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Can the punishment fit the crime?

by northstar at 01:12 PM on September 12, 2004

Alleged U.S. Deserter Jenkins Surrenders

How long does a man remain a traitor to his country? How long should that country wait to punish him? Does time ease the despicable nature of betrayal? These are all questions that the case of US Army deserter SGT Charles Jenkins will force us to confront. How long IS long enough? Is there (or should there be) a statute of limitations on treason?

CAMP ZAMA, Japan -- Saluting and standing at attention, accused U.S. Army deserter Charles Jenkins surrendered to U.S. military authorities Saturday to face charges that he left his army unit in 1965 and defected to North Korea.

Jenkins, 64, turned himself in at the U.S. Army's Camp Zama accompanied by his Japanese wife and two daughters....

"Sir, I'm Sergeant Jenkins and I'm reporting," Jenkins declared as he met the provost marshal, Lt. Col. Paul Nigara, after arriving in a minivan from his Tokyo hospital.

"You are now under the control of the U.S. Army," Nigara told him in response before escorting Jenkins into a base building.

Jenkins is charged with abandoning his unit and defecting to the North, where he lived for 39 years. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted. While in the reclusive communist state, he made propaganda broadcasts and played devilish Americans in anti-U.S. films.

I must admit to having some decidedly mixed feelings in this case. Yes, Jenkins betrayed his country, but this happened 39 years ago. Now Jenkins is a sick old man who is a threat to no one but himself. He is the one who has to look himself in the mirror and come to some sort of peace with his actions.

There are those who would say that living in North Korea for 39 years (not exactly the lap of luxury) has been punishment enough. Realistically, the US Army may not be able to seriously argue that Jenkins' defection and subsequent actions on behalf of the North Korean regime placed any American soldiers at risk. Of course, it is entirely possible that Jenkins' actions did exactly that. Thirty-nine years later, though, would (or should) a civilized nation execute a traitor such as Jenkins?

There is little doubt that SGT Charles Jenkins was and is a deserter and a traitor- and as such deserves to be punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Jenkins did provide aid and comfort to the enemy. Does (or should) the fact that his desertion happened 39 years ago be viewed as a mitigating factor? Is there a statute of limitations that a compassionate and humane country and it's army should respect? I'm not certain that I can answer those questions, but part of me thinks that, having spent 39 years in North Korea, perhaps Charles Jenkins has already been punished.

comments (4)

Well what is your objective? To exact revenge for the crime? To adhere like an automaton to the Uniform Code? To discourage similar behavior among other soldiers?

by anna at September 13, 2004 7:44 AM

Jenkins betrayed his country out of cowardice. He deserves whatever punishment the US Army chooses to dole out. If you make a commitment then you honor it. I didn't like, or agree with, all of the policies our government was enforcing when I served but I damned well didn't desert. Yes, he is a sick old man now but he still has to be accountable for his actions. There's no statute of limitations, and shouldn't be, on that.

by Ezy at September 13, 2004 9:15 AM

There should be no statute of limitations on a traitor. An example should be made of anyone caught and convicted providing aid and comfort to the enemies of the U.S. Additionally, I want to take this opportunity to say that Senator John Kerry is also guilty of treason. He should never have been allowed to run for public office. As a matter of fact the law states plainly that you cannot run for the office of Senator or President if you commited treason against the U.S.

by Bill Lundy at October 13, 2004 9:09 AM

I believe that there should be no statute of limitation on treason, either for those that commit the actual crime or those that aid and abet the perpetrators. That way at some point in our history, we will be able to indict those in this administration, Karl Rove and the Scooter man for treason. Both men crippled an ongoing clandestine operation by releasing the name of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative. This blantant breach of security destroyed the work of several years, and put Americans and their alliies in mortal danger by exposing them as working for an American Intelligence agency. These people were tasked with finding how Terrorist organizations, including Al Quida, were being funded, and who was behind this very effective funding operation(s). If that is not the definition of aiding and comforting the enemy in time of War, then I don't know what is. After we convict these men of a crime they have freely admitted to committing, then we can indict GWBush and Dick Cheney for aiding and abetting traitors. Then Justice will have been served, and this country will once again stand for something.

As an aside, John Kerry did NOT aid nor comfort an enemy in War. He merely stood up told the world the truth. I am a VietNam veteran and I believe that John Kerry did what was necessary to put the spot light of truth on the how and why of the Vietnam Conflict. We need men and women with this level of conviction and courage to pull back the shroud of propaganda that surrounds the why and what of the Iraq fiasco. I only hope that the light of truth can remove the cloak of the neo con propaganda machines lies and deceptions before the country is brought to its knees, militarily and economically. At this point the onlly winners in the Iraqi incursion is China. At last look they were no friends of ours.

Bill Pellegrini

by William Pellegrini at August 12, 2005 7:32 AM

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