Ex-Military Commissions Prosecutor on McChrystal: ‘Surely the Buck Doesn’t Stop at the Aide Level’

Created: June 22, 2010 12:28 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

Some thorough legal analysis by Eugene Fidell of Yale, solicited by Adam Serwer. Fidell thinks that Gen. McChrystal’s comments were “disrespectful” but they don’t rise to the level of insubordination under Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (The operative word in the definition of an actionable offense is “contemptuous.”) But that doesn’t mean that McChrystal doesn’t bear responsibility — in fact, he himself has accepted that. Fidell tells Serwer, “McChrystal has to resign or retire.”

That seems to be where Morris Davis is. “I’ve never met General McChrystal, but colleagues I respect who know him well say he’s very likable, very bright and very dedicated,” said Davis, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and former chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay. “Nonetheless, his comments in the Rolling Stone article likely signal an unfortunate end to his military career.”

And that reminded Davis of some earlier examples of officers losing their careers over unfortunate comments to reporters. “Reading it reminds me of former Air Force Chief of Staff Mike Dugan, who was smart and well liked, but who Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney fired on General Dugan’s 79th day in office because of candid comments he made to a reporter that Secretary Cheney said reflected  ’poor judgment,’” Davis continued. “The McChrystal incident seems to be cast in the same mold as General Dugan’s. It puts his judgment in doubt and it raises the question of how can he maintain good order and discipline, particularly when it appears he sloughed off one of his team members referring to Vice President Biden as ‘Bite Me’ in front of a reporter. It will be a test of President Obama’s mettle to see how he handles this and whichever course he chooses will most certainly be wrong in the eyes of his critics. General McChrystal’s press aide who arranged the interview has already resigned. Surely the buck doesn’t stop at the aide level.”

Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, one of the most insightful critics of generals who get away with transgressions that their subordinates can’t, has some similar observations over at Danger Room.