sort of thing we're trying to quell in countries we're helping to democratize. And as posted by rapier | 05/8/09 | 1:39 pm:
"We kill people when they are a threat and Salam, no matter what he may have done, was no longer a threat. The killing of a bound unarmed prisoner is antithetical to the ideals of American military procedure. Ayala’s job wasn’t to exact revenge for the attack on Loyd but to further the goals of the United States."
And crosservice | 05/8/09 | 2:24 pm:
"By taking this man’s life without allowing him the basic right of due process Ayala has diminished the perceived worth of our basic human rights."
These aren't "army principles" as technophile, another poster, termed them. These are American principals, and furthermore they are principles that we are trying to advocate.
But nacoran | 05/8/09 | 3:33 pm has the best point:
"You can’t shoot prisoners. It’s not that this particular prisoner deserved to live, but that it undermines the custodial process. Suddenly bad guys are less willing to surrender without a fight (which can lead to more deaths on BOTH sides), civilians are less willing to cooperate, lines get blurred, criminals never get questioned to see if they know more."
"Making examples" of people is the rhetoric of the enemy. Even if you sympathize with Alaya, even if you understand why he did what he did, even if you think Abdul Salam should have been doused in napalm and then fed to the rancor, you have to realize that Don Alaya broke the law, broke with American principles, and ultimately may have strengthened the negative regional attitude towards Americans that is a major factor in enraging-tragic incidents like the one that befell Paula Loyd.
Please, please Wired comment posters: don't get so caught up in righteous rage that you seek to undermine the very values that we as Americans hold dear. If you think that killing subdued prisoners is acceptable then you're no Patriot, and probably need to stop jacking off to 300.