Tell A Tale in 500 Words

War Criminal By Corinne Lawrence

War Criminal by Corinne Lawrence (500 words)

Asher Solomons rose, looked down at the boy who’s eyes were fixed on the floor in a stubborn refusal to make eye contact with anyone in the courtroom.

‘Members of the jury, the Prosecution maintains that Sami Haddad is a war criminal. If convicted he will grow to manhood in Guantanamo Bay. But Sami is a victim, too, and Guantanamo Bay is not the right place for him. It will serve no more useful purpose, and I say this with compassion, than to reinforce the criminality which has brought him to trial.

‘Of course, you might argue that he is not simply a victim. Sure, that’s a valid point. He inflicted terrible suffering on his fellow humans. He is not yet fourteen but has killed in cold blood. War crimes for which others, no older than Sami, are now paying the price. But in Sami’s story we have, I believe, the most tragic example of how war affects young minds. Our duty must lie, not merely in punishing his crimes, but, much more importantly, helping him recover from the trauma of his life to date.’

At this Sami raised his head, a look of denial flashing across his face. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but Asher forestalled him, his calm, reasoned tones reaching effortlessly into the far corners of the room. ‘You know the details, ladies and gentlemen. Conflict and violence are all he has ever known. At eight years old, Sami, forced to watch his parents slaughtered before his very eyes, had to become mother and father, provider and protector to his five year old sibling. When the chief responsibility of our children is their homework, their most pressing decision which computer game to indulge in before bedtime, his concern was somewhere to shelter from the bombs. Whilst the hunger pangs of our kids can be readily satisfied by a raid on the fridge, Sami was engaged in a desperate hunt to keep body and soul together. Like nothing else, war destroys the demarcation line between law and lawlessness. Do you wonder that he welcomed army life as a means of sustenance — even saw it as an honourable existence?’

Sensing the mix of hostility and sympathy within the room, Asher’s voice shook slightly as he continued, 'What greater evil exists, members of the jury, than robbing children of their childhood in this way? Child soldiering warps the present, reduces hope for the future. And hope is needed - hope such as my grandfather was given, when he found asylum here after escaping the Warsaw Ghetto. He, too, had to be a criminal to survive. America gave him a second chance. Would you deny Sami his chance?’

His hand hovering briefly above Sami’s shoulder, Asher concluded, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, commit this child to Guantanamo Bay, and we are as guilty as the regime that made him a killer.’

At last Sami raised his eyes to those who held his future in their hands, his cheeks wet with tears.

see more submissions for the Tell A Tale in 500 Words click here