By Capt. John Byron, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Best Defense department of officers and gentlemen
It's a tough competition, the contest for the military's most egregious example of conduct unbecoming. All fiction entries are likely to be rejected: You just can't make up tales as lurid and stupid as we've seen in real life.
My list of the leading entries (some not widely known) is included below, true tales that are the gold standard for abuse of privilege and sexual misconduct by military men in leadership (and missionary?) positions.
I'm sure many other like these could come to mind and that the future holds still more titillation and stupidity. But we now have before us what seems to me the winner for the ages: The worst case of conduct unbecoming an officer, of dishonorable behavior, of simple wrong behavior by an officer in authority that ever we're likely to find. And the case illustrates not only how far from honor an officer can move himself, but also how incredibly tone deaf is the military system, unable to find the correct answer in situations where an officer judged useful for professional skills is given a bye on a matter directly challenging his honesty and trustworthiness in a position of authority in our nation's military.
Here's the story. A civilian academic with a Ph.D. in physical oceanography and a distinguished career falls in love with a senior Navy officer holding command of a warship. Perhaps some naiveté involved, but clearly an affair of the heart on the woman's side. It's permanent. They get engaged. They will be married. He says his next duty station will be Guam and so at his insistence she leaves the mainland and moves there for a life together, taking an administrative post at the University of Guam.
Then, having turned her life upside down for this man, she finds out that her hero has rejected her and hung her out to dry. Her soulmate is not coming to Guam. He's dumping her. Too, it turns out: He's also got elsewhere a second girlfriend he's been deeply entangled with (and engaged to), another female he's deceived and he had just discarded her in the same disgraceful way. In short, he is an equal-opportunity cad, dishonorable in his treatment of both women and at the same time.
The first woman is devastated (the second, too, but this is not her story). Right away she goes to the officer's chain of command and to the DOD inspector general asking if this is approved conduct...and they gaff her off. She then hires an attorney and they contact both the head of this coward's warfare community and the chief of naval operations. And they gaff her off too.
And then she does something of incredible courage: She documents the tale in a lengthy letter published in the Spring 2013 issue of Naval War College Review on page 133. She and the editors take pains to avoid disclosing the miscreant's name or even his warfare community, but the use of "boat" to describe his command, the length of his command tour, and absence of any senior jobs on Guam for aviators or surface warfare officers pretty much lets the cat out of the sack: He serves in the submarine force (I have other confirmation also).
Is she credible? I've corresponded with her and find she is, a tough, smart professional paying a personal price for falling in love and trusting an officer to be a gentleman. The editors at the Review did their due diligence as well and they put their journal's reputation behind this person's truthfulness.
The wronged woman claims she's not seeking revenge and the facts bear this out. Instead, citing Captain Mark Light's great study of the topic, she wonders if in matters of sexual conduct, the Navy even cares about honor and honesty and proper ethical behavior, and if so, why does the system have an officer of such low character still on active duty and moving forward in his career.
I have the same questions, a challenge to the CNO and the secretary of the Navy to answer why such a moral midget remains a commissioned officer in good standing, and to the leaders of the submarine force on why it continues to retain and advance officers like this dirtbag.
Fairness requires opportunity for the harming party to have his say, to explain why he thinks it OK for a Navy officer to lie and cheat and devastate two innocent women...and still wear a cover with a gold chinstrap. It's open-mike time, buddy: Post here why you did what you did and why you're still a wonderful guy.
A final note. Fellows, let's not screw this up with in-blog towel-snapping that makes a joke of a sad situation. We habitués of this blog are a great group, funny, clever, and deeply interested in our nation's defense. But at times we do get a bit frisky in our comments. In this case I ask you to respect the courage and honesty of our heroine and leave off attacking her or commenting unfavorably on her conduct. Her personal and professional lives have suffered great harm at the hands of a despicable officer -- she deserves respect and praise for the classy way she found the high road to seek redress. Frankly, I find her most admirable.
And I am appalled at her treatment by a fellow submariner.
