Lieutenant Colonel Colby Vokey recently announced his decision to retire from the U.S. Marines.  As a Judge Advocate General officer, Vokey served the last four years as head of all Marine Corps defense lawyers in the western United States.  He has decided to leave the Corps because he’s “fed up” with the military justice system, a system that military commanders manipulate to achieve their desired verdicts, and one that Vokey alternately describes as “horrific,” “disgraceful,” and a “sham.”

Retired Colonel Jane Siegal, former chief of all Marine defense counselors, says of Vokey that, “Integrity almost seems like a word too small to describe him.”  Lamentably, integrity seems like too inappropriate a word to apply to many senior U.S. military officers these days.
The Business of Saving Lies

Retired Lieutenant General and former top commander of U.S. troops in Iraq Ricardo Sanchez appears to feel he’s a victim of injustice, but his disgruntlement is of a different kind from Casey Vokey’s.  The Abu Ghraib torture affair happened on Sanchez’s watch.  Well, it didn’t just “happen.”  Many argue that he helped set the conditions for prisoner abuse with his September 2003 memo that authorized, among other interrogation techniques, “emotional love,” “pride and ego down” and “stress positions” that some prison guards apparently took to mean they should handcuff prisoners, shove them to the floor, and stick inanimate objects up their behinds.

In April 2005, special counsel for Human Rights Watch Reed Brody said, “General Sanchez gave the troops at Abu Ghraib the green light to use dogs to terrorize detainees, and they did, and we know what happened.  And while mayhem went on under his nose for three months, Sanchez didn’t step in to halt it.”  Human Rights Group called for a special prosecutor to investigate the culpability of Sanchez and others in cases of crimes against prisoners.  

The military was kinder to Sanchez.  An Army Inspector General finding absolved Sanchez of wrongdoing in the Abu Ghraib affair.  Sanchez did not become head of U.S. Southern Command as he expected, however, and retired without pinning on a fourth star.  As the doorknob hit him on his way out, Sanchez complained that his career had been a casualty of Abu Ghraib.  

Retiring from the military as a three-star general is a tough thing; almost as tough as the three years in military prison Lynndie England got for being the private at the bottom of the Abu Ghraib food chain who was feckless enough to let her picture be taken while she helped her married boyfriend abuse Iraqi prisoners.  Lynndie’s three years are up, but she doesn’t have a three-star general’s retirement pay and benefits.  I’ve been unable to discover whether she ever got back her old job at a West Virginia chicken factory, but it’s a sure bet she isn’t knocking down big bucks as prison security consultant with Blackwater USA.

You Can’t Panhandle the Truth

I could have forgiven and forgotten Sanchez forever if he’d taken his retirement parachute and a high dollar gig with General Dynamics or some phony baloney national security think tank and kept mum, but no.  

At an October 12th conference for military reporters outside Washington D.C., Sanchez said of the situation in Iraq, “”There is no question America is living a nightmare with no end in sight” and that “There is nothing going on today that would give us hope.”  These are sentiments I wholly agree with, and I would have applauded Sanchez if he’d quit talking while he was ahead, but he then proceeded to castigate the administration and the media for everything that went wrong in Iraq and with his military career.  Here’s how Army Times reporter Kelly Kennedy described the scene:

Jaws dropped as Sanchez glared out at the room, and then eyes rolled as he spent an hour blaming everyone but himself. Most of what he said about the military has been said before: There’s no grand strategy, the Iraqi Army should not have been disbanded, there was no planning for stabilization or recovery past the initial invasion and, “the administration has failed.”

When asked about his accountability as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Sanchez replied that by the time he took over it was too late for him to do anything.  I guess it was too late for him to say anything either, too late to do anything but keep his mouth shut and take the job and hope it led to the four-star command he wanted.  

It wasn’t too late for Colby Vokey to speak up when he perceived that the Corps was trying to railroad eight Marines accused of massacring unarmed civilians in Haditha, Iraq.  The Corps put together one of the largest legal teams in history to prosecute the eight men and told Vokey he’d have to defend them with a much smaller team.  Vokey had to take the fight up the chain of command to the general level to get the defense team he needed.  Vokey also went to bat for a teenage Guantanamo detainee whose confession to murdering an American soldier in Afghanistan was obtained, according to the detainee, through torture methods FBI agents have reported seeing practiced at the Guantanamo facility.  Vokey has also been an active supporter of Marines who come home from Iraq and Afghanistan with stress disorders.  Vokey will retire on May 1, 2008 as an O-5.  

Judging the moral worth of men is well above my pay grade, but if I had a son, I’d want him to grow up to be a lot like Colby Vokey and not one bit like Ricardo Sanchez.  

And it’s a sad state of affairs that the admirals’ and generals’ club is jam packed with men like Sanchez, but men like Vokey are seldom let in.  


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia.  Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword, ePluribus and  Jeff’s novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.

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