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The History of the American Court-Martial – Part II

Among the earliest courts-martial in American history took place in 1779, when the infamous Major General Benedict Arnold faced court-martial for employing troops for personal gain (he was acquitted of most charges, though convicted of two minor violations). A delay in the court-martial irritated Arnold so much that it possibly contributed to his betrayal of the young nation shortly afterward. A well-known court-martial in 1925 involved Billy Mitchell, an officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps who was tried for openly criticizing his superiors for failing to build up competitive airpower quickly enough. Mitchell was convicted and suspended from active duty with no pay for five years, prompting him to resign from the Army.

The most notorious court-martial in modern times was that of former Lieutenant William Calley, who was found guilty of participating in the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam. Calley was convicted in a 1971 court-martial of killing 22 people during the massacre, which resulted in the loss of many hundreds of lives. Calley was sentenced to life in prison, but President Nixon ordered his sentence reduced; he was eventually released after three years’ house arrest.

The last military execution to result from a court-martial took place in April of 1961, when Army Private John Bennett was hanged for rape and attempted murder. There are currently five men on the military’s death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

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