This is a rare opportunity to look hard at how the military services deal with matters of honor. It stands on its own and deserves direct answer from the system. In the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 133 proscribes conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. If this ain't that, the law is meaningless.
Some goodies from the past:
- The captain of a major surface ship caught in his in-port cabin doing the deed with a junior enlisted female while underway.
- The overseas rear admiral dismissed from service for his weird and repeated stalking of an enlisted dental tech he became fixated on after she'd cleaned his teeth.
- The second admiral fired from another high visibility overseas post for cavorting with a junior officer under him (tee hee).
- The chief petty officer relieved of his duties after he drunkenly tried to grope a civilian stranger in the seat next to him all the way across the Pacific on a commercial flight.
- The flag-bound submariner of fantastic promise who got off track after telling his immediate superior that he'd ended his affair with the female lieutenant on their staff -- and then got caught by that same senior canoodling with the lieutenant on the golf course.
- The two captains stationed in the Med who got sacked because of Navy's puritanical standards finding disfavor with them for openly swapping wives.
- The admiral in charge of Navy recruiting fired when he was found boffing the wife of one of his recruiter-of-the-year finalists in the hotel parking garage as the ceremony was being held.
- The flag-bound O-6 engineering-duty officer with a Ph.D. arrested as the Burke Lake Flasher.
Moving to more recent times,
- The submarine skipper who lasted only seven days in command, fired for having a pregnant 23-year old mistress who he misled with fantastic tales of daring-do on secret assignment and then faking his own death.
- The 33 Air Force drill instructors undergoing courts martial for using their female recruits as sexual pawns.
- The Air Force general in trouble for mindlessly dismissing all charges against an officer convicted in the military justice system of raw sexual harassment of a junior.
- The other Air Force general who downgraded a likewise valid sexual misconduct conviction after magically determining on no apparent basis that the abused was less credible than the accused and to hell with the due process that said otherwise.
- Yet another submarine skipper recently relieved for inappropriate intimate relations with a junior.
- May 2013: the Air Force lieutenant colonel in charge of that service's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit...until his arrest for drunkenly groping a women -- total stranger -- in a parking lot (see: you can't make this up).
- And this just in: The DOD study estimating that last year 26,000 service personnel were victims of "unwanted sexual contact" from fellow servicemembers, a 35 percent increase from the year before and a situation egregious enough to infuriate the Commander In Chief.
Steve Coll's article in the issue of the New Yorker out this week, about a CIA officer jailed for leaking, is interesting especially for two asides:
-- Over the past 100 years, he writes, 10 government officials have been prosecuted for leaking. Six of them have been during the Obama administration.
-- Coll predicts that this may come back to haunt the administration: "If prosecutors find that senior White House officials broke the law while communicating with Sanger, President Obama may be unable to prevent high-level indictments."
TIM ZIELENBACH/AFP/Getty Images
His exhibit A: Hey, the former director of the CIA agrees with me! A lot of his other stuff is similar evidence of a "dog bites man" nature.
He concludes that Mayer has made a career of spinning the torture narrative. Actually, Marc, she had a career long before that. She just happened to be appalled by you and your panicky pals and rightly focused on the damage you all have done to the country. I believe that more has been done than is publicly known.
I really do believe in civility and tolerance. But people who undermine our country, its values, and its standing in the world are close to the edge for me.
By Will Rogers
Best Defense bureau of natural security
Washington is gearing up for another fight over the Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) as the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee prepares to hold hearings in the coming weeks. But while the thirty year LOSC debate may start to sound like a broken record to some, the stakes of not ratifying the convention are the highest they have ever been for the United States.
Although the United States has safeguarded its interests at sea by relying on customary international law, this approach is becoming increasingly risky. Critics of LOSC routinely argue that the convention's most important provisions -- including maritime navigational rights -- are already accepted international norms, recognized by other countries as the rules of the road at sea. However, critics fail to appreciate that customary international law can change, as it appears to be doing today.
