The movie "A Few Good Men," which starred Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson, may well be played out in real life in the next few weeks. Those who recall the movie will remember that characters played by Cruise and Moore have the difficult duty of defending two Marines accused of hazing a fellow soldier. The crux of their defense: They were ordered by higher-ups to harass their comrade, accidentally leading to his death.
Sound familiar? And for those who remember how the movie ends, there will be great interest in a brand-new InsiderAdvantage poll. We asked:
If it is established that some of the soldiers involved in the Iraqi prison abuse scandal were acting on orders from superior officers, should those soldiers be found guilty in their courts-martial?
Yes: 47 percent
No: 41 percent
Undecided/Don't Know: 12 percent
The national survey was conducted with our research associates at The Marketing Workshop on May 21 and 22. It sampled 500 likely voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus four percent.
Since the powerful film mentioned above is several years old, I'll run the risk of giving away part of its ending. It turns out that the two Marines charged with abusing one of their own, abuse which unintentionally leads to his death, were indeed carrying out orders from senior officers, including the base commander, played masterfully by Nicholson. The result is a guilty verdict with a sentence of time already served and a dishonorable discharge. The senior officer played by Nicholson is then brought up on charges as well.
The results of this survey seem much like the results of the movie. By a fairly narrow margin, Americans believe that following orders does not excuse violations of military law. And interestingly, men surveyed, by a narrow margin, said those following orders should not be found guilty, while women respondents overwhelmingly rejected such a defense. Why the split? I have no earthly idea.
Still, it's clear that, as several of those accused of posing in demeaning pictures with Iraqi prisoners, or far more serious acts, go on trial, the issue of following orders will be a significant part of the defense. Most legal analysts suggest that such a tactic rarely works in military courtrooms. Yet, the entire Iraqi abuse scandal gives rise to a series of issues unique to our time.