Thursday, November 01, 2007

Too Few Good Men

Lieutenant Colonel Colby Vokey recently announced his decision to retire from the U.S. Marines. As a Judge Advocate General officer, Vokey served the last four years as head of all Marine Corps defense lawyers in the western United States. He has decided to leave the Corps because he's "fed up" with the military justice system, a system that military commanders manipulate to achieve their desired verdicts, and one that Vokey alternately describes as "horrific," "disgraceful," and a "sham."

Retired Colonel Jane Siegal, former chief of all Marine defense counselors, says of Vokey that, "Integrity almost seems like a word too small to describe him." Lamentably, integrity seems like too inappropriate a word to apply to many senior U.S. military officers these days.

The Business of Saving Lies

Retired Lieutenant General and former top commander of U.S. troops in Iraq Ricardo Sanchez appears to feel he's a victim of injustice, but his disgruntlement is of a different kind from Casey Vokey's. The Abu Ghraib torture affair happened on Sanchez's watch. Well, it didn't just "happen." Many argue that he helped set the conditions for prisoner abuse with his September 2003 memo that authorized, among other interrogation techniques, "emotional love," "pride and ego down" and "stress positions" that some prison guards apparently took to mean they should handcuff prisoners, shove them to the floor, and stick inanimate objects up their behinds.

In April 2005, special counsel for Human Rights Watch Reed Brody said, “General Sanchez gave the troops at Abu Ghraib the green light to use dogs to terrorize detainees, and they did, and we know what happened. And while mayhem went on under his nose for three months, Sanchez didn’t step in to halt it.” Human Rights Group called for a special prosecutor to investigate the culpability of Sanchez and others in cases of crimes against prisoners.

The military was kinder to Sanchez. An Army Inspector General finding absolved Sanchez of wrongdoing in the Abu Ghraib affair. Sanchez did not become head of U.S. Southern Command as he expected, however, and retired without pinning on a fourth star. As the doorknob hit him on his way out, Sanchez complained that his career had been a casualty of Abu Ghraib.

Retiring from the military as a three-star general is a tough thing; almost as tough as the three years in military prison Lynndie England got for being the private at the bottom of the Abu Ghraib food chain who was feckless enough to let her picture be taken while she helped her married boyfriend abuse Iraqi prisoners. Lynndie's three years are up, but she doesn’t have a three-star general's retirement pay and benefits. I've been unable to discover whether she ever got back her old job at a West Virginia chicken factory, but it's a sure bet she isn't knocking down big bucks as prison security consultant with Blackwater USA.

You Can't Panhandle the Truth

I could have forgiven and forgotten Sanchez forever if he'd taken his retirement parachute and a high dollar gig with General Dynamics or some phony baloney national security think tank and kept mum, but no.

At an October 12th conference for military reporters outside Washington D.C., Sanchez said of the situation in Iraq, "“There is no question America is living a nightmare with no end in sight” and that “There is nothing going on today that would give us hope.” These are sentiments I wholly agree with, and I would have applauded Sanchez if he'd quit talking while he was ahead, but he then proceeded to castigate the administration and the media for everything that went wrong in Iraq and with his military career. Here's how Army Times reporter Kelly Kennedy described the scene:
Jaws dropped as Sanchez glared out at the room, and then eyes rolled as he spent an hour blaming everyone but himself. Most of what he said about the military has been said before: There’s no grand strategy, the Iraqi Army should not have been disbanded, there was no planning for stabilization or recovery past the initial invasion and, “the administration has failed.”

When asked about his accountability as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Sanchez replied that by the time he took over it was too late for him to do anything. I guess it was too late for him to say anything either, too late to do anything but keep his mouth shut and take the job and hope it led to the four-star command he wanted.

It wasn't too late for Colby Vokey to speak up when he perceived that the Corps was trying to railroad eight Marines accused of massacring unarmed civilians in Haditha, Iraq. The Corps put together one of the largest legal teams in history to prosecute the eight men and told Vokey he'd have to defend them with a much smaller team. Vokey had to take the fight up the chain of command to the general level to get the defense team he needed. Vokey also went to bat for a teenage Guantanamo detainee whose confession to murdering an American soldier in Afghanistan was obtained, according to the detainee, through torture methods FBI agents have reported seeing practiced at the Guantanamo facility. Vokey has also been an active supporter of Marines who come home from Iraq and Afghanistan with stress disorders. Vokey will retire on May 1, 2008 as an O-5.

