White House to Military Lawyers: Keep Quiet
Here is another terrible idea from the Bush administration: The White House now wants to politicize the promotions process for attorney-soldiers. To uniformed lawyers who often put the rule of law ahead of their own interests, the message is as clear as it is cynical and short-sighted: If you want a promotion, stop criticizing U.S. policy in court, no matter how legally flawed it may be.
The move by the White House -- reported over the weekend by Pulitzer-Prize-winner Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe -- is another example of the relentless march the administration has taken toward a "unitary executive," where all executive-branch power resides with the president. It will fascinating to see now whether and to what extent the military pushes back.
From Savage: "The administration has proposed a regulation requiring 'coordination' with politically appointed Pentagon lawyers before any member of the Judge Advocate General corps - the military's 4,000-member uniformed legal force -- can be promoted.... Former JAG officers say the regulation would end the uniformed lawyers' role as a check-and-balance on presidential power, because politically appointed lawyers could block the promotion of JAGs who they believe would speak up if they think a White House policy is illegal."
More from Savage: "The JAG rule would give new leverage over the JAGs to the Pentagon's general counsel, William 'Jim' Haynes, who was appointed by President Bush. Haynes has been the Pentagon's point man in the disputes with the JAGs who disagreed with the administration's assertion that the president has the right to bypass the Geneva Conventions and other legal protections for wartime detainees."
The first person I thought about when I read the story is former Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, who represented terror detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan before the United States Supreme Court in 2006. Swift won the case -- the justices agreed with him that the military commission procedures existing at the time were insufficient -- but it cost him a promotion and, ultimately, his job. He's now a law professor at Emory University (and still representing Hamdan).
The coercion of military lawyers -- pull your punches in court or face career stagnation, or worse -- will accomplish two things, neither of which is productive. It will guarantee that the best military lawyers will spend less time in the system, and that the most fearful lawyers will remain. There will be uniformity at the cost of independence; expediency at the expense of justice.
When that occurs, not only will the clients of military lawyers suffer, but the rest of us will as well. Military lawyers are the canaries in a coal mine when it comes to poorly conceived military law. When something is rotten, they usually sniff it out first, and when they object to military policy, they typically have good reason for doing to.
That's why Hamdan won his case in court. And it's why we'll all lose if the White House gets it way here.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: billy | December 17, 2007 09:54 AM
Posted by: Lamentations | December 17, 2007 11:20 AM
Posted by: H R Coursen | December 17, 2007 11:29 AM
Posted by: P.T.Chesser | December 17, 2007 12:00 PM
Posted by: On the plantation | December 17, 2007 12:19 PM
Posted by: consider the other side | December 17, 2007 12:29 PM
Posted by: DemoChristian | December 17, 2007 12:40 PM
Posted by: michaelj | December 17, 2007 12:54 PM
Posted by: JUDGITO | December 17, 2007 02:38 PM
Posted by: William Smith | December 17, 2007 06:06 PM
Posted by: firstname.lastname@example.org | December 17, 2007 08:09 PM
Posted by: Robert James | December 17, 2007 10:16 PM
Posted by: Singing Senator | December 18, 2007 07:06 AM
Posted by: PNeal | December 18, 2007 03:34 PM
Posted by: | December 18, 2007 05:07 PM
Posted by: MoreAndBetterPolls | December 18, 2007 10:13 PM
Posted by: Singing Senator | December 18, 2007 11:55 PM
Posted by: spay197rvj | December 20, 2007 08:30 PM
Posted by: 4efpu5wryx | December 31, 2007 08:56 PM