CAAFlog » Court-Martial News

Having discovered that General Abrams – the convening authority in the Bergdahl case – failed to review matters submitted by the defense before referring the case for trial by a general court-martial, and also that the General destroyed letters sent to him regarding his referral decision, the defense motion to replace General Abrams as convening authority (previously discussed here) seems to have found some traction.

Stars and Stripes reports here that General Abrams has been ordered to testify by telephone.

In a motion filed yesterday in the Bergdahl case and available here, Sergeant Bergdahl’s defense team seeks to disqualify General Abrams as convening authority for three reasons.

First, because General Abrams served as the principal military assistant to the Secretary of Defense before his current assignment, and was therefore involved in the Bergdahl search and recovery operations, the Defense asserts that he is a fact witness who cannot also serve as convening authority.

Second, General Abrams apparently did not consider the defense comments to the Article 32 preliminary hearing report. According to the motion:

When interviewed, [General Abrams] claimed that [the defense submission] was written for “the lawyers” and suggested that if the defense wanted him to read the submission, it should be written in “plain-speak.”

Mot. at 7. The defense calls this “preposterous” and asserts that it requires General Abrams’ disqualification and a new referral decision. Mot. at 7.

Finally, the motion asserts that:

GEN Abrams admitted having received over 100 letters about SGT Bergdahl’s case. These were addressed to him and sent through the mail. He said they spanned the full spectrum of opinion, and came from all types of people and on both sides of the case. When defense counsel asked to see the letters, GEN Abrams revealed that he had destroyed them by burning.

Mot. at 7 (emphasis added).

One can only hope that the General was not so reckless as to destroy the only copies of the letters (which, of course, were official records).

The defense also asks that any court-martial be prohibited from adjudging any punishment in the event Bergdahl is convicted. Bergdahl recently also sought this remedy in response to Senator McCain’s comments on his case (discussed here).

In a motion filed yesterday and available here, the defense team in the Bergdahl case (CAAFlog news page) asks that the charges against him be dismissed with prejudice or alternatively that the court-martial be prohibited from adjudging any punishment in the event he is convicted.

The basis for the defense request is the statement of Senator John McCain, current Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, that:

If it comes out that [SGT Bergdahl] has no punishment, we’re going to have to have a hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee …. And I am not prejudging, OK, but it is well known that in the searches for Bergdahl, after-we know now-he deserted, there are allegations that some American soldiers were killed or wounded, or at the very least put their lives in danger, searching for what is clearly a deserter. We need to have a hearing on that.

Mot. at 6 (marks in original). The motion then asserts that:

It is difficult to imagine a more blatant threat to the fair administration of military justice than the one Sen. McCain uttered. That he never carried through on it – or hasn’t yet – is of no moment. The threat itself is the problem.

Mot. at 12 (emphases in original).

While McCain’s comment may require some corrective measure by the court-martial, it’s hard to see how granting either of the forms of relief requested by the defense would be anything less than an enormous windfall for Bergdahl (who functionally confessed to the desertion charge and then made numerous other damaging admissions to a journalist that were broadcast – with Bergdahl’s consent – by NPR in the Serial Podcast). The defense must have an awfully dim view of the intestinal fortitude of the Army leaders responsible for this case if it really believes that the mere threat of a hearing will necessarily and irreparably lead to unfairness in the court-martial proceedings.

The reaction of Simpsons character Monty Burns to the Germans seems closer to the true feelings of Army leaders in the face of McCain’s threat:

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After earlier this year substantiating its first case of reprisal against a sexual assault victim (see army Times here), various outlets reporting on the creation within the DoD IG’s Office of a sexual assault reprisal unit that will handle all complaints of reprisal against sexual assault victims.  See Stars and Stripes here and Federal  News Radio here.  FYI, this was one of the recommendations of the JPP, that DoD IG handle all sexual assault reprisal investigations.

Season 2 of the popular NPR podcast Serial was about the Bergdahl case, and the source material for the podcast included recordings of post-recovery interviews between Bergdahl and filmmaker Mark Boal. Specifically, there are roughly 25 hours of recorded conversations (according to the podcast – link to episode transcript) discussing Bergdahl’s life, the reasons he left his unit, and his capture and captivity. Some of those recordings were played during the Serial podcast, and they included numerous damaging admissions by Bergdahl (some discussed here).

It’s unsurprising that Army prosecutors would seek to obtain those recordings are review them for additional evidence. Boal, however, is trying to prevent that.

In a case filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on July 20, 2016, Boal seeks to enjoin issuance or enforcement of a subpoena for the recordings. The case is Mark Boal et al. v. United States of America et al., docket # 2:16-cv-05407-GHK-GJS.

