Here’s an editorial that will run in Thursday’s Virginian-Pilot supporting Major General Cleveland’s decision to refer the SEALs cases for trial by court-martial following the NJP refusals while also lauding the outcome of those prosecutions.

10 Responses to “Virginian-Pilot editorial about the SEALs cases”

  1. Ama Goste says:

    Great editorial that deserves to receive wide circulation. I like it for the message and for not calling non-judicial punishment proceedings “administrative reprimands.”

  2. Presley O'Bannon says:

    I disagree with the notion that sending a case to criminal proceedings is a neutral act, or is a wholly altruistic act designed to seek “truth” in the best way possible.

    The mere act of going through the criminal process can be devastating for an accused, regardless of if it ends in an acquittal. In addition to the financial burden of retaining counsel, there is the daily mental stress of worry over what could happen, which is experienced by an accused and his/her family. Most likely, it is the last thing they will think about before they fall asleep, and the first thing they think about when they wake up.

    For you lawyers, imagine facing ethics or disbarment proceedings due to meritless accusations, and having that linger for 7-9 months. Even if you are exonerated in the end, would it be fair to say that you did not suffer in the interim? That going through those proceedings was a “good” thing as it was a search for truth?

    You don’t put someone through the criminal process as a neutral search for truth. You do it because you believe they comitted a crime, and you believe that putting them through the process is worth it because they are likely to be convicted.

    To make a decision on any other basis, and then to try to pass it off as altruism is nothing short of a cop out.

  3. Anonymous says:

    meritless? Just because they were acquitted doesn’t make the accusations meritless.

    They may have not been true beyond a reasonable doubt, and heck they may not have even been true. But meritless goes a bit far, because that suggests that the allegations were so far off that no one would believe them for a second.

  4. Anonymous says:

    “Bring the vats, bring the vats. Drink. Drink now before they come.” – Reverend Jim Jones

  5. anonymous says:

    So…a prosecution is a substitute for an investigation? Who is paying the legal bills for these innocent men? They are out thousands of dollars (I would imagine) not to mention having had to undergo the stress of being a criminal defendant. They have been punished by the process.

  6. Anonymous says:

    So anon 3:54

    Would you be willing to let your freedom be determined solely by a police or FBI investigation? There is a reason why we have a bifurcated process.

  7. DC Steve says:

    Posters angry that the case was brought at all, forget that the case changed over time.

    The following two statements are not contradictory:
    1) When the charges were preferred, the case against the SEALs was supported by PC, and strong.

    2) When the case was given to the panel for deliberation, the Government’s case was weak (ie not rising to proof beyond a reasonable doubt).

    That is what is meant when we say that the court-martial process is good at finding the truth. It discovers new facts, it provides color to other facts (cross), and it can make other facts become irrelevant (e.g. a supression motion).

    The CA (or a DA ) can only make a decision based on what he knows at the time.

    To be sure, there are some who beleive that guilt is irrelevant – the SEALs should get a pass – even if guilty. I suspect some posters on this blog fall into this group. For them, the above discussion is meaningless. (And likewise any discussion of the importance of GO&D, and the collateral effects of detainee abuse).

  8. ksf says:

    Great point. I’ve found that there are two types of prosecutors: those who take cases to court martial that they believe have merit, and those who take everything to court martial that could have merit.

    I would bet that anybody who disagrees has never been falsely accused of a crime and had to withstand the process or defend one of our country’s Heroes who was falsely accused of a crime.

    Like Presley, I prefer the former method, rather than the latter. Prosecutors should bring cases to court martial when they believe that a crime was committed and the servicemember deserves to go to jail and/or be given a punitive discharge. It should not be because the SJA’s office wants an OTH discharge, but they don’t want to convene a separation board, so hopefully the accused will submit a request for discharge in lieu of court martial. What happens when they don’t?

    One of the first questions that I would have asked on a case like this is, “Are they good SEALs?” If so, then there are ways to ensure the behavior alleged does not happen in the future. If they were bad duty performers, then captain’s mast was not a bad option.

    As far as a “neutral search for the truth” goes, that should happen during the NCIS or CID investigation, not a court martial. Usually, the NCIS or CID investigation winds up being a biased search for a confession, so the agent can close the file. Somewhere along the line, I think CIS and NCIS lost sight that that they are not an arm of the prosecution or the command. They are supposed to be neutral and detached. So, that’s why Officers wearing stars believe that a court martial is the only way the conduct a neutral search for the truth.

  9. Gene Fidell says:

    ksf 6:27 writes: “CI[D] and NCIS lost sight that that they are not an arm of the prosecution or the command. They are supposed to be neutral and detached.” Valuable as their work is, the MCIOs do not perform quasi-judicial functions, they are investigators. They may try to reassure suspects and witnesses that they are neutral, but that has not been my experience. Do you think the NYPD or FBI are “neutral and detached”?

  10. Charles Gittins says:

    The “investigation” was derailed early on when the SEAL CO told the lead NCIS agent to read the SEAL Det OIC, AOIC and other key witnesses their rights for obstruction of justice, even though the NCIS agent did not believe or suspect OOJ. This forced the percipient witnesses to protect themselved and invoke their rights to counsel. Once these key witnesses had obtained counsel, counsel provided detailed proffers of their expected testimony — testimony that the MJ considered so key to the case that he ordered the CA to immunize the witneses or the proceedings would be abated. Had the CA and his SJA critically reviewed the case after the proffers had been received and the evidentiary landscape drastically changed, they might have acted a bit more rationally. As it was, Cleveland had been wire-brushed in the press and by Rep Burton and others and he dug his heels in obstnately, even after he was told by his prosecutors that the cases were weak in light of the evidence that NCIS failed to uncover. Long gone are the days of strong SJAs with significant military justice experience who could influence CAs to decline prosecution when the case is not likely to be proved beyong a reasonable doubt, as in the SEAL cases. Good order and discipline is ill served where the command views the prosecution as a witch hunt.