- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2009

Regarding your Op-Ed column by three retired senior military officers: It’s disgracefully disingenuous (“Interrogating Army ‘justice,’ ” Tuesday). The authors portray the nonjudicial punishment and administrative elimination of a junior Army officer as engineered by judge advocates, legal officers who they claim are “bureaucrats in snug offices in safe, rear areas.”

These senior officers know that the military justice system belongs to commanders, such as they once were. Capt. Roger Hill was offered nonjudicial punishment in lieu of court-martial by a commander, and he was discharged from the service by a commander.

Gentlemen, this is not the way to initiate a public discussion on how to do battlefield interrogations of our enemy. Did you hide behind your staff when you were in command?

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Birmingham, Ala.

• • •

As an infantry officer in Afghanistan, I was troubled to read the Op-Ed regarding Capt. Roger Hill. Retired Army Col. Andy O’Meara, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney and retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely are right to be concerned about a judicial system “run amok” and foisted upon a military trying to do its duty in a demanding combat environment. The central fallacy of their argument, however, is believing Capt. Hill had no other option but to abuse the detainees in his care.

Commanders in the field have many options available to them. Americans can only detain Afghans for 96 hours. This is because Afghanistan is a sovereign nation. We are an International Security Assistance Force serving at the request of the Afghan government. Typically, if a detainee needs to be held for longer than 96 hours, he is turned over to the Afghan government. Not only can they then be detained for a longer period of time, but they can also be interrogated by trained Afghan security officials who are better able to achieve a nuanced gauging of a suspect’s innocence or guilt.

Capt. Hill should also be asking himself why he allowed the Afghan interpreters he suspected to be “double agents” to have detailed information regarding his plans. We conduct daily joint patrols with Afghan security forces. We tell them a time to show up and don’t tell them where we’re going.

We should remember that, prior to this incident, American soldiers facing the same challenges as Capt. Hill served honorably in Wardak. They realized the danger was great but also that a gradual erosion of American values in the face of the enemy is far more dangerous. The laws of armed conflict are not handed down by “bureaucrats,” but rather are internalized by every soldier on the front lines as a necessary responsibility for bearing arms.

In the words of President Obama: “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”


The author is an infantry officer serving with the 101st Airborne in Afghanistan.


• • •

“Interrogating Army ‘justice’ ” is wrong in its premises and conclusions. Counterinsurgency is different. The population is the center of gravity. U.S. forces, fairly or not, are held to a higher standard in their conduct than other forces, particularly insurgents and terrorists.

Abuse of detainees undermines the legitimacy of coalition counterinsurgency operations in the minds of the target population. Read the U.S. Army FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency, and the counterinsurgency writings of David Kilcullen, John Nagl and David Galula, among others.

Second, Capt. Roger Hill’s interrogation actions are inconsistent with 99 percent of other combat leaders who manage to command their units and protect their troops without resorting to unlawful and immoral methods.

Capt. Hill simply abandoned his responsibility as an officer to maintain the moral high ground. Expectation of reciprocity by the enemy, concededly not forthcoming from radical terrorists, is but one of several factors counseling compliance with U.S. law and policy and the law of armed conflict.

Finally, the authors’ blaming the “military’s own lawyers” is disingenuous, at best. As former commanders, they each know that all decisions in the military justice system are made by commanders, not attorneys. Prosecutorial discretion is practically nonexistent in the U.S. military justice system. Responsibility for decisions in disciplinary outcomes lies where it should: with responsible, accountable commanders.

The authors’ misrepresentations and apparent embrace of the ham-fisted tactics of a rogue officer are disappointing, particularly given their vast experience and positions of influence. In my experience, their position represents the minority stance among commanders, officers and troops and decidedly is at odds with established Department of Defense policy and U.S. law.


Lt. Col. Bracknell, a former combat arms officer, is a Marine lawyer on active duty with two combat tours in Iraq.

Virginia Beach

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