"...do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

"For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism..."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Maxwell AFB, April 21, 2008

"You will need to challenge conventional wisdom and call things like you see them to subordinates and superiors alike."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, United States Air Force Academy, March 4, 2011

Sunday, May 20, 2012

NDAA & The Chilling Effect

In my previous blog post, I discussed the judiciary's halting of provisions of the NDAA that would allow the military to unconstitutionally arrest American citizens indefinitely based on mere suspicion, and to unconstitutionally deny Americans the right to a lawyer. Judge Forrest found portions of the NDAA troublesome regarding its effect on the First Amendment, and mentioned the chilling effect the law would have on people, including the journalist plaintiffs. Who is going to speak out and criticize the government if they can be labeled a domestic terrorist, and disappeared without recourse? The fact alone that the government claims the power to disappear Americans without charge or trial, would be enough to make many journalists and concerned citizens become silent. That is the chilling effect on First Amendment rights enjoyed by Americans, and this finding by Judge Forrest reminded me of a documentary I had seen on Netflix, entitled, End of America. Turns out the documentary is available online for free, and is posted above. While the narrator makes a glaring mistake on the origin of possee comitatus, the documentary is very well done and gives an interesting perspective on the chilling effect noted by Judge Forrest.  The documentary includes excellent contributions by several Americans including retired General James Cullen, the former Chief Judge of the United States Army.

It's important for military professionals to stay informed about trends to turn our military apparatus inward, so that we can be ready and prepared to honor our oaths to support and defend the Constitution should there be a conflict between what we are ordered to do, and what is Constitutionally permissible.  This is the reason our profession is different from that of the Wall Street banker, or the Enron employee.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Thank God for the Judicial Branch

Edit: Ironic blog post title is ironic.  The stay mentioned in this blog post was overturned on appeal, and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.  Sadly, this draconian claimed executive power remains intact.

This past Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Forrest put a screeching halt to the provision of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which would allow the military to capture and "indefinitely detain" any American citizen who was merely suspected, even in secret, of aiding terrorists or other "associated forces."  While the language of the NDAA was vague and broad, and led some to say that the bill did not strip Americans of the Fifth Amendment right to due process of law, others thought the bill attempted to do exactly that.  Those who read these unconstitutional powers into the bill include advocates and sponsors of the bill, as well as Congressmen who decried it as unconstitutional.  The bill was hurriedly passed in Congress over the holidays, and signed into law by the President on 31 December, 2011.

Now the judiciary has weighed in.  Federal Judge Forrest heard the case of Hedges v. Obama, and issued an injunction on the government employing its claimed power to arrest and indefinitely imprison Americans without charge or trial.  The government did not call any witnesses, or offer any documentation, but it did oppose the plaintiff's seeking of an injunction based on standing.  Unlike the father of an American who sought a similar injunction to keep the government from assassinating his son, the court found the plaintiff in this case did have standing.  The government argued, as did some legal commentators, that the NDAA did nothing new.  The government did not explain, however, why new legislation was required if it actually did nothing new.  Judge Forrest wrote in her opinion that the government's position was that the law was mere "redundancy" and did not add anything to the government's powers.  She was not swayed, stating that the law, "tries to do too much with too little--it lacks the minimal requirements of definition and scienter that could easily have been added, or could be added, to allow it to pass Constitutional muster."

She found that the American plaintiffs had "a reasonable fear of future government action" and "demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits with respect to their constitutional challenges; they have put forward specific evidence of actual and threatened irreparable harm; the balance of the equities and the public interest favors issuance of preliminary relief (particularly, but not only, in light of the fact that the Government’s entire position is premised on the assertion that §1021 does nothing new--that it simply reaffirms the AUMF; in which case, preliminarily enjoining enforcement should not remove any enforcement tools from those the Government currently assumes are within its arsenal)."

Judge Katherine Forrest deserves a great deal of credit for doing her job correctly, in accordance with her oath to support and defend the Constitution.  An oath that is equally required by the Constitution of executive and judicial officers.  The judge's opinion can be found here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fox News Panel Against Drones in the United States


I would have never expected all three on a Fox News discussion panel to be vehemently against drones being used in the United States.  Or to mention agreeing with the ACLU...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Government Giving Military Discounts?

