From Video to Charge Sheet: A Cautionary Tale

Suppose you are absent without authorization from the Army. That’s a military crime, punishable by a healthy stay in prison and a punitive discharge, depending on the severity and particular form of the absence.

Let’s review a few helpful hints in your situation:

(NOTE: Don’t rely upon this advice. They are general helpful hints and are a poor substitute for advice given by a lawyer who knows and understands your specific case. If you’re really in this situation, call a military lawyer as soon as possible. Start with your branch’s trial defense service.)

  • Staying gone for, say, 7 or 8 years, is a bad thing.
  • Making statements about the absence will not help.
  • Videotaping those statements really will not help.
  • Making up a story about multiple combat deployments and self-sacrifice when you served for only a few months (and all but a few days of it was in basic/initial training) and having a local news outlet put it on video constitutes thermonuclear self-destruction.

Knowing this, let’s see what’s up over at The News Tribune out of Tacoma, Washington.

A one-time Fort Lewis soldier who trumped up his military experience in a TV interview last year is facing time in prison on charges that he deserted his unit and falsely claimed to be a combat veteran.

Kevin Shakely of Sacramento, Calif., allegedly evaded law enforcement agencies for seven years, once reportedly slipping through their grasp at SeaTac Airport.

When Army police started raising pressure on him in August, Shakely, 28, contacted Sacramento’s KTXL Fox 40 News and claimed he was an honorably discharged Iraq and Afghanistan veteran being harassed by the Army.

“This is not how you treat somebody that went through what I had to go through and made the sacrifices I had to make,” he told KTXL.

If the military is harassing a combat veteran who was honorably discharged, that’s a bad thing. Let’s read a bit further.

Shakely in fact spent less than six months in uniform before deserting. Army records show he completed his initial training and spent just six days at his first duty station – Fort Lewis, before its reorganization as Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Well, that’s not helpful. Neither is the video. (You must click on the link because I can’t get it to embed here.)

This individual’s court-martial is already scheduled. From what the article implies, he agreed to plead guilty to some or all of the charges in exchange for a limit on the sentence.

Why am I talking about this story? Well, a while back, I talked about the fact that veterans are pretty good at naming and shaming those who tout false military service. The veterans over at This Ain’t Hell were all over this case, with posts here and here. If you click around, you’ll see that they use service record requests to debunk claims made by questionable individuals. Just one example of what happens when determined and capable veterans can do to self-police those who claim something they are not. Particularly illuminating is their stolen valor page.

 

The Military Channel, Rebranded!

Apparently, the Military Channel will be rebranded on March 3. Starting that day, it will be the American Heroes Channel.

As I am not a cable TV subscriber, this doesn’t really mean anything to me, but it might be important to you. That’s why I put it here.

So, what does it mean? Is this a great thing for a great cable channel? Or, has it jumped the shark?

If I recall back to my cable-subscribing days, I seem to remember the Military Channel being a great resource for people who enjoy watching R. Lee Ermey shoot watermelons with large-caliber assault weapons, all while uttering loud, guttural noises.

Or, maybe that was a dream I had after eating a Mexican-themed Hungry Man meal. I can’t remember.

To FOIA, or Not To FOIA

I send a lot of FOIA requests.

OK, so maybe I don’t FOIA as much as various conspiracy theorists and Area 51 fans, but I do use FOIA more than the average person. They all pertain to various appeals and administrative cases in which I’m representing current/former service members and government employees.

Some arrive with paperwork and files intact and minimally redacted (losing a few social security numbers here or there). Others arrive as papers with dark black rectangles, with occasional pronouns revealed, just to make me wonder. It evokes images of a hospitalized Yossarian sanitizing letters.

Of course, I know better. After all, I did spend part of a year in administrative law, where I often provided legal reviews for FOIA requests. Looking back, there always seemed to be an effort by agencies to avoid compliance or disclosure. Most of the time, it wasn’t out of a desire to hide or deceive, but more out of personal urges by the civil servants to avoid the work required to comply with each request. Resistance was especially strong when it involved tracking-down and compiling emails.

