March 01, 2015

Legal Lore: Doing the Right Thing: Prosecuting a War Crime in Vietnam in 1968

Fred L. Borch

As litigators, we all know only too well that having the facts and law on one’s side does not always lead to a just result. Trials for war crimes, which are committed in every armed conflict, are no different. Loyalty, hatred of the enemy, and geopolitics can all hold sway, even when the military does the right thing and prosecutes war criminals.

In 1968, during the war in Vietnam, a courageous senior Army lawyer did the right thing in deciding to prosecute Captain John Kapranopoulos, a company commander in the storied 82nd Airborne Division. Recognizing that a conviction might be difficult to win, Staff Judge Advocate Major Barney L. Brannen Jr., believed there was no question that “Captain K” (as his men called him) had ordered the killings of two unarmed Vietnamese men and was guilty of premeditated murder.

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