I just read that members of the military won't have to pay an entrance fee to get into National Parks.  Sounds good, if you don't think about it.  The problem is we're not talking about a private company showing gratitude to those who serve with a military discount.  This is government action.

This is government treating government employees better than it treats the average Joe.  Joe citizen still has to pay if he wants to see the park.  The government can claim it's doing this to show gratitude, but the government isn't in the gratitude business.  The closest the government can come to showing gratitude is simply paying military members, and honoring commitments to their retirement and health care benefits.

It's not right for the government to treat its employees better than the average citizen.  The government needs to leave military discounts to Starbucks, unless we want to create a class system based on who works for the government and who does not.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

On The Threshold - Air Force Suicides

There has been a great deal of emphasis on suicides in the Air Force recently.  By that I mean several mandatory briefings led by mental health professionals who did so well in their training that they joined the military.  Speeches by chaplains fill in the rest, where they balance the line between what is appropriate to say and what is not, but make it clear that God prevents suicides.  I enjoy these briefings.  They bring me back in time to the third grade, just without the dolphin hand puppet.

The Air Force does have a problem with suicides, and the military overall.  A lot of people who joined have made the decision to take their own life.  I have encountered suicide a few times.  The first time was a kid in elementary school who asked his teacher if he could borrow a tie.  The teacher gave it to him, and the kid went home that night and hung himself with it.  I have no idea why a fourth grader would do such a thing, but I do remember that growing up in America was tough as a youngster.  It's a sad story.  When I was in college, my grandfather took his own life because his leg was going to be cut off and he didn't want to be a burden on others.  Or put another way, he demanded his independence as a condition for living.  This was the same man who in the Army Air Corps hit an officer with the butt of his weapon, and got kicked out.  He was fiercely independent and while he didn't always make the best decisions, he demanded he live life on his own terms.  I defended his decision to other family members who naturally were grieving and who used words like "selfish" to describe his action.  It was his life and he didn't want to live it anymore.  Agree or disagree, but it was his life.  To tell another they don't have the right to die is to tell them they don't own their own life.  As far as the military goes, I've only known one person to commit suicide.  He was a Major, good humored, funny, and he loved to kill the enemy and had a lot of experience doing so.  He killed himself on the day of his retirement after he was forced out at twenty.  He had children.  I don't understand his decision.

My personal view toward suicide is a bit different from the flavor I've seen in briefings.  First, I respect the individual's decision.  Second, in the off chance I'm given the opportunity to discuss their decision with them, I would weigh the pros and cons.  In most circumstances, the pros of living are much greater, I would guess, than the benefits of death.  Life can be a wonderful thing.  But it's not always peaches and dream for everybody, and it's important to not approach such a discussion with third grade insight.  I'm not going to take suicide off the table and treat the person like they're crazy or irrational for contemplating leaving life.  They're not, and the list of great and valuable people who have taken their own lives for valid reasons is long and distinguished.  We should be careful not to forget that our comfortable existence, and officer's paycheck, and the educated wife we met in college, and our winning lottery ticket in life's raffle are not shared by all people in the military, in the United States, and especially not around the world or throughout history.  Life is a struggle, and much more so for some people.

If the Air Force wants to do something useful to prevent suicide, then it needs to focus on educating airmen to make good life decisions that reduce stress.  There needs to be serious and mandatory financial training from the beginning of an airman's career.  Young airmen need to stop being treated like children who are made to live in dorms with inspections by their First Nanny, where the incentive to "grow up" and prove they are adults to their parents is fostered in another form.  We tell these youngsters that if they get married, then they can be like real adults and live off base and we'll even pay them more.  So they get married without thinking through one of life's most important decisions and the biggest cause of stress and feeling of entrapment of most any life decision.  Add a young immature wife with dreams of being married to the military, and you are almost guaranteed to add children and debt.  This is a recipe for disaster and stress.  Not for all, but for the least among us.  Then add on the sagging economy that many feel will crumble, the overwhelming dissatisfaction with our government representatives, long hours, deployments, and all the other problems that military life has to offer.  Airmen need options in their life to not feel trapped, and the Air Force in my experience seeks to box airmen in to make them feel trapped, to feel like they couldn't possibly leave the Air Force.  Where will you work?  You want to flip hamburgers and live on the street?  As the great Colonel John Boyd used to say, if you need nothing from the Air Force, then the Air Force can't take that away from you.

