[I]t’s apparent that lawyers were making decisions, and the commander at the top of the local food chain — MGen. Charles T. Cleveland — at first misunderstood his options and then pushed the matter far beyond the point at which it should have ended. …
Under the Army system, a commander can issue a non-permanent letter of reprimand to anyone he commands. Cleveland was ready to do this to the SEALs before he was told by his lawyer that the Navy demands more due process for its people, and that he could either let it go or push the matter up a notch to “non-judicial punishment” under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
And this is where Cleveland went wrong. Instead of just telling a lower-level commander to bring the three in for a royal chewing out — the maximum punishment these guys deserve if they deserve any at all — Cleveland went along with the lawyer and ordered that they be brought before a naval “mast”, the equivalent of an Army or Air Force Article 15 hearing. Under the UCMJ, as is their right, the sailors refused to accept that.
You have to understand their rejection of Article 15 punishment. These three — like most SEALs — are the ultimate in elite warriors. They have worked enormously hard to earn SEAL status and are proud to risk their lives in the service of our nation.
My source told me that their ambition is to compete for spots on the most elite of the SEAL teams (the one that has a name, not a number, and whose members call themselves “the Jedi.” Which isn’t much of an exaggeration). They don’t think they did anything wrong and turned down the Article 15 because if they accepted it, their ambition to continue to serve their country — at an even higher level — would be quashed.
The three — all career SEALs, not ticket-punchers — would probably be removed from duty and not permitted to re-enlist as SEALs.
Here again, Cleveland could have brought the matter to an end, but — at the advice of his lawyers — he chose to push the matter to the next step, the “special court martial,” which all three now face unless Cleveland changes his mind or a higher-level commander intervenes.
Which is precisely what should happen. It is entirely legal under the UCMJ for one of Cleveland’s superiors to order the charges dismissed. …
Those superiors’ duty is to exercise the judgment Cleveland didn’t. They have to balance the interests of keeping good order and discipline with the morale and effectiveness of the forces they command, and all the others who will be affected.
Putting these SEALs through a court martial for an offense that deserves — at worst — a good chewing out and a sentence to do a few hundred pushups will send a devastating message throughout all the special forces.
To intervene now, and stop this court martial from proceeding, will send the right message, one of real leadership. Anyone in the chain of command above Cleveland could perform that duty. Even President Obama.