I tried to call everything as much as possible to the letter of FOIA, but the mushy language of the act left much room for interpretation. Mostly, I endeavored to reconcile FOIA with the provisions of the Privacy Act. I didn’t like the work, and I especially didn’t like the urgings from lazy civil servants who sought to avoid a bit of extra work at the photocopier.

Arguments ensued. Often, they went like this:

Civil Servant (CS): Here’s a FOIA request. Tell us if we have to disclose this stuff.

Me: No, get the documents that are subject to the request along with your recommendations as to what should/should not be disclosed, and I’ll do a legal review of it.

CS: Why can’t you do it?

Me: I do legal reviews. You are the installation FOIA officer. It is your job. You were hired to do FOIA stuff. By regulation…

CS: All I need you to do is say that this request is denied because it is over-broad. That’s easy.

Me: I have no problem doing so, if that is the case, but I won’t know until I see the documents and your analysis.

CS: So, are you saying you’re not going to do this for me?

Me: …

In short, as a military lawyer, it was unpleasant to see the proverbial sausage being made.

Today, the whole world gets a glimpse at the same, as a Navy memo intended to be kept private was released to the internets by accident (by being sent to the reporter who submitted the FOIA request). I shudder when I wonder how many of my requests, on behalf of a client, are treated similarly.

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Luckily, the Navy responded via Twitter and made things all better. They even included an appropriate hashtag. Everyone can relax. #USNavy is doing just fine.

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Former Secretary Gates Speaks

Excerpted from and excerpt from the memoirs of Dr. Robert Gates, published at WSJ:

I was more or less continuously outraged by the parochial self-interest of all but a very few members of Congress. Any defense facility or contract in their district or state, no matter how superfluous or wasteful, was sacrosanct. I was constantly amazed and infuriated at the hypocrisy of those who most stridently attacked the Defense Department as inefficient and wasteful but fought tooth and nail to prevent any reduction in defense activities in their home state or district.

I also bristled at what’s become of congressional hearings, where rude, insulting, belittling, bullying and all too often highly personal attacks on witnesses by members of Congress violated nearly every norm of civil behavior. Members postured and acted as judge, jury and executioner. It was as though most members were in a permanent state of outrage or suffered from some sort of mental duress that warranted confinement or at least treatment for anger management.

I continue to worry about the incessant scorched-earth battling between Congress and the president (which I saw under both Bush and Obama) but even more about the weakening of the moderate center in Congress. Today, moderation is equated with lacking principles and compromise with “selling out.” Our political system has rarely been so polarized and unable to execute even the basic functions of government.

I found all of this dysfunction particularly troubling because of the enormity of the duties I shouldered. Until becoming secretary of defense, my exposure to war and those who fought it had come from antiseptic offices at the White House and CIA. Serving as secretary of defense made the abstract real, the antiseptic bloody and horrible. I saw up close the cost in lives ruined and lives lost.

Azimuth Check: Polar Vortex!

A few things that enter my mind on a cold Tuesday during the dreaded polar vortex of 2014.

— I resolved to never visit the creationism museum, but I’d make an exception if I could score some scalped tickets to this.

— Since becoming involved with the US Armed Forces more than 20 years ago, I’ve heard many argue for an end to the Marine Corps (assimilated into the Army as a series of “Marine” or “Amphibious” divisions). However, this is the first I’ve read about an end to the Air Force. Is it time to return to the days of the War Department and the Department of the Navy? How will people who can’t swim or perform pushups serve in the armed forces? (just kidding, JMo)

— With great anticipation, the National Journal previews the upcoming senatorial catfight. US military men wait nervously to see which one wins–the seasoned prosecutor who wants to hold commanders accountable or the former biglaw bigwig who wants to make emasculation a mandatory condition for all male service members.

— Why does Popeye’s “spicy” chicken always seem spicier on the way out than it does on the way in?

— I really need to finish the second post on my series calling for a national conversation about the Voodoo Punanny Defense.

— Military same-sex spouses, rejoice! You’re well on your way to being as miserable as those of us who tried to warn you of the perils of marriage. On a more serious note, this is a huge move for the Department of Defense, and hopefully one that will provide more stability and peace of mind for all military families.

— Congratulations to Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing, who was selected to receive the Medal of Honor a mere 150 years after he gave his life at Gettysburg.