A copy of the complaint is available here. It argues, in part, that:

Issuance and enforcement of the Subpoena will irreparably harm Plaintiffs. Either Plaintiffs will be forced to reveal unpublished and unbroadcast segments of interviews gathered for news and public affairs reporting purposes, which include confidential information, or Plaintiffs will be subjected to contempt proceedings for their failure to do so. Disclosure will irreparably damage Plaintiffs’ ability to gather news and give sources and subjects confidence in their ability to keep materials confidential. Contempt proceedings will cause loss of liberty or property that is unwarranted and unconstitutional. In either event, Plaintiffs – third parties to the Bergdahl court martial – will be unduly burdened by the Subpoena and forced to expend substantial sums on counsel.

Complaint at 6-7.

Various media outlets have coverage of the suit, including the Wall Street Journal (blog), the New York Timesthe Los Angeles Times, and The Hill.

The Washington Post has made a significant disclosure in the ongoing case of Marine Major Mark Thompson (CAAFlog news page), who faces a second general court-martial after he invited the Post to look into his case: It published the audio of the final interview between Thompson and the Post reporter.

During a 45-minute interview in January — previously excerpted and now published in full online — reporter John Woodrow Cox showed Thompson copies of the text messages he uncovered and repeatedly asked Thompson why he had lied about Stadler’s late-night visit to his Annapolis home during her graduation weekend.

“I simply had to,” Thompson said in the recorded interview. “When they were coming after me for 41 years, I can’t begin to say, you know, how terrifying that is.”

If he’d been convicted of the rape charge, he might have faced a sentence that long. During the interview, Thompson continued to maintain that he had not had sex with either woman and offered more explanation for not divulging the text messages.

“If I were to say, acknowledge that I thought they were flirtatious, that moved me on the scale closer towards, well, it was probably a relationship,” he said. “So I avoided anything that looked like it could be unduly familiar or flirtatious.”

When Cox again pressed Thompson on why he’d lied, the Marine asserted that he was “never questioned” about his final encounter with Stadler. The reporter reminded Thompson that he had been asked about it both at the administrative hearing and “multiple times” by The Post.

“I simply wanted to distance myself,” Thompson said, “from anything that would look like there was more familiarity than there was.”

Article here. Audio here.

The audio is somewhat difficult to understand because of background noise.

The article also discusses one of the charges against Major Thompson: that he engaged in conduct unbecoming in violation of Article 133 by misleading the Post reporter.

Note: Later today I will be part of the a free webinar on the Bergdahl case presented by the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association. You can register here

The Army’s prosecution of Sergeant Robert Bowdrie (“Bowe”) Bergdahl (CAAFlog news page) for desertion with the intent to shirk important service and avoid hazardous duty in violation of Article 85(a)(2), and misbehavior before the enemy in violation of Article 99, was our #8 Military Justice Story of 2015.

As the case progresses many wonder why Bergdahl faces prosecution after nearly five years of brutal captivity in the hands of insurgents. The facts of his capture are relatively undisputed – in a moment of severe naivete (or narcissism) he walked away from his combat outpost and into the Afghan wilderness – and the subsequent half-decade of maltreatment he suffered is undoubtedly a harsh price to pay for his terrible decision. Yet Bergdahl faces a general court-martial and the possibility of confinement for life without the possibility of parole. Why, one wonders, would the Army subject him to such a court-martial?

It’s because the Army has no choice.

Read more »

According to this CNN report, PFC Manning – who pleaded guilty to some offenses and was convicted of others in connection with the mishandling of classified material, and who received a sentence that included confinement for 35 years – was hospitalized yesterday after an apparent suicide attempt.

Readers may recall that Manning bitterly protested being placed in a suicide watch status while in pretrial confinement (some discussions here and here and here), and received 112 days of extra credit due to the conditions of the pretrial confinement.

For a good overview of the Manning case, see our #3 Military Justice Story of 2013 and our high-profile case page.

Next week, on Wednesday, July 13, 2016, from 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM EDT, the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association will host a free webinar on the Bergdahl case:

Hero or Traitor?
An Overview of the Military Justice System and the Case For (and Against) the Prosecution of SGT Bowe Bergdahl

Join us on July 13 at 1 PM ET for this Free Webinar

While SGT Bowe Bergdahl’s return to the United States after nearly five years in captivity in Afghanistan was celebrated by some–including President Obama’s very public remarks from the Rose Garden upon his release–things began spiraling quickly for Bergdahl as allegations arose in the news media and through American’s most popular and talked about podcast, Serial, that shed a different light on the circumstances of his disappearance and time in captivity. Now Bergdahl finds himself standing trial before a U.S. Army court-martial. Tune in to hear military justice policy experts discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the government’s case, a primer on the military legal system, and how Bergdahl will–and is–defending himself against the government’s charges.

