I will post links to and analysis of this statement later, but here are excerpts of General Cleveland’s outstanding comments in response to the verdict in the SO2 McCabe case:

I take my responsibility as a commander and convening authority very seriously and did not make the decision to refer these charges to courts-martial lightly. While I had preferred to handle the incident administratively, Petty Officers Huertas, McCabe and Keefe exercised their right to have this matter handled by a court-martial. he evidence presented reasonable grounds to believe that offenses had been committed and that Petty Officers Huertas, McCabe, and Keefe had committed those offenses. In the interests of justice and to maintain good order and discipline, I chose to proceed with the courts‐martial. . ,

Despite the opinion of some of those who preferred that these charges not proceed, I allowed these charges to go forward because I truly believe that the best process known for uncovering the truth, when the facts are contested, is that process which is found in our adversarial justice system. There is no better way to discover the truth than by presenting evidence to an unbiased panel of members, having witnesses testify under oath, and having that testimony subject to vigorous cross-examination. . . .

Incidents such as the ones alleged in this case carry strategic implications for U.S. forces and U.S. National Security and ultimately cost the lives of Americans. I will continue to take allegations such as this seriously, investigating them whenever they are brought to my attention, and acting on them when the evidence so dictates. I look forward to SO1 (SEAL) Huertas, SO2(SEAL) McCabe, and SO2 (SEAL) Keefe returning to their Team and continuing their duties in defending our great Nation.

After reading MG Cleveland’s comments, I saw these refreshing comments from SO2 McCabe’s lawyers via AP:

Faraj and fellow defense attorney Neal Puckett said the acquittals prove the military justice system works. And though in the past, both have been critical of Cleveland’s decision to court-martial the SEALs, the attorneys were more philosophical after the victory.

“No terrorist organizatas a tool for policing civilian and contractor employee conduct abroad. While the viability of the UCMJ to address either terror trials or civilian actions abroad is largely untested, the overall fairness of the MilJus system never ion can claim that the American military didn’t press forward and really investigate,” Faraj said.

As the AP reporter alludes to, it is hard to say whether this new found perspective came with victory or not.  Whatever the cause may be, it is at least good to see these comments from Mr. Faraj.

My last thought on these cases, at least on CAAFlog, is this.  In the last five years, we have heard some of the same elected officials that recently rained hate and contempt on the MilJus system give accolade after accolade to the MilJus system as a forum to fairly and impartially try terror suspects. In addition, Congress only recently asked that the UCMJ be applied to civilians in battlefield environments.  All the while it seemed that the overall fairness of the MilJus system was not to in question–until now.

What changed?  Humbly, I would say, nothing. And there lies the problem. The UCMJ system has become a third (or 52nd depending on your perspective) criminal justice system in the United States.  It now is the primary source for holding servicemembers accountable for all manner of crimes.  But, of late, it has become a political football due, IMHO, to a loss of focus on the very different mission of the UCMJ as an indispensible tool for commanders in maintaining good order and discipline. 

Judge advocates, including myself, might use these cases as a reminder of this unique mission of the UCMJ and a reminder that civilian standards for criminal justice aren’t always transferrable to the military justice system.  For example, an oft cited AUSA philosophy of only taking cases that are sure convictions is not one that commanders always have the luxury of adopting.  As MG Cleveland said, the interests of justice and maintaining good order and discipline are the commander’s dual burdens in deciding to proceed with charges against an accused.  While a commander can not refer baseless charges, charges that may be abandoned in the civilian world may be purused under the UCMJ to fulfill this dual (if not primary) mission.  Furthermore, as in cases like the SEAL courts-martial, interests beyond deterrence and crime fighting are at stake in investigating and proceeding with disciplinary action. The cases may “carry strategic implications for U.S. forces and U.S. National Security . . .”  and pose a direct risk to the other servicemembers under the commanders’ care.  As one commenter put it, today was a good civics lesson, or, at least maybe a good refresher for our core demographic on CAAFlog.

11 Responses to “MG Cleveland Responds to Verdicts”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Most of the whiners re: these cases did not stay on active duty long enough to attend any schools that dealt with the strategic level of war and the implications of events like this. I cannot say it any better than Gen. Cleveland.

