Search This Blog

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

SSG Bob Clements Cleared of Cruelty & Maltreatment Claims in Court-Martial – Who is the Modern Army?

The court-martial of SSG Bob Clements has concluded in Iraq and he was found not guilty of cruelty and maltreatment of subordinates, including PVT Keiffer Wilhelm. As you may recall, this is the last of the four cases that arose in Iraq after Keiffer Wilhelm’s suicide. Others accused were SSG Enoch Chatman, SGT Jarrett Taylor and my client, former SPC Daniel Weber.

I have received several press inquiries now that the cases are over, and this blog post is meant to answer the issues that have been raised by those press inquiries. While it is unfair to paint every press outlet or reporter with a broad brush, and some may have approached these stories more fairly and thoroughly than others, this blog post addresses my thoughts on the cases and (generally) the coverage of the cases…

The portrayal of these cases in the press, based on skewed and inaccurate information, has been very disappointing and misleading. The Army incorrectly reported the charges Dan Weber faced, the possible punishment he faced and the ultimate disposition of his case. In addition, they contributed to the incorrect reporting that Dan Weber had made some sort of agreement to testify against the other accused soldiers or had agreed to be a prosecution witness in exchange for the charges against him being dropped. That is patently untrue.

The Army chose an alternative disposition in Dan Weber’s case and he was administratively discharged. He was ordered by the Convening Authority to testify truthfully if called either by the prosecution or the defense in any of the other cases. He has been called to testify by both the prosecution and the defense in these cases as one of the fact witnesses to the events in question. He was specifically called as a defense witness in the Clements case. He did not make an agreement to testify for or against anyone.

In the beginning, the Army significantly contributed to the widespread notion that PVT Keiffer Wilhelm’s suicide was caused by the accused soldiers’ actions. While they didn't make that outright allegation, the manner and timing in which the Army made their public statments did nothing to dissuade the press stories that the accused soldiers caused PVT Wilhelm to kill himself.

As more information was learned about Wilhelm’s background and issues he was dealing with in his personal life, and before arriving in Iraq, the Army quietly admitted to the defense attorneys they couldn’t say he killed himself simply because of his experiences during three days in the new unit and they would not mention his suicide in the court-martial cases. Nothing speaks louder about the circumstances of this tragedy than the Army not even bringing up the suicide in these court cases.

The Army was very slow to publically acknowledge that the suicide would not be mentioned at the trials, thereby allowing the story that these soldiers caused Wilhelm’s suicide to be perpetuated by virtually every press outlet covering this story. It seemed that very few in the press made efforts to investigate Wilhelm’s background or what he was dealing with outside the Army that could have directly contributed to his mindset and suicide. His death was a tragedy. Our hearts go out to his family. But, that tragedy was compounded by the disinformation spread throughout the press about the case.

The Army faces critical decisions about who they are, how they will train their troops in the future, and how much they are willing to be dictated to by public perception. They speak of “warrior ethos” and the need for mental and physical toughness in facing an insurgent enemy in asymmetric warfare. Yet, they are so intimidated by how distastefully warrior training may be portrayed by some in the press that they are willing to sacrifice their own soldiers at the altar of public relations.

The Army gives increasing numbers of moral waivers to raise their recruiting numbers, thereby impacting some of the types of recruits entering the Army. Then, they expect these young soldiers to quickly be ready to handle combat in the Middle East. Tough training, particularly by NCOs, is vital to the transformation from civilian teenager to warrior.

It used to be that young enlisted troops respected, and were intimidated by, their NCOs – who were very tough and conducted their training with the knowledge that the mental and physical toughness they were trying to instill could mean the difference between life and death. There used to be a saying that if a young enlisted soldier liked his NCOs, the NCOs weren’t doing their job. It wasn’t sadism; it was the toughness necessary to build soldiers in a short period of time who had what it took to do the job in very difficult conditions and return home to their families.

Now, what is and is not permitted in training a soldier is unclear. I have read the regs, policies and other information governing training, including that cited in these specific cases. Is physical corrective training allowed anymore? It depends on who you ask. To what extent might it be allowed? That is largely undefined. What is the difference between what the Army considers training and what they consider “picking on” a soldier? Again, it is unclear. Privately, I have had Army leaders acknowledge to me that their own high school football practices were more demanding than it seems the Army is now willing to publically permit. Quietly, the Army has allowed demanding training to continue until some event (such as in this case) brings that training into public view; then they throw those doing that training under the bus and condemn it as too harsh. Dan Weber received the same training and treatment that Keiffer Wilhelm did; the NCOs who trained Dan Weber likely did as well.

How do you instill “warrior ethos” without hard-nosed training? How do you mentally and physically prepare these young soldiers for the type of enemy that plays by no rules, other than cowardly brutality? Compromising tough and necessary training for the sake of positive public relations won’t serve that purpose.

It is sad to see quality Army soldiers used as scapegoats in front of a hungry press so the Army receives better public relations exposure. The Army needs to decide who they are, and whether they are willing to have their method of training soldiers dictated by potential negative PR from those who don’t understand what is required of soldiers in combat.

By: Attorney Richard V. Stevens
Civilian criminal defense lawyer and military defense lawyer
Military Defense Law Offices of Richard V. Stevens, PC

Blog postscript: Attorney Frank Spinner and I (attorney Richard Stevens) are former active duty military lawyers (JAG). Our perspectives and advice, therefore, are based upon our experience as military defense lawyers and as civilian criminal defense lawyers practicing exclusively in the area of military law. This blog addresses issues in military law, military justice, military discipline, military defense, court-martial practice, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and other military and/or legal topics. Nothing posted in this blog should be substituted for legal advice in any particular case. If you seek legal advice for a particular case, please contact The Law Offices of Richard V. Stevens & The Law Office of Frank J. Spinner for a free consultation. Military defense law offices are located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Military defense law practices are worldwide.


Jen D said...

Thank you, Mr. Stevens, for your representation in this case, and for clarifying this picture --if only as much of the world that heard the first press versions could read this!!! Well done!

John said...

I was directed to your site by the wife of SSgt Bob Clements. You are spot on. There is so much to say about the morass that these fine men have found themselves in. There is very much that needs to be revealed about this unfortunate situation and I truly believe that the public, who for the most part truly support our troops, would be outraged by the Army's handling of these NCOs. As you know this is not an isolated incident, other soldiers have experienced similiar and worse at the hands of the military they serve.

Sgt Jarrett Taylor is scheduled to be released today 4/15/10 from the brig in Charleston SC where he served out the balance of his 6 months confinement. Although battered and buised by this miscarriage of justice he will press on with life. We are happy to have him home and alive.

John Taylor father of Sgt Jarrett Taylor