Or we could make airmen sign pledges not to kill themselves like certain Chinese iPad factories do.  Then again, perhaps we could learn from the deaths of those workers in China instead?  We don't like to admit that the same root causes could exist, but most airmen know that certainly can't be ruled out.  We need our leadership to realize it too.  They probably do.  We need them to act on it.

The current Air Force training and approach is a waste of time and perhaps counterproductive in my view.  We don't have the best mental health professionals, and those we train at the Base Theatre to go out and "save lives" might just do more harm than good with their snooty attitudes and their third grader approach to life's ultimate decision.  The Teacher in the book of Eccelesiastes, one of my favorite works of all time, examined the very question of suicide.  Attributed to the smartest man that ever lived, Solomon asked the question, "why is life worth living?"  The Teacher tells us that emptiness of emptiness, all is emptiness and says that better the man who has witnessed all the pain and oppression under the sun is the man who is now dead and doesn't have to witness it.  Better than both, he says, is the man who never was, and never will be, and who will never experience all the pain and oppression under the sun.  But Solomon later reasons that life is worth living because of the quest for knowledge and good friends.  Despite his conclusion, he still believes the man who never will exist has it better than he does.  Suicide is not a third grade matter.

I'll leave the reader with this poem I discovered in college in a class I took called Death and Dying.  For those airmen who feel they are experts ready to tackle the problems in another's life, please consider if you really have the life experiences to do so.  You don't want to be just another moron from an oppressive service under the sun, that has crowded somebody into leaving the room to get away from you.

On the Threshold

I am standing on the threshold of eternity at last,
As reckless of the future as I have been of the past;
I am void of all ambition, I am dead of every hope;
The coil of life is ended; I am letting go the rope.

I have drifted down the stream of life till weary, sore oppressed;
And I'm tired of all the motion and simply want a rest.
I have tasted all the pleasures that life can hold for man.
I have scanned the whole world over till there's nothing left to scan.

I have heard the finest music, I have read the rarest books,
I have drunk the purest vintage, I have tasted all the cooks;
I have run the scale of living and have sounded every tone,
There is nothing left to live for and I long to be alone.

Alone and unmolested where the vultures do not rave,
And the only refuge left me is the quiet, placid grave;
I am judge and jury mingled, and the verdict that I give
Is, that minus friends and money it is foolishness to live.

In a day or two my body will be found out in the lake;
The coroner will get a fee, and the printer get a "take";
The usual verdict-"Suicide, from causes yet unknown."
And Golgotha draws another blank, a mound without a stone.

To change the usual verdict I will give the reason now,
Before the rigid seal of death is stamped upon my brow.
'Tis the old familiar story of passion, love and crime,
Repeated thru the ages since Cleopatra's time.

A woman's lips, a woman's eye-a siren all in all,
A modem Circe fit to cause the strongest men to fall;
A wedded life, some blissful years, and poverty drops in
With care and doubt and liquor from whisky down to gin.

The story told by Tolstoi in comparison to mine
Is moonlight unto sunlight, as water unto wine;
The jealous pangs I suffered, the sleepless nights of woe
I pray no other mortal may ever undergo.

But I've said enough, I fancy, to make the reason plain-
Enough to show the causes of a shattered heart and brain;
What wonder then that life holds not a single thread to bind
A wish or hope to live for, an interest in mankind.

Already dead but living, a fact that I regret,
A man without desire excepting to forget,
And since there is denied me one, why should I linger here,
A dead leaf from the frost of a long-forgotten year?

