Monday, February 11, 2008

Honor and the Gitmo Detainees

"There will be no secret trials," said Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, a Defense Department legal adviser in reference to the recent decision to charge six detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison with conspiring to carry out the infamous Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.


I've written a great deal about my opinions of torture, secret prisons, and the so-called Global War On Terrorism - my opinion on these subjects is well known to most readers here. If you're new to Stonekettle Station, or just surfing in, read a couple of articles under the Top Posts over there on the right hand side of this page. And I've also made no secret of the fact that I am a retired military officer who fought in Iraq. In fact I was awarded both the Global War on Terrorism Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, three Navy Commendation Medals, and several Flag Letters of Commendation specifically for my role in this conflict - and I'm proud of all. I was a Mustang officer, meaning that I was enlisted for 16 years, prior to being commissioned to Chief Warrant Officer. I was a senior non-commissioned officer for four years, prior to my commissioning. As both a Chief and an Officer I endeavored every day to lead by example. To live up to my oath to support and defend the Constitution. To exemplify the Navy core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. There was never a moment after I put on Khakis, the uniform of Navy senior leadership, that I was not acutely aware of the eyes upon me. This may sound a bit stilted, but it is nonetheless true. I found that it was infinitely easier and vastly more satisfying to lead men and women, to gain their respect, gratitude, and admiration when you lead by simple adherence to the these fundamental principles. If, as a military leader, you consistently choose the honorable path, the path of duty and moral courage, if you set your course by adhering to your oath and the principles enshrined in the Constitution of the United States - then you will find that men will fall willingly in behind you, in fact they will fight to serve under your command. Indeed, you will gather around you through the process of accretion a cadre of honorable and duty bound men and women. The decisions you must make are often not easy, and following the correct path can be all too often difficult and dangerous, but if you adhere to the honorable course of action others will respect and admire you for it - even if it means that they may be negatively affected. Upholding the principles of honor, courage, duty, and commitment to high principles may often negatively affect you; there were many times I placed my own self in danger, both personally and professionally, to uphold my ideals. This is the cost of honor, but whatever the consequences both you, and those who follow you, can alway be proud of yourself and your actions. The simple truth of the matter is that as a leader, you shape the next generation, for good or for ill - but either way, your influence on those around you cannot be avoided or escaped. So, ultimately, you must choose what type of leader you wish to be.

Like it or not, rightly or wrongly, earned or not, America is a leader in the world. Our actions influence every nation we share this small world with. It cannot be avoided. If we are to be respected and admired as a lawful nation of principle, as a free and just people, as a beacon of light and liberty - then we must uphold the principles that form the foundation of such ideals.

On September 11th, 2001, the year I was commissioned as an officer in the United State Navy, we were brutally attacked. Thousands of Americans died in a cowardly and horrendous suicide attack on our own soil. There were those, a few, who felt that America deserved this. But there were many, many more, even among our sworn enemies, who were appalled, outraged, and disgusted by the actions of the terrorists - and they rallied to our cause.

Those who carried out the attacks died and placed themselves beyond justice. But a few, those who planned and financed the attacks, remained at large. Some were caught and the world, including many in the Muslim world, would not have shed a tear had those men been taken out and shot then and there. Instead, our leaders chose a dishonorable course of action, torture, secret prisons, and secret tribunals. Today many who once supported us now feel sympathy for the detainees, many have come to feel that maybe these men were justified in their actions on September 11th, 2001, there are many who have lost their respect and support for America.

This is what happens when you choose dishonor, when you choose the easy path instead of the difficult one of high ideals, when you choose to throw away your principles and the very things that make others respect and admire you - that make others wish to be like you.

No matter how open these trials are, no matter how solid the evidence, no matter how horrendous the crime against humanity - the trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, and Waleed bin Attash, will always be tainted by the stench of torture, secret prisons, rendition, classified evidence, biased representation, falsified and sloppy intelligence work, and most especially dishonorable leadership. Few, outside of America's heartland, believe that these men will get a fair trial, and fewer still within America's heartland believe that they should. Only time will change the opinions of those outside America. But for Americans themselves, they should demand fair and open trials. Demand exactly the same type of trials that they themselves would expect and demand as their birthright. They should demand open display of the evidence and the proceedings, so that the final guilt or innocence of these men cannot be questioned. Will that cost us? Yes, in intelligence methods, in hard won information, and in other less definable ways. That is the cost. But we will gain far more than we lose by being open and aboveboard.

Understand, I have no love for these men. None. If what the Pentagon says is true about them, then I think the death sentence is far too good for them. If I had encountered them on the field of battle I'd have killed them myself without hesitation and given the act no further thought. But, once captured, they were in our custody and subject our law, the laws of conflict, and the law of international agreement. Laws we were honor bound to uphold and chose instead to ignore. We chose to discard our honor, our duty, our word, and the trust of those we lead.

Honor can be regained. Trust can be rebuilt. Respect can be earned again. But it will be a long and difficult path.

Honor. For our own sake, for the example we set for the rest of the world, for the eyes of history who will judge us by what we do this day, I hope General Hartmann is correct - but I fear that he is not.


  1. Aside from the scale of the thing, this is really no different from any high profile case, be it a murder case, a rape case, a case involving the torture of children. In each instance, the public wants its pound of flesh. And they're right to feel that way.

    However, even more important is making sure you got the right guy(s). And the only way everyone is sure that happened is with an open transparent trial. There are few things more disgusting than finding out that an innocent person spent years in jail or was executed while the real perpetrator lived on in freedom. Not only lived in freedom but had no fear of apprehension because nobody was looking any more.

    I'm not familiar with the evidence against these guys. I hope its good. I hope its incontrovertible and that it was obtained in a fashion that would stand up in any court in America.

    Some people would say I should trust the Government; that somehow not trusting the Government is unpatriotic. I think just the opposite. Blindly trusting the government is what's unpatriotic. Our system was set up to put the burden of proof on the Government exactly because the Government is supposed to prove itself trustworthy over and over and over again, ad infinitum.

    I, too, hope these trials are carried out in a completely above-board manner. I, too, believe that living up to our own ideals is an absolutely necessary step toward regaining the status we claim in the world.

  2. "Some people would say I should trust the Government; that somehow not trusting the Government is unpatriotic. I think just the opposite."

    I agree. Trust is earned, not by a one-time act, but by a daily dosage of integrity and consistency. That's true of people as well as organizations, and I have to say, our government has been in pretty short supply of integrity lately.

  3. Jim, while reading your paragraph on leadership, I got tears in my eyes. No joke. Thank you. It was good to feel that emotion. That's the America I used to think we lived in, and that I want to be part of again.

    We can't make 9/11 not have happened, but we can try to undo the un-American things that have been done in it's name. The Bill of Rights should be a human doctrine, not just an American one.

  4. Tom, thanks. If you are interested in my thoughts on personal leadership, take a gander at the post link over there -> labeled CWO Hill - Remembering December 7th. (Yeah, I am too lazy to do the HREF link bit here in the comments)

  5. Jim, thanks for point out that post. I'm glad I read it. The other Top Posts look worth going over, too.

    I was thinking they should be collected, "The JW Papers." But, gosh, you already did!

    Now I have some more to read while I wait for more Deep Thunder. 1/7/08 is a date I've seen too much. :)

  6. Tom, yes, yes, I know. I've been busy and at the moment Deep Thunder is not making me any money.

    I needed to think about where I was going with the story. I've done that and outlined what comes next

    I promise I will have series of post up here in the next couple of days.


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