Q for Blawggers

A Question for our Blawgers:

Can I get one or both of you military lawyers to look this over, especially the video, and give me a read on it? There's apparently a question of whether this soldier crossed the line or not; and if not, how close to the line he came.



After a lengthy absence I have finally found time to contribute to this fine blog. I returned from a seven and a half month deployment to Fallujah, Iraq with 2/8 at the end of February. Upon my return I took about two months of leave to relax and spend time with the family. When I have not been spending quality time with the family or getting set up in my new billet I have been riding my new Black Denim Harley Davidson Street Bob as often as I can. Although I am not a cowboy like Grim, I do fancy my self a Motorcycle Cowboy.

It will be good to once again contribute to the weighty issues discussed here in the Hall. As the political theater over Iraq continues in congress and the 2008 general election approaches the battle over the direction the Republic will take is heating up. In fact, as I observe the political landscape in the aftermath of my last deployment to Iraq the words of Johnny Cash’s song, The Big Battle, come to mind.

"No son the battle’s not over, the battle has only begun.The rest of the battle will cover the part that has blackened the sun.The fight yet to come is not with cannon, nor will the fight be hand-to-hand No one will regroup the forces, no charge will a general command.

The battle will rage in the bosom of mother and sweetheart and wife. Brother and sister and daughter will grieve for the rest of their lives. Now go ahead, rise from your cover, be thankful that God let you live. Go fight the rest of the battle for those who gave all they could give.

I see sir the battle’s not over, the battle has only begun, The rest of the battle will cover this part that has blackened the sun. For though there’s no sound of the cannon and though there’s no smoke in the sky, I’m dropping the gun and the saber and ready for battle am I."

Speaking of great country music, I thought I would bring to everyone’s attention some great acts that need more recognition. Right now I am listening to Kevin Fowler and Trent Summar. I wish music like this would get more airplay than the suburban pop that currently dominates country music radio. Fans of Southern Rock should check out the Drive By Truckers.



This is a highly welcome development, as the very best thing we can hope for from Congress on Iraq right now is that they shut up until the September report is in. We'll be able to have an informed debate at that time, with hard data from Petraeus and others about the course of the Surge. Whether we end the war or continue it, it'll go better for now if the Congress quits its constant theatrical statements of non-support for the war effort. Given that they do not have the votes to end the war, and know they do not, these theatrics do nothing but undercut our forces in the field, increase the danger to them, and make their duty more difficult to perform.

Nevertheless, it's hilarious how uncritically the spin in the article is reported. It's completely obvious that the Congressional Democrats have not got the votes to press their preferred policy, and that they need a face-saving way to tell their base, "OK, we aren't even going to try to do what you want anymore." I don't even mind granting them the face-saving maneuver, if it will get them to stop the theatrics.

Still, this is the most blatant piece of political spin I think I've ever seen. "Um, we're going to give up trying to end the war in Iraq... to punish the Republicans."

Pardon me while I laugh. :)

Mr. Aftergood Drops In

Steven Aftergood Drops In:

In the comments to the post below, Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists dropped by to comment. His comment was short, doubtless because he knows he doesn't have to repeat his argument at length with me; I'm a longtime friend of his project, and an occasional donor to FAS. Mr. Aftergood is the keeper of FAS' Secrecy News, which is now produced in a blog format as well as in the old email format. (The archives, to 2000, are here.) I'd like to take a moment to introduce newer readers to his work, and suggest that you get on his email list if you are not already. It is always fascinating.

The exchange was as follows:

Before rushing to embrace a new police organization to enforce classification rules, it would be wise to consider the late Senator Moynihan's advice: "If you want a secret respected, see that it's respectable in the first place."
Steven Aftergood | 07.31.07 - 2:10 pm | #


Good advice.

I've read a great deal of your work on the need for robust declassification processes, and I endorse all of it. I think both that (a) we have far too many secrets, and far too great an impulse toward classification, but also (b) that oaths sworn to keep secrets should be kept.

If they are not being kept -- and it has gotten to the point that there is barely even a pretense -- then we need to enforce the oaths.

Still, we are striking a balance between two interests: the need, in a Republic, for open government; but also the need to discuss those few matters that need to be secret in confidence. The leak-prone culture in the government is, as you rightly say, a symptom of over-classification and classification for the wrong reasons.

In fixing that problem, we have to remember that the current culture of oathbreaking is not something to be encouraged either. It creates distrust and heightens political divides within the executive branch especially; it furthers damaging splits, like the State/Defense split, that prevent us from bringing all our national skill and power to bear. That damages all our national interests in the long run.

It also makes the overclassification problem harder to solve. It's hard to convince people to let up on the classification rules when secrets are regularly being leaked; that feels counterintuitive. I agree with you that it is the right way to go, but those whose secrets are being leaked doubtless feel that what is needed are more and tighter rules, not fewer. That's an understandable sentiment, even if it's one that you and I both agree is mistaken.

If we address the issue of oathbreaking successfully, the issue of over-classification becomes simpler.
Grim | 07.31.07 - 3:25 pm | #
The problem he is pointing to is that a certain amount of the leaks to the press come from wrongful classification, or overclassification. For example, there are laws in the United States against classifying data in order to prevent institutional embarrassment, or to conceal a violation of law by the government itself. Thus, data which is classified but which may (or definitely does) demonstrate violations of law is not rightfully classified -- and so, some people believe, it's all right to hand it off to the paper (and it may, in fact, be praiseworthy to do so).

The argument I would pose against this is that the paper may not be the best place to test that proposition. The various agencies all have internal mechanisms to address these questions, which do not require exposing the secrets in order to resolve the question of whether or not the classification is lawful.

In cases where the internal mechanism seems untrustworthy, or too slow, there remains also Congress. However disappointing the current and previous Congress have been, this is precisely the sort of oversight that is their Constitutional responsibility. Before printing the secrets for the world to see -- not only American citizens, but everyone -- it would be better to try the formal methods.

So, if you have classified a secret that is "not respectable," in theory it shouldn't enjoy the protection of a "respectable" one. If the internal mechanisms do not work, and Congress is unwilling to do its duty, then the press may even be an acceptable alternative in some limited cases.

The regular resort to the press that has become usual, however, poses additional problems for the country and the government. As described above, they both undermine the trust on which our government's operation depends, and also make it harder to address the (far more common, in my opinion) problem of overclassification. Overclassification is the problem that arises when things are classified that are not illegal to classify, but really don't need to be classified; or when things are classified at a higher level than is necessary; or when things that were once properly classified remain secret far beyond the time when they ought to be.

All of those problems of overclassification impair government function by restricting useful information. They also damage the Republic's nature as a participatory government, by making it difficult (and sometimes impossible) to know just what it is our government is doing. There are limited cases in which secrecy is necessary; but there are far more numerous cases in which it is not (or is no longer) necessary, but still heavily practiced.