Thursday, June 15, 2006

Shackled in SoCal

Major Mike

I am grinding my teeth on the revelation that US Marines, and a Navy Corpsman are being held in shackles (HT Michelle Malkin and others; Michelle June 14, 2006), on murder charges stemming from the alleged atrocities that may, or may not have been committed in Haditha (the usual unbiased coverage by the Windfarm MSM) last year. Shackles...I am appalled.

You ask why. Any JAG out there, feel free to jump in, but in my two tours as an XO, I had many encounters with the JAG and the military legal system. I often found it lenient, overly protective of the guilty, and frustrating to say the least.

Both times I served as an XO, I served for charismatic, but humble, COs that were committed to leading their Marines. In each case, they took the time to develop sound and coherent strategies to ensure that all training was accomplished, that unit morale was high, and that worthy Marines were rewarded appropriately. In each case, the Marines that served under them revered them.

I was left with task of dealing with the two per cent that decided that they were smarter than the USMC and, by default, the CO. In my endeavors to stem UA(s) and to get the attention of any offenders to the UCMJ, my first order of business was always an attempt to get them confined to the brig.

JAGs, please step in here, I have no CM guide here and I am getting on toward 50, BUT, this is not as easy as it seems. The notion of “arrest” in the military, is more the essence of the word “capture.” Once you are arrested for an offense, you are read your military rights, and thusly informed of your crime, but it is a rare occasion that you would be detained…even for as briefly as over night. The concept of “arrest” is that you “know” that you are under charges, and, in most cases, are expected to do your duty until the disposition of your case. Often, in the case of minor infractions, this means little change of status for the Marine in question. It is just a matter of when he will stand in front of “the old Man,” receive an agreed upon punishment by the SgtMaj, or suffer at the hands of a Junior Officer (JO) in a Summary Courts Martial.

In any case, confinement…what we civilians view as “arrest,” is a rarity. Even a multiple offender for UA (unauthorized absence) has to be proven as an additional threat, beyond his propensity to be unavailable at the time and place of Uncle Sam’s choosing, to be held in the equivalent of captivity.

This can be frustrating for those of us responsible for the imposition, under the CO’s watchful eye, of good order and discipline for the command. Senior NCOs complain bitterly about releasing the poison back into their sections. The SgtMaj, usually a co-conspirator of mine, usually rants and raves about the general deficiencies of officers, and the CO’s guidance is usually brief and direct…do something.

After multiple times of having drug dealers, multiple UA offenders, gangbangers, and the like, sent back into my units, I developed a few strategies in circumventing the system. Circumventions I nearly always got caught on. Circumventions that nearly always resulted in the release of my bad apples back to the command. And, circumventions that, ALWAYS got me a tongue lashing from the military judge that had to review my pre-trial confinement orders on Monday mornings.

What I would do is have my recalcitrant Marines picked up late on Friday afternoons. Have a pre-trial confinement order typed up, knowing it might not get reviewed until Monday morning. So my trouble makers, some serious, some not-so serious, would get the benefit of seeing the inside of a brig BEFORE they had the opportunity to go back. Often this would be enough to correct the temporarily misguided Marine, and it usually had little effect on the hard-core offenders, but it did send a message to the good Marines that the command had an interest in keeping the rabble out of the ranks to the greatest extent possible. This showed the would be criminals that we were serious, and it showed the good Marines that we were doing our best to protect the integrity of the unit.

Nearly ALWAYS to be undone by my Monday morning brow-beating by an irate staff judge about my lack of knowledge of the military judicial system, and my irresponsible behavior in the CO’s absence (I would sign the confinement orders, usually pre-arranged with the CO’s late departure on a Friday evening, right after the CO left, so that I could legitimately sign them without his knowledge…shame on me). And often my prodigal sons would be returned to me for more coaching, counseling and discipline.

BUT, never in my day, did I see any of my Marines confined AND shackled, within the walls of the brig. The “idea” of being under arrest is all the barrier most need Marines to prevent flight, especially in the most serious, and most contested cases. Where exactly are the “innocent” Marines going to be able to run off to, now that they have been “convicted” in the press? If these are good Marines, and the circumstances surrounding Haditha need to be sorted out…regardless of the circumstances, restriction to quarters is likely all it would take to restrain them from flight. After that, maybe confinement, but confinement AND shackles AND solitary, inside a brig, is beyond the pale that I am familiar with.

It is in a word, egregious.

Notice, I am not proclaiming their innocence or quilt, although I am still persuaded of their innocence, until they are, or are not, convicted by Courts Martial. I am simply comparing their treatment to the pervasive leniency that most military defendants are legitimately entitled to under the UCMJ.

My point, and I’ll be blunt and short, and I know MajGen Zilmer personally…we were instructors together at The Basic School in the mid/late 80’s…if the Marine Corps continues to taint this incident with command influence and unequal treatment, the Chain of Command, including MajGen Zilmer (who I would have trusted to do the right thing, up to this point) and the Commandant, will have done more harm to the reputation and integrity of the Corps than these defendants could have possibly done. Selling out these Marines is not worth the four or five days of peace and quiet the press will give you as a result, AND it WILL draw the ire of active, retired, and former Marines, who will sniff this out in a heartbeat. I caution you, do the right thing…proceed FAIRLY…starting with getting those Marines out of shackles and solitary.

I can see confinement, but the shackles and solitary, I view, as a complete pandering to a press that you don’t respect anyway. Knock it off. These Marines deserve justice, nothing more, but nothing less.

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