Daily Archives: April 23, 2012

To Tell the Whole Truth…

“Do you (swear) (affirm) that the evidence you shall give in the case now in hearing shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (,so help you God)? United States Manual for Courts-Martial II-82 (f)

I will be a character witness at a Courts-Martial this week. I will be traveling extensively out of country. The accused is an officer that I have served with. I cannot image that he has done what he is alleged to have done. I was asked and called to be a witness for the defense and this is a strange situation for me because prior to this I have in almost every case been somehow involved in the prosecution of crimes than as a character witness for the accused.

When I was a young Army Officer I served as a Company Commander and Adjutant for commands at the Battalion, Group and Brigade level. My best friends were the prosecutors and for the most part I held defense attorneys, military and civilian alike to be impediments to justice. That was 26 years ago and I have grown up.

My growth began when I was still a Company Commander and the Criminal Investigation division (CID) of our local Provost Martial office came to see me. I was even then known as a tough but fair commander. I took over a company that at the time had the highest drug positive rate in Europe. The previous company commander had let many legal issues languish including many at best were spurious.  When I took command I dealt with those that I felt could meet the muster of a General Court Martial and dismissed the rest.  I remembered well the words of my instructor in military justice that “if you don’t think you can make the charges stick in a General Court-Martial don’t even try to bluff your way through an Article 15 proceeding.”

Thus anytime that I had to deal with potential criminal offenses against the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) I was careful to look at all the evidence before even filing charges.  That was my policy as a company commander and my advice to my commanding officers as an Adjutant.

When the CID investigators came to my office on that cold December day in 1986 they told me of their beliefs that there was cigarette smuggling ring being ran by certain soldiers of my unit and that to “investigate” that they wanted to place an agent undercover posing as a soldier in my unit.  I asked them if they had any evidence that led them to believe that there was even “probable cause” for their allegation and they said that there was none but that they wanted to “see what evidence that they could uncover.” I guess that they figured that a young First Lieutenant and company commander that had successfully prosecuted over 30 non-judicial punishment cases, put a good number of soldiers out of the Army and sent several soldiers to courts-martial would be eager to help them out.  However I felt that something was not quite right in this. The CID agents left my office and never came back.  I guess that they found someone else to do their bidding.  Regardless if they had any evidence I would have asked them for it and prosecuted the accused with gusto. However I have no tolerance for those that would try to use me for a fishing expedition and in turn destroy the moral of a unit that was recovering from a terrible time.

I asked them again what evidence they had for me to even think of letting them into my unit pretending to be soldiers.  I was not stupid. I knew that my Soldier-Medics would smell a rat three blocks away and that if I allowed these “investigators” into my unit without an absolutely concrete case that I would destroy the moral of my unit which had just recovered from the previous relief of command of my predecessor. They could produce nothing other than their “suspicions” and I told them to leave my unit and not come back unless they had real evidence.  I never heard from them again.

That was my revelation that sometimes law enforcement officials can be overzealous in their pursuit of justice.  I don’t believe in letting people get away with crimes. Likewise I won’t go to bat for someone that I believe is guilty of a crime, especially if I am under oath. All I know is that if I was the commander in this case that I would have had a hard time even to charge the officer much less take the case to courts-martial. Perhaps the prosecution has more evidence than I know about, but even so as I was told so long ago, “if you don’t think that it will hold up in a General Court Martial don’t even try to bluff your way through an Article 15 proceeding.”

This week I will testify about the character of a military officer who I believe to be above reproach. Based on my knowledge of the case cannot believe that he is guilty or even why charges have been made in this case.  In a couple of days I will be asked to testify under oath and I will do so with the utmost of integrity. Thus I can testify truthfully about the character and integrity of a comrade in arms. I do pray that this officer will be acquitted of all charges and that my testimony will help him.

Back before December 1986 I might have given a pass to the prosecutors and told the officer to find someone else to testify on his behalf. However after that and after a lot more of life where I have seen prosecutors run amok I will not stand by and silently let a comrade be convicted of something of that I do not believe him capable of doing. I am testifying regarding the character of a man and to that end I will testify what I know to be “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

This is a heavy burden but I must tell the truth regarding what I know. Please pray for me and those concerned, especially the accused as well as anyone that is an alleged victim in this case.


Padre Steve+

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