Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Republican solon blasts Bush Admin.’s ‘power grab’ in handling of JAGs, applauds Obama’s Admin.’s fixes

No one seemed to notice it, but this comment, made by Sen. Lindsey Graham during Sen. Webb’s Sept. 14 hearing on bloat in the general officer corps, is especially interesting because it comes from a conservative South Carolina Republican who is also an Air Force Reserve JAG officer: SEN. GRAHAM: …one thing I would say, ...

Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images
Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images
Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images

No one seemed to notice it, but this comment, made by Sen. Lindsey Graham during Sen. Webb's Sept. 14 hearing on bloat in the general officer corps, is especially interesting because it comes from a conservative South Carolina Republican who is also an Air Force Reserve JAG officer:

SEN. GRAHAM: ...one thing I would say, in my little area of the world, is that a two-star judge advocate general position did not serve us well during Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay discussions. Because there's a real tension, and this is -- goes beyond party politics -- between the office of the general counsel, who serves the secretary of Defense, and each service chief. They're civilians. And the military uniformed lawyer, loyalty lies to their commander.  

And we had a very bad problem in the Bush Administration that the Obama Administration, quite frankly, has corrected. The civilian lawyers in the Bush Administration, in my view, shut out military legal advice and tried to make a power grab, saying that the judge advocate general had to clean -- clear their legal advice to their commanders through the civilian office of general counsel. That, to me, was an exercise of control of legal independence.

No one seemed to notice it, but this comment, made by Sen. Lindsey Graham during Sen. Webb’s Sept. 14 hearing on bloat in the general officer corps, is especially interesting because it comes from a conservative South Carolina Republican who is also an Air Force Reserve JAG officer:

SEN. GRAHAM: …one thing I would say, in my little area of the world, is that a two-star judge advocate general position did not serve us well during Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay discussions. Because there’s a real tension, and this is — goes beyond party politics — between the office of the general counsel, who serves the secretary of Defense, and each service chief. They’re civilians. And the military uniformed lawyer, loyalty lies to their commander.  

And we had a very bad problem in the Bush Administration that the Obama Administration, quite frankly, has corrected. The civilian lawyers in the Bush Administration, in my view, shut out military legal advice and tried to make a power grab, saying that the judge advocate general had to clean — clear their legal advice to their commanders through the civilian office of general counsel. That, to me, was an exercise of control of legal independence.

Is it time for a military journal or law review to step up and do an in-depth look at the Bush Administration vs. the JAGs? (If you know of such an overview and analysis, please let me know.)

My personal theory, based on some interviews I did at the time with JAGs, is that they became the first line of defense against the use of torture and other Bush Administration transgressions because they were "double professionals," heedful of their dual duties both as officers and as lawyers. This made them more likely to refuse to break the law or tell others to do so.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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