Military justice is different from civilian justice, and it should be.
Fighting a conventional war like Vietnam or World War II is governed by the Geneva Conventions and Protocols which are 70 years old and basically designed to overlay the act of war with a degree of humanity. These are two concepts that are very difficult to align.
The United States has five military branches that are governed by senior officials that make up the Joint Chiefs of Staff who report to the Secretary of Defense and the President who is Commander In Chief. The Department of Homeland Security is also involved. The key point is that a civilian is at the top of the command chain. Oversight of the entire defense process including spending and declaration of war is provided by Congress through committees and eventual votes. At least that is how it is supposed to work to ensure a balance of power between the military and civilian authority.
Recently this extraordinary balance fell apart.
It has happened before. President Truman had to terminate General Douglas MacArthur because he exceeded the authority granted by the Commander In Chief during the Korean War. Truman was no wimp. He made the ultimate decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan to end World War II.
Recently a Navy SEAL posted pictures of himself with the corpse of an Islamic fighter.
After eight tours of duty, he was charged with many counts and served time in the brig. With long established military justice procedures followed, he was exonerated of all charges but one and sentenced to time served. That should have been it, but the White House decided to intervene. In fact, the President had ordered the Navy Secretary to release the Navy Seal from the brig which he declined to do. Such direct communication from the White House around the Secretary of Defense is highly unusual and violative of long-standing protocols. The Secretary of the Navy was dismissed after his own admitted mistake of not following the chain of command.
The Navy Seal had offered to voluntarily resign. The questions were at what rank since he had been busted down a rank, would his discharge be honorable or what is called "general under honorable" and could he keep his SEAL Trident pin. The Navy Secretary was told by the White House to restore his rank and give him the pin. These decisions should have been made by what is called peer group review. This means people make these decisions who have stood in the shoes of those in the line of battle and have broad perspective unvarnished by politics. Political interference instead resulted in the Navy Secretary being ordered to restore the pin.
This political interference in a tried and true process is enormously disrespectful of our military.
We have the best military because they understand their role as guardians of democracy. Our military is highly trained, well equipped and disciplined. With few exceptions that are handled internally, these folks should be left alone to do their job. I learned from my own experience as a City Manager overseeing police chiefs for most cases of police discipline.There are exceptions to ethical conduct at the local level as well. However, I found it very difficult to insert myself into the decision-making process of someone looking down the barrel of a gun.
Let us all learn something from this. Keep politics out of a process that is damaged by interference.
Follow chains of command until the situation has become so egregious that you have to go around the chain. Support the whistleblowers who have the fortitude to do the right thing. Have faith that the voters will see through the veil of toxic fog that defines our democracy today and do the right thing next November.