Seeking Justice; Administration Marginalizes JAGs

Article excerpt

Byline: Nat Hentoff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

They don't get much publicity, but our military lawyers Judge Advocate Generals in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are an essential source of advice, in and out of combat, to our forces, on being faithful to our laws, treaties, the Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice, unexcelled anywhere in the world. But since 2002, the Bush administration has been undermining the JAG's essential independence.

The need for the independent counsel of our military lawyers has been noted by the Supreme Court (Greer v. Spock, 1976): "(The military must be) insulated from both the reality, and the appearance, of acting as handmaiden for partisan political causes." This includes whichever party is in power.

For example, in 2002 and 2003, decisions were made by civilian political officials and lawyers in the Justice and Defense Departments, and the White House, on the treatment of our prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. These abuses of prisoners led to the Supreme Court's stinging 2006 rebuke of the president in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld for violating our own War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions in setting up sham military commissions and unlawful interrogations of prisoners at Guantanamo and our other detention centers.

Military lawyers the JAGs were kept out of the particular civilian political decision-making in 2002 and 2003 that ignored the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. Had they not been excluded, the abuses at Abu Ghraib and other prisons are not likely to have happened. As the Supreme Court pointed out in its Hamdan ruling this year, Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, to which we are bound, prohibit "at any time and in any place whatsoever .. outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment" of prisoners whether they wear uniforms of another nation or are what the administration calls "enemy combatants."

On July 13 of this year, the Senate Armed Services Committee heard from JAGs in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines on the changes we must now make in the treatment and trials of "detainees" following the Supreme Court's Hamdan ruling. Said former Navy JAG Rear Adm. John Hutson: "I don't think we can win the war unless we live within Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions."

By marginalizing and ignoring the independent advice of the JAGs for the past four years, the Bush administration has seriously eroded what had been our moral leadership around the world, including among our allies, in the war on terrorists. …