Rising maritime powers across the globe are reinterpreting customary international law to promote their own national interests -- including in ways that may conflict with longstanding maritime norms and American interests. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the South China Sea, where China's outsized claim to the entire region flies in the face of both traditional practices and LOSC. But China is not the only offender. Burma, Thailand, and others are joining China in more restrictive interpretations of maritime navigational rights, including anti-access norms that could constrain the U.S. Navy's ease of access in this crucial maritime domain.
Unfortunately, the United States is not in a position to rebuff these restrictive interpretations and protect the maritime norms that have been so beneficial to the global economy and U.S. security. U.S. failure to ratify the treaty has prevented the United States from taking a seat at the table to avail itself of the convention's established legal frameworks, such as the Law of the Sea Tribunal. And while the United States sits on the sidelines, other countries are engaging in discussions of maritime law, and in some places working toward consensus on issues that could have consequences for the United States for decades. Joining the treaty will allow the United States to lead these important discussions and, more importantly, enable the United States to negotiate with countries from a position of strength to protect the customary practices codified by the convention.
Ratifying LOSC will also strengthen a range of ongoing U.S. security activities. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard are our key instruments of power at sea and ratifying LOSC will strengthen their ability to do their job and work with others to protect U.S. interests, including areas such as counter proliferation and counter piracy. More importantly, ratifying the convention would give the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard the strongest legal footing for their actions, including in places like the Strait of Hormuz, where Iran has threatened to close access to the international passageway in direct violation of the convention. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey recently said, "It validates the operations we conduct today and realizes our vision for a secure future."
For some, the most pressing reason to ratify LOSC is to acquire legal jurisdiction to the estimated trillion dollars of energy and mineral resources on the extended continental shelf, an area beyond the recognized 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Ratifying the treaty will allow the United States to submit a claim to the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, expanding U.S. sovereignty to critical energy and mineral resources on the extended continental shelf. "Not since we acquired the lands of the American west and Alaska have we had such an opportunity to expand U.S. sovereignty," Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently said.
To date, many U.S. companies have been reluctant to operate beyond the U.S. EEZ due to the lack of U.S or international legal protections that significantly raise the risks for companies operating beyond any national jurisdiction. Securing sovereign rights to the extended continental shelf will provide U.S. businesses the recognized title and protection to resources there, expanding domestic production of oil and natural gas, strengthening our assured access to energy resources. What is more, U.S. businesses would be able to lay claim to mineral resources, including rare earth metals that are critical to defense technologies, helping to reduce risky U.S. reliance on Chinese rare earths by bolstering U.S. domestic production.
Ratifying LOSC will not address every challenge the United States will confront at sea, but it will substantially improve America's ability to protect its global interests by providing a stronger legal foundation for its own maritime activities and helping to shape and enforce international norms and legal authorities. Most importantly, it will restore U.S leadership at sea. The United States has always been a maritime power. Given the growing importance of the maritime domain to U.S. interests and the rapidly changing global security environment, the United States needs every tool at its disposal to ensure that America will remain a strong global leader at sea.
The U.S. Senate should ratify the Law of the Sea Convention today.
Will Rogers is a research associate at the Center for a New American Security, a non-partisan national security and defense policy think tank in Washington. He is the author of Security at Sea: The Case for Ratifying the Law of the Sea Convention.
Karin N. Calvo-Goller of Israel's Academic Center of Law and Business decided to sue a guy who gave her book about the International Criminal Court a mediocre review, alleging criminal libel. "I am aware of the extent of freedom of expression under the First Amendment," she wrote in an attempt to explain and justify her action. "However, the extent of that freedom ends where its exercise damages the reputation of an individual."
Anyways, I think she has another thing coming. I hope the French court sticks her with all the court costs.
Why am I not surprised that Prof. Calvo-Goller used to work for the U.N.?
