Ernest Medina

08.05.2016 ( Last modified: 07.06.2016 )
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facts

Captain Ernest Medina was born on 27 August 1936. In 1956, Medina followed his lifetime dream of joining the army, starting only a notch above a recruit. In December, 1966, Medina was made commanding officer of Charlie Company.

On 16 March 1968, near eight o’clock in the morning, Charlie Company, one of the three units of Task Force Barker of the American Army, entered the village of My Lai in Quang Ngai Province in the south of Vietnam. This Company was under the leadership of Captain Ernest Medina. In just over three hours, members of this Company executed close to 500 civilians including children, women and elderly people.

The exact role of Captain Medina during these events is still today subject to controversy. According to the Defence Department, which held its own enquiry (See the Peers Report), his responsibility was implied on several grounds: on the eve of the attack, he told his soldiers that anyone present in the village was to be considered as an enemy combatant, thereby implicitly authorizing the execution of these persons. It is considered likely that he himself executed three non-combatants during this operation; he is said to have abused a prisoner by beating him over the head and by firing his revolver close to his head; he reportedly attempted on several occasions to cover up these events.

In March 1969, Ronald Ridenhour, a former GI., on being made aware of what had taken place at My Lai, decided to inform the American authorities. The case was then handed over to the Inspector General of the Army to open up an enquiry. It was subsequently committed to the army’s Criminal Investigation Division.

Captain Medina was court-martialed in 1971.

legal procedure

Captain Medina was court-martialed in 1971

In March 1969, Ronald Ridenhour, a former GI., on being made aware of what had taken place at My Lai, decided to inform the American authorities. The case was then handed over to the Inspector General of the Army to open up an enquiry. It was subsequently committed to the army’s Criminal Investigation Division.

At the beginning of the trial, Ernest Medina was charged with the “premeditated murder” of at least 100 civilians. He was also accused of the murder of a woman and a child, and the assault of a prisoner. The military judge handling the affair, Colonel Kenneth A: Howard, later reduced the charge of “premeditated murder” to one of “involuntary manslaughter”. The charge relating to the murder of a child was dropped.

The trial of Captain Medina raised the overall question of the responsibility of those in positions of command . The prosecutor laid out what such responsibility entails by reminding the court of the following points:

1. It is a well established rule in the military that a commander is responsible for the actions of his subordinates. This presupposes that he must give clear and concise orders and that he must adapt his orders in line with the situation as it evolves.

2. If war crimes have been committed by his soldiers, the commander himself also bears responsibility:

a) In the case where he himself gave the order to commit these crimes (direct responsibility); or
b) When he knew, or should have known, that the crimes had been committed or were about to be committed and he did not take all necessary and reasonable measures to safeguard the respect of International Humanitarian Law or to sanction those at fault.

3. Finally, every member of the armed forces, independent of his position, has the obligation to report to his hierarchical superior as well as to the military legal authorities any act which could potentially be considered as a war crime.

In the question at issue the Jury considered that the evidence admitted during the trial was insufficient to establish guilt on the part of the accused.

Captain Medina was acquitted on 22 September 1971.