The words alone made my skin hot and my blood simmer. My trigger finger jerked as I stood in the court. It always jerked. Four months straight on that rooftop staring though the same scope made sure of that.
“Lieutenant Stephens.” The judge looked over her paperwork. “This is the last preceding in the case of murder and violations within the Geneva Conventions. You still stand by your plea of not guilty.”
I stood stiffly, my finger still jerking slightly.
I snapped my head up to her. “Yes ma’am, my plea has not changed.”
She nodded her head and settled back into her chair, thumbing through her paperwork. Today ended the fourth court hearing. I maintained my innocence throughout and remained internally furious at the accusations. I spent an eternity on that cursed rooftop protecting my brothers, and this was the respect I got. I did what I had to. The Geneva Conventions were created to ensure a level of fairness during wartime, but wartime’s anything but fair.
“I’ve gone over all of the outstanding evidence, testimonials, and video that has been presented to the court.” She shuffled her paper in front of her, a bead of sweat running down her cheek. Court Marshal Mathis was a friend of mine. Receiving judgment from her continued to be particularly painful. I fought alongside her son in Iraq, pulled his bleeding body from the street after the ground unit ran into an IED. I had received a medal of honor for my actions. Now none of that seemed to matter.
“Lieutenant Stephens, it is in the opinion of the court that your actions were beyond the reasonable display of force, and were completely unjustified. In all three counts of murder, you are found guilty of these war crimes. It is with the most utmost regret that I now issue a dishonorable discharge. Your war crimes will be judged at a separate hearing, with a separate judge and jury.” She slowly stood up, wiping her cheek. “I’m sorry, John.”
She walked from the stand. I was then escorted out. I would be released, I knew that much. I looked forward to it. My old friend Jack Daniels was waiting for me, and he never judged.