In February 1968, a U.S. soldier was court-martialed simply for holding down a Vietnamese man while two Vietnamese soldiers waterboarded him, according to Guenter Lewy's America in Vietnam. (329)
I mention this because both George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney now have publicly admitted they were approving of waterboarding, a form of torture that once was a crime in the eyes of the U.S. government -- and still is under international laws.
The Washington Post reports that in his new memoir, My Pointy Head, President Bush's response to a request to waterboard 9/11 big nut Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was, "Damn right." (Meanwhile, Cheney stated earlier this year that, "I was a big supporter of waterboarding.")
The Post quotes Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch: "Waterboarding is broadly seen by legal experts around the world as torture, and it is universally prosecutable as a crime. The fact that none of us expect any serious consequences from this admission is what is most interesting."
That said, it will be interesting to watch whether either of these guys, or their campaign-contributor ambassadors, ever travel in Europe. I suspect that one day we could see a lower-ranking type detained for questioning upon de-planing in EU territory.
Why isn't Michael Vick banned from pro football for life?
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense chief canine correspondent
There is happy news for many of the 51 dogs rescued from football player Michael Vick's dog-fighting compound that he called "Bad Newz Kennels" and ran for a minimum of four years. Because Vick was fined nearly a million dollars, money was available to assemble a team to assess the dogs, which showed signs of abuse and torture. After careful evaluation of each individual dog, many were successfully rehabilitated and then placed in homes as pets, or are coexisting with other dogs peacefully in an animal sanctuary. A few of these former fighting dogs have even become certified therapy dogs. Jim Gorant, a senior editor at Sports Illustrated, has written a book about these dogs, The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption. In a situation where these dogs would otherwise been euthanized, it's a happy twist of fate. Gorant, now a clear defender of pit bulls, goes as far as to say:
As odd as it may seem, Michael Vick may be the best thing that ever happened to the pit bull. He gave the forum to discuss this and make it possible to get the message out there that these dogs are not what they've been made out to be in the headlines, that they really are just sort of dogs. And a lot varies from each one to another and then how they're raised and socialized and all of these issues that go around them. You can find the sweetest, most loving pit bulls in the world and you can find other dogs that are as mean as you want."
Fresh Air, home of the best interviews in America, earlier this week did a moving show on Vick's dogs with Gorant and others.
Here is a comment in response to yesterday's item about Marine Lt. Col. Michael Mori, a defense counsel who believes he was penalized for defending his clients too vigorously. The note below, from a former Army JAG, looks under this rock a bit more.
By A Former JAG
Best Defense guest columnist
Payback against defense counsel in the military is nothing new. I was a young Captain (almost two decades ago) doing defense work as a prior-service enlisted just like Mori. My own experience and familiarity with the ways of the Army, when added to the relative inexperience of the fresh-out-of-law school prosecutors bringing marginal cases, meant that many of my clients walked scot free. After one E-4 of mine who was charged with a sexual assault was acquitted after a trial, my Regional Defense Counsel (LTC) brought me in and chastised me, observed that my client really was guilty, and used a quote from his mentor, the soon-to-be Judge Advocate General of the Army, that "you are an Army officer first, and a defense counsel second." He instructed me that from that point forward, I was going to urge my clients to plead out rather than for me to do all I could do to get them acquitted. He helpfully interjected that he would make sure the prosecutors would offer my clients more attractive plea bargains in the future. I'm sure my clients would have appreciated a little back room dealing amongst field grades to fix the results of their courts-martial in advance!
Of course I said nothing and promptly ignored him. I continued to get about a third of my clients acquitted, compared to the 95 percent conviction rate Army-wide. It got to the point that local Marines started putting in requests for me to represent them in USMC courts-martial, which was a surreal experience for a dogface.
As I should have expected, I eventually got a crap evaluation from the lieutenant colonel, which was accompanied with some oral comments about "not being a team player." I happily transitioned to civilian practice and have never looked back.
I don't know anything about Mori's case, but I do know that if you want a long and successful career as an Army lawyer, you'd better remember "you are an Army officer first, and a defense counsel second." In other words, don't rock the boat. In fact, I would never advise a JAG to accept a defense counsel post if they hoped for a long career. Too much institutional bias against the necessary work that they are forced to do on behalf of their accused.