So au revoir, old cronies; if there's a meeting place beyond,
I'll let you know in spirit, and I know you will respond;
I'm going now, old comrades, to heaven or to hell;
I'll let you know which shortly-farewell, a long farewell.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Perception of Whistle Blowing or Reality?

As most everybody knows now, a couple of F-22 pilots have gone public with their concerns over the stealth fighter's elusive ability to produce oxygen related problems for those who fly it.  They have been deemed whistle blowers.  But are they really?  I'm skeptical.

First, before their episode on 60 Minutes, several media sources reported on the upcoming episode while explaining that both pilots were talking to the media without permission from the Air Force.  Why would any media source include that tidbit?  If the Air Force didn't want them to speak out, why stoke the fire?  That is, of course, assuming there was fire to be found.  There wasn't.  There were no new revelations.  The jet has issues.  We already knew that.  Some pilots don't want to fly it.  That's perhaps new, but is that trinket of information worthy of going on 60 Minutes?  I don't think so.  These guys aren't whistle blowers, they didn't add anything substantially new to the public debate.  Or so it seems to me.

When I first saw the reports of the upcoming 60 Minutes episode, my initial suspicion was that this wasn't going to be a case of whistle blowing, and that the Air Force probably did in some way give these two permission to tell their "story" to the media.  Why?  Because it highlights a problem with an aircraft, and likely has some political or monetary benefits to highlighting issues with the service's poster child jet.  Beyond that, with all the repetitive throwing around of the term "whistle blower," I couldn't help but think about the recent GAO report that highlighted just how horrible the Air Force deals with whistle blower complaints.  This would be an easy opportunity for the service to look like it has improved, while at the same time pushing for some unknown agenda dealing with the F-22.  I figured nothing would happen to these pilots.  Maybe I'm just a cynic.

And then I saw this article just a couple days after the interview on CBS, F-22 Pilots To Get Whistle- Blower Protection.  Not only did the Air Force not punish them, but it went out of its way to make it known that it wasn't going to punish them.  So the media plays up the fact that they didn't have Air Force permission to speak on 60 Minutes, before the episode.  The episode itself doesn't say anything earth shattering, and doesn't add anything of real substance to the discussion.  Then after the episode, the Air Force makes sure everybody knows that they are "whistle blowers" and the Air Force will not punish them, in accordance with the law.

In my opinion, these F-22 pilots have found a new job working for Public Affairs.  They're not whistle blowers.  For a good discussion of what real a whistle blower does and endures, listen to Jesselyn Radack's presentation.

Friday, May 4, 2012

What Moral Courage Is, and Is Not

Moral courage is not physical courage.  It is not the act of pressing a button and ending the life of another.  It is not turning a wrench or loading a bomb.  Moral courage involves standing apart, telling the Wing Emperor he has no clothes, refusing an unlawful order, blowing the whistle on a crime, or taking another action based on principle.  A good litmus test to distinguish acting with moral courage, versus just doing your job, is to count the number of folks around you doing the same thing.  If others are doing the same as you, you may be doing something courageous, but you're likely just doing your job.  If you're the only one taking a stand for principle or for the law, and those around you aren't joining you (out of concern for their careers or financial well being), then it's possible you may be acting with moral courage.

This is an important distinction.  Some conveniently forget the meaning of words and phrases.  Language is often warped to avoid the truth behind words.   Some who are not morally courageous may try to pretend they are.  I see that often in the flying world, where simply doing the job is stretched into some sort of self delusional concept of courage.

Words matter.  When it comes to moral courage, we are not entitled to claim it, unless we actually have it.

Dave Blair - Ten Thousand Feet and Ten Thousand Miles

Major Dave Blair has been taking some flak recently, after an article he wrote in the Air & Space Power Journal, got picked up over at Time Magazine's website in a blog post entitled, Drone Pilots: We Don't Get No Respect.  Time's website didn't do him any favors with their article.  I know Dave, and in the past he has shared some of his thoughts on this blog.  He was a co-pilot in the Gunship after I left the squadron, but I got to know him later through online correspondence, and still later in person when I volunteered to join the RPA community.  Dave has some good ideas.  Most importantly, he is motivated to think and share his thoughts.  That's refreshing and important in our largely non-intellectual service community.  We do have some very serious differences, however, concerning our professed ideas and values, and our translation of those professed ideas and values into action for the good of the nation.   Still, Dave has some good stuff to offer, and he professes some excellent values that are necessary for overcoming many of the cultural challenges we face in the air service.  All that being said, I think he missed the mark in this article.

