Judge Advocates in Combat: Army Lawyers in Military Operations from Vietnam to Haiti

Article excerpt


Borch, Frederic L., Judge Advocates in Combat: Army Lawyers in Military Operations from Vietnam to Haiti. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2001. 413pp. $40

In the foreword, retired general Gordon R. Sullivan, a former chief of staff of the Army, notes, "Commanders and staff officers should read this book to see how the Army lawyer's role has evolved. Judge advocates should read it because it offers a shortcut to knowledge that ordinarily is gained only through experience. Those interested in the Army's history should read it because it provides details published in no other source." To this list should be added all who deal with, teach, or are simply interested in the legal aspects of U.S. national security matters.

Military attorneys-judge advocates of all the armed forces-have become increasingly active participants in both operational planning and implementation. In clear and concise narrative, Borch offers the reader a comprehensive explanation of why and how this has occurred. Through his systematic discussion of the evolution of "operational law" (OPLAW) and his use of dozens of vignettes gleaned from over a hundred personal interviews, Borch offers an accurate picture of both the nature of OPLAW and the work of the OP lawyers. In doing so, he performs an important and long-overdue service to the national security community and the general public, who are still largely unfamiliar with this critically important aspect of military legal practice. This "educational" aspect of the book is also of particular contemporary relevance.

Recently, the question has been posed by some, both in and out of the government, whether the enhanced role that judge advocates now play in the operational arena has made war fighting excessively legalistic, thus impeding the successful conduct of operations. While the answer is probably best left to commanders, Borch-through his extensive examination of the manner in which OP lawyers identify and advise on legal issues affecting military activities conducted across the operational spectrum-does much to dispel any notion that judge advocates unduly place obstacles in the path of mission success. It is now a certainty that the manner in which a U.S. military operation is conducted invariably will be subjected to intense media coverage (and second guessing); that any deployment of U.S. forces abroad will be highly politicized, both within the United States and internationally; and that, accordingly, all such operations necessarily have become legally intensive. Both commanders and their judge advocate advisors understand fully the environment in which they must operate and succeed. Also understood is the undisputed fact that "judge advocates advise; commanders decide."

An Army judge advocate and an accomplished author of several books, as well as of numerous articles dealing with both criminal and international law subjects, Colonel Borch has made the task of reviewing Judge Advocates in Combat an easy one. In a well structured preface, he informs the reader of what his book is, and is not, about. It is a narrative history of the participation of Army lawyers in a broad range of military operations-from 1959, the beginning of Army judge advocate deployments to Vietnam, to 1996, when Army attorneys returned from a United Nations operation in Haiti. As noted, the book's principal theme is the process through which Army judge advocates have, during this period, effected a transcension from their peacetime "garrison" mission, providing legal services only in the traditional areas of military justice, claims, legal assistance, and administrative law, to their current practice-a military legal discipline that encompasses all U. …