Kristian Dowling/Getty Images
Lt. Col. Michael Mori was assigned to defend a Gitmo prisoner charged with terrorism. Now Mori is alleging that a subsequent promotion was delayed for years because the Pentagon was unhappy with the vigor of his defense.
MARTYN HAYHOW/AFP/Getty Images
So alleges the prosecutor down in Norfolk. My real problem is with the American officials who thought it was a good idea to put on the battlefield thousands of armed civilians not subject to military discipline or the UCMJ. I think this will be one of the major errors future historians hang around the necks of top Bush Administration officials and their senior military counterparts.
The Blackwater guys are on trial for the killing of two Afghans in Kabul in 2009. Their attorneys claim the shootings were in self-defense against a reckless driver.
An active-duty Marine captain has a good piece recalling his time at Harvard Law while Elena Kagan was dean there:
If Elena Kagan is "anti-military," she certainly didn't show it. She treated the veterans at Harvard like VIPs, and she was a fervent advocate of our veterans association. She was decidedly against ‘don't ask, don't tell,' but that never affected her treatment of those who had served. I am confident she is looking forward to the upcoming confirmation hearings as an opportunity to engage in some intellectual sparring with members of Congress over her Supreme Court nomination. I would respectfully warn them to do their homework, as she has a reputation for annihilating the unprepared.
In fact, he adds, she had a Marine-like approach to life: "Be tough, show that you care and ensure that everyone below you has plenty of coffee."
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
One of the role of political journals is to police their own side. For example, the Nation and the New York Review of Books should call out leftists who play fast and loose with the facts, or who cozy up to the likes of Castro. Likewise, the National Review and the Weekly Standard should blow the whistle on erring rightists who, for example, play footsie with fascists. (You listening, William Kristol?)
Unfortunately, this happens all too rarely. I mention it because the Wall Street Journal editorial page today carries a column that slaps down the talk that Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan was anti-military during her time as dean of the Harvard Law School. "Outside observers may disagree with the moral and policy judgments made by those at Harvard Law School," writes her predecessor as dean, Robert Clark. "But it would be very wrong to portray Elena Kagan as hostile to the U.S. military. Quite the opposite is true."
I've taken a few pops at the WSJ edit page in the past, so it is only right to congratulate them today.
Meanwhile, invoking the spirit of Roman Hruska (who in 1970 defended a Supreme Court nominee thusly: ''Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance? We can't have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.''), David Brooks criticizes Kagan for not being more like an op-ed columnist.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
Jane Mayer deserves some sort of special prize for all her writings -- a book and articles -- on the U.S. government's shameful and counterproductive use since 9/11 of torture in interrogations. I mention this because of her terrific review in the new issue of the New Yorker of a book by Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush, who makes all sorts of wild claims about how well torture worked in protecting the country.
Here's a taste of the masterful job Mayer does of exposing the Thiessen book:
Yet Thiessen is better at conveying fear than at relaying the facts. His account of the foiled Heathrow plot, for example, is "completely and utterly wrong," according to Peter Clarke, who was the head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorism branch in 2006. "The deduction that what was being planned was an attack against airliners was entirely based upon intelligence gathered in the U.K.," Clarke said, adding that Thiessen's "version of events is simply not recognized by those who were intimately involved in the airlines investigation in 2006." Nor did Scotland Yard need to be told about the perils of terrorists using liquid explosives. The bombers who attacked London's public-transportation system in 2005, Clarke pointed out, "used exactly the same materials."
Nothing beats an on-the record response from those involved. The line I am getting from Theissen's defenders is that, Well, he criticized her, too, in his book. Let's see: One person is a reporter who worked alongside me the Wall Street Journal. The other was a flack for Jesse Helms and Rumsfeld. Who am I more likely to trust? It puzzles me that my old newspaper, The Washington Post, would hire Theissen to write for its op-ed page. How many former Bush speechwriters does one newspaper need?
