Professionals that cannot change themselves from within, cannot
respond to the needs of their constituencies while also inspiring
the admiration and loyalty of their own members are in trouble.--"Tarnished
Brass: Is the US Military Profession in Decline?" by Richard H.
Kohn, World Affairs, Spring 2009
When General Conway
took over as the Marine Corps Commandant, he went on the speech
circuit talking about the “long war”.
One speech was made at the Marines’ Memorial Association and World
Affairs Council, in San Francisco, California on July 10, 2007. In
that speech, General Conway stated, “we have a couple of incidents
in Afghanistan and Iraq under investigation or engaged in trial”
and he was going to “let those things play out”. I
took exception to that comment because it struck me that he
was ducking the Haditha issue and, therefore, demonstrating a lack
“incidents” continued to occur in both Iraq and Afghanistan. An
example is the expulsion of the newly created US Marine Special
Operations (Fox) Company from Afghanistan for responding to a
mobile IED attack and ambush. This case is very similar to Haditha
except an Army General Officer (General Kearney), instead of
Congressman Murtha, led the rush to judgment. Major Fred Galvin,
the commanding officer, Captain Robert Olsen, the
intelligence and executive officer,and Capt Vincent Noble, the
platoon leader, were all brought before a Marine Court of Inquiry
for the suspected killing of civilians. Late in 2008, the Inquiry
Board found that no Marines should be charged criminally as
a result of the ambush, however, the Inquiry Board still managed
to charge these three officers with non-judicial punishment
articles related to other “aspects” of the deployment. An
interesting piece in the Marine Times regarding this case sums
up as follows:
Having promised a full and open inquiry, the Corps held many
hearings in secret session, held the findings secret, and released
its decision on the disposition of the case on the Friday
afternoon before Memorial Day, the perfect time to bury such news
in a long holiday weekend.
The Corps wanted this to just go away because of the
embarrassment it caused and the doubts it cast on the fledgling
Marine Corps Special Operations Command.
Now, there are also lingering doubts over whether justice was
indeed done, and worse, open questions about the credibility,
honesty and professionalism of the institution.
What a shame.
In my opinion, the Haditha, the Fox
Company, and other cases where Marines are prosecuted for
performing their mission, call for active instead of inactive
leadership. For the Commandant to shirk his duties with a boast of
inaction is not the kind of leadership I expect of the general
officer holding that prestigious office.
In the Haditha case, we seem to have
created a dark legal slap-stick comedy called “Lawyers Gone Wild”.
These legal mistakes, besides supporting a rush to judgment,
include prosecution grants of
immunity to unreliable witnesses, the whimsical addition of
charges against Marines, and a confirmed case of undue command
influence that, if pursued further, can probably be
traced back to
the Commandant. In addition, let’s not forget that the Marine Corps prosecutors
are suing CBS in order to obtain evidence against SSgt Wuterich,
the Haditha Marine squad leader. If they could not get the
evidence they needed from the battlefield and a 65-member NCIS investigation team, why do they think they can get it from CBS?
A good example of the “lawyers gone
wild” charges, and this has not been discussed, is seen in
Lieutenant Grayson’s court martial. The lieutenant is the only
case that actually went to court martial proceedings and he was
found “not guilty” on all charges. At one point in the case,
before the Court Martial began, Lieutenant Grayson was discharged
from the Marine Corps because his contact with the Marines reached
its end of active duty date. This discharge is an obvious
administrative error to any one who understands Marine Corps
personnel administration system. The prosecutor, of course, brought
the lieutenant back on active duty but then charged him with
illegally discharging himself from the Marine Corps.
In the court martial, Lieutenant Grayson’s lawyer simply called his current battalion commander to
the stand and asked if he discharged Lieutenant Grayson. The
battalion commander stated that he did discharge the lieutenant
because he is required to do so in accordance with his
responsibility and authority derived directly from Marine Corps
Orders and Directives. He also stated that if the prosecution had
placed Lieutenant Grayson on legal hold (a simple matter of
sending a letter to the Battalion CO), he would then have the
authority to hold the Lieutenant past his end of active duty date.
