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The New Semper Fiefdom

A U.S. soldier who raped a Nigerian woman in Italy was given a lighter sentence because the court deemed his tour of duty in Iraq had made him less sensitive to the suffering of others.

According to an Italian court document obtained by Reuters on Tuesday, James Michael Brown, a 27-year-old paratrooper from Oregon stationed in northern Italy, was sentenced to five years and eight months for rape in February 2004.

Brown beat and handcuffed the woman, a Nigerian resident in the town of Vicenza. He raped her vaginally and anally and left her to wander the streets naked in search of help.

The crime would have earned him an eight-year sentence, but the judges reduced the penalty due to the "extenuating circumstances'' of the psychological effects of Brown's year of service in Iraq, the document said.

Leaving aside my thoughts that the leniency had as much to do with the victim's race as anything, this news brief in the NY Times chilled me. It leads me to wonder if they felt one year of duty had rendered him so incapable of feeling empathy, would two or three years have set him free?

This story brought back my childhood fears of vietnam vets snapping and going on killing sprees. Ticking time bombs waiting to go off, trained by the government to kill, returned broken. It makes for good comic book or movie fodder, so I don't actually know how much of that was urban legend and how many acts of random brutal violence were committed by vets. I have heard that more vets have killed themselves than were killed in the war. It ultimately depends on who's statistics you trust more.

Still, weekly another soldier goes on trial for abuses committed at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo and recently a British soldier chose to end an exemplary eight year career rather than continue working with Americans in Iraq.

He said he had witnessed "dozens of illegal acts" by US troops, claiming they viewed all Iraqis as "untermenschen" - the Nazi term for races regarded as sub-human.

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[He] said the American military's "gung-ho and trigger happy mentality" and tactics had completely undermined any chance of winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi population. He added that many innocent civilians were arrested in night-time raids and interrogated by American soldiers, imprisoned in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, or handed over to the Iraqi authorities and "most probably" tortured.

It makes me wonder what percentage of our soldiers will return prepared for civilian life. Certainly our military would do better to spend its money preparing for that eventuality than going after the people who deserted from the last unjust war.

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