Register here: http://www.americanbar.org/groups/young_lawyers/events_cle/Case_of_SGT_Bowe_Bergdahl.html

I am one of the presenters.

The Washington Post reports here that:

Marine Maj. Mark Thompson — who has long ­insisted that he was falsely accused of having sex with two U.S. Naval Academy students — will face a court-martial on allegations that he lied repeatedly in an effort to prove his innocence.

Our prior coverage of the case is available here.

Coverage abounds of the recently filed appeal of PFC manning at the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, here (AP via Army Times), here (ABC News), here (AP via Stars&Stripes), and here (Wired)–yes, some of that is naval gazing.

Here is a link to the brief, all 209 pages, which features what it presents (at 34-44) as a seeming circuit split on application of  “exceeds authorized access” in the one specification of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(1) (the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)).  The first argument doesn’t seem like a strong attack on the pre-trial punishment violations that Judge Lind remedied by awarding 112 days of additional pre-trial confinement credit.  And the RCM 1001(b)(4) argument is interesting in alleging that the parade of testimony concerning the potential impact of the leaks made by PFC Manning was not “directly relating to or resulting from the offenses”–though the argument focuses on “resulting from” and fails to discuss what the broader phrase “relating to” means.

It is difficult for me to comment on the legal and factual sufficiency arguments, but feel free to speculate if you have more information about the evidence than I do (or even if you don’t, which will likely happen).

Marine Major Mark Thompson, who faces new charges (discussed here) after he invited the Washington Post to look into his court-martial conviction (discussed here), elected to not participate in the Article 32 preliminary hearing in his case yesterday.

The Marine Corps Time reports (here) that:

Kevin McDermott, the civilian lawyer for Marine Corps Maj. Mark Thompson, called the hearing at Quantico Marine Corps Base a “show trial.” After Thompson was advised of his rights, he and his lawyers walked out of the hearing, making themselves “voluntarily absent,” in military jargon.

Additionally, the Washington Post reports (here) that:

Marine Maj. Mark Thompson’s friends warned him to leave his case alone. But he couldn’t, a fellow Marine later told investigators.

The former U.S. Naval Academy teacher was fixated on proving that he had been unfairly convicted in 2013 of having sex with two female midshipmen. So he brought his allegations of injustice to The Washington Post — a decision that led to revelations in the case and serious new charges against Thompson.

“I knew it was stupid. There were people who tried to talk him out of the Post article, but he wouldn’t hear it,” Maj. Michael Pretus told investigators in a recording played Friday at Thompson’s preliminary hearing in Quantico, Va. “He was on an obsession course. You couldn’t get him to talk about anything else.”

Yesterday, of course, was Friday the 13th.

In an opinion issued yesterday the Army CCA denies a Government appeal under Article 62 of a military judge’s ruling regarding defense access to classified information in the Bergdahl case.

The opinion is available here.

Washington Post reporter John Woodrow Cox – whose investigation of the court-martial prosecution of Marine Major Mark Thompson, formerly an instructor at the Naval Academy, yielded some ugly results (discussed here) – now reports that Major Thompson faces new charges:

After revelations about his case in The Washington Post, the military has now charged Thompson with one count of making a false official statement and another of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.

The full story is available here and includes this damaging admission:

Asked in January of this year why he had lied to authorities, Thompson described the immense pressure he faced after one of the women asserted that he’d raped her.

“I simply had to, when they were coming after me for 41 years,” Thompson said, “I can’t begin to say, you know, how terrifying that is.”

I noted the Washington Post’s investigation of the court-martial prosecution of Marine Major Mark Thompson, formerly an instructor at the Naval Academy, in this post, commenting that the results weren’t pretty.

The story still has legs, as reporter John Woodrow Cox wrote yesterday that the Military launches a new investigation into Marine major’s sexual misconduct case:

Following Washington Post revelations about Thompson, a Marine Corps prosecutor and an investigator met this week with one of his accusers, Sarah Stadler, to review the contents of her long-missing cellphone, she said.

“I can confirm that the Marine Corps is examining new evidence that has recently come to light as a result of the Washington Post article about Maj. Thompson’s case,” Rex A. Runyon, a Marine Corps spokesman, said in an email. “I cannot provide additional details as it is our policy not to discuss ongoing investigations.”