View Full Version : A Double Standard in Military Justice

06-25-04, 07:16 AM

A Double Standard in Military Justice

By Raymond Perry

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal analyzed the reporting of the International Committee of the Red Cross inspections of U.S. prisons in Iraq revealed the extent and depth of involvement of U.S. forces in “physical and psychological coercion, which in some cases was tantamount to torture”.

In light of this development, I decided to review the case of Lt. Col. Alan B. West, who was relieved of command for lesser acts than those reported at Abu Ghraib.

West was sent to a desk job for threatening an Iraqi policeman suspected of knowing the specifics of an impending ambush in which the colonel would surely have lost some of his men. The colonel was threatened with court-martial for his acts. This incident raised a profoundly important question: Should a commanding officer focused on an immediate threat and saving lives be subject to the threat of court-martial as he was?

In a previous article (“West Incident Reveals Senior Leadership Failure,” DefenseWatch, Nov. 13, 2003) I discussed the apparent failure of senior leadership in allowing the entirety of the case to be handled by the JAG officers. It is now clear that the U.S. military was applying a double standard at that time.

The job of our general officers is to look beyond the heat of the moment and to ensure that the armed forces live up to the American sense of fair play that should typify our behavior. Nearly all in command would be hard pressed to not succumb to doing exactly what Alan West did, yet I believe we must strive to do so.

On May 21, 2004, The Wall Street Journal published an article, “Finding U.S. Abuse in Iraq Left Red Cross Team in a Quandary.” It revealed the yearlong extent of the Red Cross effort to ensure that senior U.S. military officials were fully apprised of the methods being employed in the 14 military prisons visited by Red Cross delegates.

The article showed that from the very beginning – a visit to the Umm Qasr prison in July 2003 – Red Cross Delegates were observing treatment that was never seen before in facilities run by “democratic regimes with an open media.” Further, the Red Cross reported these observations to U.S. authorities in frequent meetings. In some instances, the military implemented changes as a result, but clearly not across the board.

The two senior generals commanding our Iraqi occupation, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez and Centcom commander Gen John Abizaid, testified to Congress on May 19 that they were unaware of these reports. Such statements appear to have let them off the hook.

But Congress did not hold them accountable as commanders. These responses seem to indicate that they were not personally responsible. But this was their ship, they were responsible for issues of national significance, whoever was personally responsible

Personal responsibility is precisely not the point. The point is that, as leaders, they clearly were not doing their job.

Those in command must train their staff that certain matters are of such sensitivity that they must be informed of these matters immediately.

Gens. Abizaid and Sanchez were trained in a system of immediate reports by message or telephone that are of national or service significance. All of their staff, well schooled in how “joint staffs” function, knew this. So why did this not get to them for so long?

If these generals truly did not know of this evolving problem then they were responsible for the fact that their people were not properly trained in those things requiring their immediate notification. When presented with the issue of torture an “effective general” turns to his JAG officer and asks questions.

In contrast, a leader immediately responds, without asking anyone, that we just don’t do this, the long-term cost is too great. As I wrote last year, the American people expect that senior military commanders have a core ethos (“A Failure of Our Ethos,” DefenseWatch, July 10, 2003).

There is little doubt that the American people have forgiven Lt. Col. Allen B. West for his actions. Few of us would not consider acting as he did, but most would hope that they might have the strength not to.

If our nation’s military leadership has the fortitude to do so, it will recognize the double standard applied to the colonel in contrast to the inaction regarding leadership failures toward abuse of prisoners held by the U.S. military. This leadership should then immediately reinstate him to active duty and pull any official correspondence on this matter in his record, including OERs, and substitute appropriate correspondence directing that no inference be drawn by any selection board noting the absence of such correspondence.

Finally, they will return him to command and set his career back on “due course.”

Lt. Raymond Perry USN (Ret.) is a DefenseWatch Contributing Editor. He can be reached at cos1stlt@yahoo.com. Please send Feedback responses to dwfeedback@yahoo.com.