Put Up or Shut Up

The entire Eason Jordan affair got me to thinking about the long history of wild accusations of war crimes directed against US soldiers. These accusations have become so common that it is difficult to decide when a real incident has occurred and when it hasn’t. It also makes it hard for the general public to know when a real problem has occurred, if all they hear is unsubstantiated cries of “wolf!” (Of course, I am talking about people who don’t automatically believe every accusation.)

To alleviate this problem I suggest that we adopt a legal code imposing the same obligations on an American citizen in a war zone that we impose on a citizen in civilian life. To wit:

Any American citizen who has knowledge or evidence of a possible crime by any members of the U.S. military in any theater or jurisdiction must report that evidence to a competent authority as soon as practical or be subject to being indicted as an accessory after the fact.

We can all it “The Eason Jordan Put Up or Shut Up” law.

14 thoughts on “Put Up or Shut Up”

  1. Plus….if any American citizen knowingly makes false statements pertaining to the military during time of war will be charged with treason and shot if guilty.

  2. C’mon Shannon, the last thing we need is more legislation. When all those who are positioned to hold people like Jordan accountable begin to do so, “flaps” like this will happen with much less frequency.

  3. Dunno about ‘charged with treason and shot’. Proving someone didn’t know an assertion was false is kinda iffy… but IMO requiring a public statement to the effect of “I was talking out of my ass” would be appropriate.

  4. I’m afraid that the Constitution explicitly defines the crime of treason, specifically and deliberately to exclude the kind of thing moreydee suggests.

    What I’d like to see is a class action libel suit against Jordan and CNN on behalf of all soldiers in the US Army.

  5. One of the comments on Belmont Club argues that a time of financial reckoning will be coming for CNN (whose contracts with cable companies from which they derive a solid source of money will be running out as are their ratings) coupled with a financial boost for Fox (whose contracts are also running out as their numbers increase). I must admit that I’d just as soon Fox didn’t have more money to hunt down the Scott Petersons, Jacksons, OJs, etc. etc. of the world, but even with their failings they would be less likely to spend 12 years sugar coating Hussein’s tortures. Perhaps in the great pattern of life CNN is going to get its comeuppance. Of course, I don’t know how much that commentor knew.

  6. I don’t know guys. As I understand it, and although I’m not a lawyer I watch Law & Order so I know what I’m talking about (he, he!) I thought I had to take a step in furtherance.

    Obversely, as I understand it, a bystander who does nothing, for example to help a drowning man, is guilty of nothing but being a bad citizen.

    If the police question me, and I stay silent or lie, I’ve committed a crime. If I fail to report a crime, can I really be convicted of having committed a crime?

  7. The tape appears to be on its way to becoming public. I suspect that will be sufficient for Mr. Jordan to receive whatever consequences are appropriate for this indiscretion from the world of commerce.

    I also hope it paves the way for investigation in the extent to which CNN co-operated with Saddam Hussein in the run-up to and during the last war. Mr. Jordan’s motivations appear to be not only the lives of his employees.

  8. Craig R. Harmon,

    Depending on circumstances, yes. The roots of the concept are very deep. Under common law, every citizen had the responsibility to maintain the public peace. Up until the mid-19th century citizens were expected to actively pursue criminal suspects if someone “raised a hue and cry” every fit male in the vicinity was expected to chase and apprehend the suspect.

    In contemporary times, the legal reasoning is that if a person knows a crime has been committed and especially if they know who committed the crime then their withholding of the information allows the criminal to get away with the crime. The individual is effectively an accessory. If they had no knowledge of the crime before it occurred they are an accessory “after the fact” i.e. after the crime.

    The concept is usually not applied to bystanders who just witness a crime but it legally it could be.

  9. Craig, if the police question you and you stay silent, you haven’t committed a crime. That’s what the ‘you have the right to remain silent’ bit in the Miranda code or its equivalent means. In the UK your failure to speak can be adduced later in court as evidence of your guilt. But even in a US court, you don’t have to speak if by doing so you will incriminate yourself. Remember the Fifth Amendment?

    And there is no ‘good citizenship’ law, either. The canonical example is a bystander seeing a baby drowning in a half-inch-deep puddle when that bystander could rescue the baby with a trivial investment of time or inconvenience. He is under no legal obligation to do so and can receive no judicial sanction for walking on by. Moral sanction, on the other hand…

  10. David Gillies,

    Just to be clear, there is a difference between “failure to render assistance” or “good samaritian” laws.

    In most cases and in most jurisdictions, a citizen is not required to rescue or provide medical aid to another citizen as long as the first citizen had nothing to do with second citizen ending up in dire straits in the first place. So, if you hit someone with a car you must stop and render aid. If you see somebody run over by a car you are not required to help the victim.

    However, if you witness the first citizen running over the second and then driving off, you have witnessed a crime and if you do not report it or otherwise fail to provide information then you may be labeled an accessory. This especially true if you know the identity of the perpetrator.

    In Eason Jordan’s case, if he actually has enough detail to make accusations then he knows at least the time and place where the supposed crime took place. This is enough information to identify the military unit allegedly involved. That is enough information to launch a successful investigation.

  11. David Gillies,

    Yes, I remember the Fifth Amendment. I wasn’t refering to remaining silent about my own criminal activity but, rather, to remaining silent about anything of a criminal nature that I may have witnessed. I regard this as lying to the police, hindering prosecution, by omission. Again, not being a lawyer, I don’t necessarily know whereof I speak.

    And no, I realize that being a bad citizen is not a crime. It’s just being a bad citizen and I try to avoid that as well.

  12. Whoops, I mangled my last post. The first sentence should have read:

    “Just to be clear, there is a difference between “failure to render assistance” or “good samaritian” laws and “accessory after the fact..”

    Must remember to preview.

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