Monday, February 05, 2007


Tomas Tizon has filed a story about the Watada case, "Stand Against Iraq Sends Officer to Trial" (

We can glide gently by the human-interest elements and - at the very end - focus on the comments of Kathleen Duignan, the "Executive Director" of the National Institue for Military Justice, an organization which is to JAGs what "The Friends of the Italian Opera" was to those dauntless Italo-American businessmen of 1920s' Chicago and New York.

As so often happens in these things, the Watada case is getting 'uncontrolled' media attention, meaning that the NIMJ can't simply call a press conference at its whim to pump its calculated spin into the hungry maws of the media brood. In such situations - as any military commander knows - 'things' can happen that are not always to your advantage: an acute or robust challenge might suddenly present itself not to your strongest force, but rather to one of your garrison or window-dressing units.

Thus it appears that Executive Director Duignan must have been minding the shop when the media called for a comment. She clearly tried to sound nice as she faithfully trumpeted the military line (which is always a defensible fallback position when you'd rather not step into the squishy stuff): "The idea is when you put on a uniform, you put your personal opinions to the side", quotha. This must be the general line of defense that she saw sketched on the wall maps.

But of course, as can happen in this sort of thing, she said more than she would ever have wanted to. She faithfully parroted the military line, but it is precisely the military line that gives its game away.

And a nasty, vicious, duplicitous game it is: One is not supposed to act upon one own's opinions as to one's orders. Fair enough, indeed. Do I really feel like I should drive this tank from the north end of the marshaling yard to the south end? It's not a question a soldier can entertain.

But US military law and our own stated Nuremberg principles and international law do indeed hold invididual soldiers responsible for carrying out illegal orders. (And let's not even get started on 'immoral' ones.) So now: Do I really feel like I should drive this tank over that bunch of civilians standing at the far end of their own back yard? becomes a much more cogent and complicated question indeed.

And here is where the military and its 'justice' system betray their actual operating principles: if you as a soldier are responsible for ensuring that you do not carry out an illegal order, then you as a soldier are going to have to form some very clear opinion as to whether a particular order is indeed - as best as you can make out - 'illegal'. But now when 1st Lt. Watada does precisely this type of formulation in the matter of being ordered to a war that nobody except the two Chief Inmates any longer denies was started with lies and sustained through the treacherous deployment of even more lies, the military piously but grandly seeks to whack him, claiming that 'soldiers don't get to choose'.

Heads the military wins, tails the soldier loses. This is the fundamental operating principle of the military justice system, it always has been, it always will be, there is no escaping it, and all the JAG and JAG-roadie efforts to spice up that core rotteness with complex and arcane confections is simply adding a further layer of rot.

It's been said here before and it is now said here again: covering a military-justice story is like approaching a coven of vampires with holy water. They'll be nice until they can either get you to go away or they can bite you. Meanwhile, whomever it was that they were gang-biting will still remain behind them, almost out of sight. Like Roddy McDowall going up the stairs in the last act of "Fright Night", you have to make yourself take each step. But you have faith in Truth, and you don't trust toothy night-creatures, no matter how wide their smile.

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