  2. JWS says:

    I disagree. What kind of leadership concept runs over the troops for some sort of “strategic” reason? Is this what Patton would have said? (Heck, no.) Do you really think we gain some sort of strategic advantage by falsely convicting a troop just to appease the unappeasable?

    I say again, Gen. Cleveland has been ill-advised. Had he just left the matter with the Chief of Boat (or the SEAL analogue), the truth would have been out. Captain’s Mast might have been OK in the Army, but it was not the right solution in the naval service.

    And it looks like a certain MAA should no longer be trusted with his crow.

  3. Rob M says:

    I don’t think we gain any advantage, strategic or otherwise, from falsely convicting anyone for any reason. But that is not what happened here.

    We gain a strategic advantage from avoiding misconduct, vigorously investigating allegations of wrongdoing and taking care of our own by policing ourselves.

  4. Anonymous says:

    No, Patton was more prone to slap his own troops.

    Zing!

  5. JWS says:

    Anonymous should at least watch the entire movie. The respect & loyalty that III Army had for Patton was legendary — and this was reciprocated.

    There’s a great deal of talk about loyalty from the bottom to the top. Loyalty from the top down is even more necessary and is much less prevalent.

  6. RY says:

    How often is it that a GCMCA feels the need to justify his decision on an acquittal through a press release? I’ve seen my share of acquittals, but I can’t remember the CA needing to issue a press release for justification.

    Additionally, IMHO, the press release was less about respect for our system of justice than it was about saying, “I really did make the right decision.” Consequently, I disagree with No Man; I don’t think the statement is outstanding, rather I think it is self-serving.

    Lastly, I don’t know much about MG Cleveland, but I suspect he’s topped out. From the politics standpoint, there’s a host of people in Congress who feel vindicated right now for their attempts to bring him to reason. Since any promotions go through Congress (albeit Senate rather than House), I imagine this would be a difficult situation to overcome for confirmation to a higher rank.

  7. Advocate for Truthiness says:

    He allowed the charges to go forward so he (our adversarial system) could discover the truth? Seriously?

  8. Some Army Guy says:

    Sometimes an Art 32 hearing serves as a nice tool, even if the case isn’t GCM-worthy.

    Combat-tactics, Mr. Ryan.

  9. Article16 says:

    Whatever helps him sleep at night…
    “While I had preferred to handle the incident administratively…”
    First of all, what incident? Second of all, then why didn’t he handle it administratively? NJP, even when it gets turned down, isn’t the only administrative option. Nothing forced his hand here, so he may well have to contend with folks who believe that issues with ego or bad advice contributed to his (relatively expensive) insistence on prosecution.

  10. Ad rem says:

    Respectfully, give me a break No Man. Were you actually blinded by the the flag MG Cleveland had draped over himself (and, incidentally, which he mistakenly believed to be a cloak of invisibility)? Nice spin, but lets call the spade for what it is. It was a decision to apply the ultimate leverage against some troops who wouldn’t just fold and take it – EVEN though, the potential punishment obviously did NOT fit with what exactly MG Cleveland believed any of them to in fact be guilty of. And seriously – “the oft cited AUSA philosophy of only taking cases that are sure convictions” – perhaps whomever you’ve been listening to has missed the other possibility – that the AUSAs in question were applying discretion in order to avoid the risk of convicting and sentencing an individual unless the same AUSA was convinced that the evidence supported such an outcome. If MG Cleveland’s attitude is to be accepted as an appropriate view for a GCMCA or SPCMCA – then in reality, there is no need for him in the mix whatsoever – what wouldn’t he prefer? I suppose in such a scenario, even whatever is less than the easily indictable ham sandwich (at least in NY) is at risk.

  11. Balkan Ghost says:

    Yet another excellent post, Mr. No Man. You are on to something. This case seems be part of a larger “us vs. them” problem where the U.S. is experiencing the all-too-common phenomenon of difficulty in trying its own nationals for international crimes. There are lots of good writings on this, esp. by Professor Timothy McCormack of Australia. These SEAL cases are just the latest chapter for the U.S., joining Haditha, Hamdaniyah, and My Lai.