Ol' Pat Lang likes peeing all over CNAS, but no worries, if that's what keeps him ticking. I do like his idea of trying the worst of the 9/11 guys on Governor's Island, smack dab in the New York harbor, not far from the World Trade Center site, and in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. Like the Attackerman says, the city that gave the world gangsta rap and The Godfather shouldn't be afraid of a few dissolute middle class Arab wankers. "I swear, on the souls of my grandchildren...."
Oh yeah, gonna make you an offer . . . .
Last week, my book researcher, Kyle Flynn, went to see John Yoo speak. Here are some thoughts provoked by the experience:
By Kyle Flynn
Best Defense Special Operations Correspondent
John Yoo, the former deputy assistant attorney general in the office of legal counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice during George W. Bush's first term, appeared at American Enterprise Institute, where he is also a visiting scholar, to discuss his new book Crisis and Command, the last in his trilogy concerning the political, constitutional, and legal dilemma brought on by 9/11 and the Bush administration's handling of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT).
For those of you who missed the less-than-enthralling discussion, do not fret, you can catch Yoo's recent appearance on the "Daily Show" with funny man Jon Stewart. And for those of you interested in a more serious book review, check out the excellent ones that appeared in the Washington Post and the National Interest.
Melissa Golden/Getty Images
The U.S. embassy in Kabul says it is firing its frat boy security contractors. This brings to mind a recent news report that the British security guard charged with murdering two of his colleagues in the Green Zone early in August had a criminal record back in the UK. He actually left Britain despite being on probation for robbery and firearms offenses, the papers reported.
"Lone gunman" -- that evocative phrase that crops up a lot in American history. It may be the foundation of Clint Eastwood's career, which in total is a meditation on violence and how it fits into our society. In his earlier films I think he sought to redeem that psychotic figure, and then in his maturity repented of that impulse, especially in my favorite of his films, Unforgiven.
I mention this because the phrase came up Wednesday in connection with the shooting at the Holocaust Museum here in Washington.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Finally, Americans may get the right to carry concealed loaded weapons in National Parks. How did we get so far without this privilege?
The irony is that the National Park Service doesn't even allow kayaks on the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park. But now we can pack pistols with our picnics.
I was surprised and impressed to see two centrist Washington bigwigs -- former diplomat Thomas Pickering and former FBI director William Sessions -- call for an independent commission to look into U.S. government policies on torture and detainees.
It is in the interest of our nation's security that President Obama should immediately appoint such a commission. To move ahead, make our country safer and strengthen the leadership position of the United States, we must have a full understanding of detainee policies and their consequences. Only then can we prevent any mistakes of the past from being repeated.
I am beginning to think this might just happen. And that would be a good thing indeed. We probably need one more round of revelations to push it over the top. Given the nature of things, I expect that murder will out.
Photo: Flickr user CitizenSheep
Call me a softie, but I don't understand why this murder case involving American troops hasn't gotten more media attention in this country. This seems to me worse than the tortures at Abu Ghraib. According to court testimony, the Army soldiers then dumped the bodies of the four murdered Iraqis in a Baghdad canal.
And Stars & Stripes -- yes, the Pentagon's newspaper -- deserves a shoutout for staying on the story.
Two South Carolina Republicans piped up to say they don't want the Gtmo detainees moved to their neighborhood, either. Thanks for pitching in, fellas!
At this rate the detainees are going to wind up at the New York City jail on Rikers Island -- which actually might be fitting. It reminds me of an exchange I had with a 10th Mountain Division soldier in the spring of 2002 when we were standing near some dead al Qaeda fighters in the aftermath of the "Anaconda" battle in eastern Afghanistan. "Sergeant, what do you think of all this?" I asked, gesturing at the strewn corpses, and their RPGs and other weapons. He glanced down at the remains of the al Qaeda men, who had been hit by a JDAM, then looked straight at me and quietly said just five words: "Sir, I'm from the Bronx."
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.