In the article above he essentially makes three key points.  First, that there is at least as much risk flying an RPA as there is flying a manned aircraft in a combat zone.  Second, that RPA operators should get the same medals that manned aircraft get in combat, to include the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross, if their actions result in saving lives on the ground through weapon employment.  Third, the message sent by medals, matters for developing the capability and community of a new weapon system.  I agree with his third point.

While I concur with Dave that the capability and the community has been poorly managed, I disagree on this particular solution.  RPA operators do not risk like those in manned aircraft do, and especially not manned aircraft in combat zones.  While our technology and the current state of affairs have made it relatively safe to fly in bad guy land, it can't be credibly argued that RPA operators experience as much operational risk.  As to medals, that is an area of opinion.  I agree with Dave that medals send a message, accurate or not.  I don't think the answer is, however, to take medals that were meant to be awarded to those in harm's way and apply them to those who are not.  While his goal is worthy, to bring some pride to the RPA community and hopefully get the service to manage it better, the solution isn't to demean awards given to bomber crews in World War II and fighter pilots who braved SAMs in Vietnam.  Dave says, “On the current trajectory, the only Air Medals will be the ones in history books.”  That may be true, but if our technology continues to take away or eliminate the risk associated with air power, the answer is to let those awards fade into the history books along with the heroes who earned them, back when air power meant risking yourself.  When airmen no longer have to display courage in combat, then those medals belong in the annals of a bygone era.  Besides, if we're really interested in our service culture, we should stop putting so much focus on courage in combat operations, and start putting more on courage displayed at home.  That is where the courage is needed, and where courage will have the best effects for the service and the nation.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

John Brennan on Targeting Americans

John Brennan has joined a small group of government voices discussing using America's military power against American citizens.  I have been particularly interested in this topic, as I think it represents a huge shift of military focus since the Civil War, and because I think this shift will continue.  Jake Tapper discussed targeting Americans at the White House and asked some outstanding questions, and recently we have seen the Pentagon's top lawyer and the Attorney General weigh in on the discussion.  Most recently, John Brennan joined the discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center.  Among his comments:
Earlier this year, Attorney General Holder discussed how our counterterrorism efforts are rooted in, and are strengthened by, adherence to the law, including the legal authorities that allow us to pursue members of al-Qa’ida—including U.S. citizens—and to do so using “technologically advanced weapons.”

In addition, Jeh Johnson, the general counsel at the Department of Defense, has addressed the legal basis for our military efforts against al-Qa’ida. Stephen Preston, the general counsel at the CIA, has discussed how the Agency operates under U.S. law. These speeches build on a lecture two years ago by Harold Koh, the State Department Legal Adviser, who noted that “U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war.”
Mr. Brennan also stated:
When that person is a U.S. citizen, we ask ourselves additional questions. Attorney General Holder has already described the legal authorities that clearly allow us to use lethal force against an American citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida. He has discussed the thorough and careful review, including all relevant constitutional considerations, that is to be undertaken by the U.S. government when determining whether the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.

To recap, the standards and processes I’ve described today—which we have refined and strengthened over time—reflect our commitment to: ensuring the individual is a legitimate target under the law; determining whether the individual poses a significant threat to U.S. interests; determining that capture is not feasible; being mindful of the important checks on our ability to act unilaterally in foreign territories; having that high degree of confidence, both in the identity of the target and that innocent civilians will not be harmed; and, of course, engaging in additional review if the al-Qa’ida terrorist is a U.S. citizen.
I strongly disagree with the legal "arguments" being systematically peddled.  I have previously blogged about my legal understanding of assassinating American citizens here.