Judging the moral worth of men is well above my pay grade, but if I had a son, I'd want him to grow up to be a lot like Colby Vokey and not one bit like Ricardo Sanchez.

And it's a sad state of affairs that the admirals' and generals' club is jam packed with men like Sanchez, but men like Vokey are seldom let in.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword, ePluribus and Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.


  1. mandt4:12 PM

    And then there was General Barbara Fast, Queen of Torture, who now heads up then reconstituted School of the Americas at Fort Huachuca.

  2. Anonymous4:32 PM

    This is the hidden tragedy of this administration. The competent are being driven from all corners of the military and the federal bureaucracy. It's almost like they're trying to dissolve the government from the inside out.

    I used to think tricks like "stop loss" were just a variation on the business practice of pulling sales forward to make the present quarter look good and dump the results on your successor. Now I'm more inclined to think it's some combination of "Columus burning his ships" and "eating the seed corn" as we enter the brave new neo-con era or something equally insane.

  3. Mandt,

    Ah, yes, Major General Barbara. Just goes to show how far a gal can go in the military on a little torture and a broomstick.


    Eating seed corn is the perfect analogy for what's happening now.

  4. Thank you Jeff, for another clear-eyed and sane post.

    If she misses San Diego, it won't be long before she can come back and work here.

    The swamp thing company will soon open up shop here.

  5. The swamp things are everywhere these day, Nunya, those who work for Blackwater and otherwise.

  6. Anonymous5:20 AM

    According to Army Times Lynndie England can be found back in West Virginia:

    Proving that there is no irony in the US, the noted war criminal now works as a clerk at a law firm. She also provides voluntary support with her knowledge of computer pornography, electro-shock torture and graphic sex scenes for her home towns Strawberry Flavoured Blood Festival.

  7. By golly, good for her. Thanks for the link.


  8. I wonder how long it will take Unlce Jimbo and the others to crank up the slime machine to sully the LTCOL's record and lump him as just another malcontent who has an ax to grind.

    Because its a fundamental writ of holy truth that one has to write that the US military has no problems, is the most respected institution in America and that the UCMJ is fairer than any other system.

    Which by the way is just not true. And the practice of senior officers bullying a general court martial goes on all the time. I sat on such court and watched a certain well known VAW buffoon try to do it.

  9. Yeah, Skippy, I'm sure Uncle Dumbo and his pre-sapien pals will jump all over Vokey. Let me know more backchannel about this court martial. I figure the senior buffoon was one of about three guys.


  10. The cream is supposed to rise to the top. How do sh**bags like Sanchez ever get a freaking star in the 1st place?

  11. Jeff, I have an old friend that comments at my place quite a bit and he knew Sanchez personally, my friend is a retired Ranger, came out an O-5 and the way you speak of Sanchez is pretty nice compared to a few others I have heard, and they weren't left leaning anything, this one guy considers himself a solid Tancredo supporting Conservative, and he still hates Sanchez' guts...

    I never met the gentleman but somehow, I feel like I missed nothing in the process...

    Oh well, the Bush Bot sites won't attack you on this one right now, they're in the process of having an awards vote, some things must take priority you know...

  12. Fred:

    Thanks for the background on Sanchez (why doesn't it surprise me?)

    So they're having an award do, huh? I'll have to run over there and see the sights.

  13. I'll give you a hint, they called him "mudflaps" for a reason. And over in your old alama mater he walked away from a turning airplane leaving just the brake rider sitting there. BT had to run over and shut down the engines....

  14. There are two reasons, it seems to me, that the number one and two qualifications for star rank are being a jerk: 1) they're political oppointments with an emphasis on purely "political", and not primarily military (or even leadership) ability; and 2) centralized "career manglement" has largely been a failure generating even worse outcomes than when such decisions were decentralized.

    Compounding this sad situation, the current administration provides a truly hideous example of personal accountability that I'm sure all the "political" appointees to star rank are quick to mimic to ensure their future success.

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