Folks, what we have here is a Marine
prosecutor that fails to place a high profile case defendant on
legal hold, in other words, the prosecutor is responsible for the
administrative error. Most Marine General Officers, who provide
the legal authority for a court martial, would see this as a
significant blunder committed by their Staff Judge Advocate
Office. We then see the prosecutor, because of his own
administrative failure, add a new charge against the Marine
defendant. I am not sure what the legal term is for these
shenanigans is but from the leadership prospective, it earns an
unsatisfactory marking in the prosecutor’s fitness report blocks
of “Proficiency”, “Setting the Example” and “Judgment” in my
This legal maneuvering is yet another
example of bad general officer leadership. General Mattis was given
the legal disposition authority directly by the Commandant. The
lawyers work and operate directly from the delegated command
authority of the MEF Commander, General Mattis. The Court Martial
judge and prosecutors are his direct representatives in the court
room. When this legal maneuver started to play out, both General Mattis and Conway should have stepped in and let the Staff Judge
Advocate, the prosecutor and assigned judge know in a “loud and
clear” voice that this is not the kind of legal representation
they will tolerate in the their Court Room because it creates
the bad perception of unfairness.
When I heard that LtCol
Chessani’s case was referred to the US Marine Corps
Commandant for final disposition, I start thinking, at last, we
can bring an end to this surreal episode of bad general officer
leadership that has deeply embarrassed the US Marine Corps that we all
love and honor. LtCol Jeff Chessani and his family will finally be
released form this moral, political, and legal nightmare that I
know rips and tears at their spirits and hearts. This is the
Commandant’s opportunity to do the right thing, in the right way,
for the right reason.
You can imagine my disappointment, when I
received an email from a friend that contained the link to a
news story that the Commandant had referred LtCol Jeff
Chessani’s case toLieutenant General George Flynn,
Commanding General, Combat Development Command
(Quantico). The subject line of the email was
“General Conway Bails”.
By referring this matter to another
General Officer, the Commandant seems intent on continuing the
circus of mistakes and embarrassments. The Commandant is again not
stepping up to the issue.
Looking at General Flynn’s record, I am
especially concerned about his creditability due to his lack of
combat experience. General Flynn does have a tour as Deputy CG at
MultiNational Corps-Iraq in 2008, but my worry is that because of this lack of combat
experience, General Flynn will continue to use the Rules of Law in
this case, instead of the Laws of War, which is the fundamental
flaw in the approach to the Haditha incident from the start. The
General’s two-star picture on
his biography page
does not even display a Combat Action Ribbon.
Can it be true that the Commandant picked a general, to determine
the final disposition of this case, who has not served in combat
as a battalion commander? This is a case about the decisions and
actions a Marine Battalion Commander took in combat. This is not a
case about the administrative staff actions taken by a “Military
Assistant to the Executive Secretary to the Secretary of Defense”
or a “Military Secretary to the Commandant of the Marine Corps”
(both staff positions held by General Flynn) in the comfortable
halls of the Pentagon or Headquarters Marine Corps.
Folks, I will be the first to admit
that LtCol Chessani’s case presents the Commandant with a
tremendous dilemma. If he drops all charges, and does not issue a
punitive administrative action, like a Letter of Censure, he will
not please the political Washington, DC crowd. In fact, he will be
admitting to all, the political and legal mistakes that have
unfairly abused all the Haditha Marines.
If he does take punitive
administrative action, he will please the politicians in both the
Pentagon and Congress but lose a considerable amount of the
leadership trust and confidence all Marines have in their
Commandant. Either way, he loses, and that is why, in my opinion,
he has deferred this decision to a subordinate general. He is
distancing himself from the fallout of a lose/lose situation and
that does not set the proper leadership example of doing the right
thing, in the right way and for the right reason.
Unfortunately, I am afraid that the
Commandant has already decided LtCol Chessani’s fate. The
Commandant can side with the political Washington powers or with
his Marines. I would like to assume that he will side with his
Marines but his history does not lend itself to that conclusion.
Hopefully, we will be surprised.
What remains to be revealed to us is
the political maneuvering and equivocation methods to achieve the
decided end result. At this point, we need to remind the
Commandant and Major General George Flynn, the
Fitness Report definition of “Courage":
Moral and physical strength to
overcome danger, fear, difficulty or anxiety. Personnal
acceptance of responsibility accountability placing conscience
over competing interest regardless of consequences. Conscience
overriding decision to risk bodily harm of death to accomplish the
mission or save others. The will to persevere despite uncertainty.
We do this to reinforce to the
Commandant and General Flynn that this decision is, in fact, a
test of their courage.
LtCol USMC Ret.
Former Commanding Officer of Kilo
NOTE: An interesting comparison is
to look at the general’s ribbons
here and LtCol Chesssani’s ribbons
And if you want a real eye opener look at Major Fred Galvin’s (CO
Marine Special Ops (Fox) Company) awards
Bob Weimann, a veteran of the first
Gulf War, is the
former Commanding Officer, Kilo Co., 3/1,
and a senior contributing editor to Defend Our Marines.