continued Is that what happened to you and your men in Vietnam?
"Sure is. When we learned one of the spies we were running for the CIA was a double agent, I sent my unit commander to ask the CIA officers responsible for the program what they wanted us to do.
"See, we had a real dilemma: if we turned the spy over to the VNs, Lord knows what would have happened. But we didn't have any place to sequester him until his information on our operation was stale. And we couldn't just let him go: he was carrying the death sentence for a lot of agents in his head."
What did the CIA tell you to do?
"The head guy looked at my commander and said, 'You know what to do.' "
A wink and a nod?
"Yes. Of course, the CIA officer had a different story when he testified at the Article 32 hearing. To this day I remember his exact words when asked what he told us to do with the double agent: 'I told the SF commander that whatever they did out in the rice paddies, don't kill the man. Nobody does that anymore. Not even the Russians.'
"At that my lawyer leaped to his feet and screamed, 'Liar!' It was just like during the court-martial in Breaker Morant. You see that movie?"
More than once. The British High Command hung the Aussie, Breaker Morant, out to dry after he killed a German spy -- among others -- during counterinsurgency ops in the Boer War. Court-martialed and executed the Breaker.
"Right. Send the colonial troops to do the dirty work of empire, then abandon them when things go south. You know how it was with special operations in Nam. We did all the hard, dirty work but were not really accepted because we wore camouflage tiger suits and had our own way of doing things. We were the redheaded stepchild.
"Now I don't condone the mistreatment of prisoners. First of all, it's immoral, and secondly, you're probably not going to get good intel. But by the same token, when things come up like with Bob Kerrey, if you haven't been there you have no right to judge what people do under those circumstances. You send people out to do the hard, dangerous work, you got to cut them some slack.
"I'm glad Ledford was acquitted. As I said, he shouldn't have mishandled the prisoner, but that's something that could have been dealt with informally and certainly without a court-martial. His boss should have chewed his ass out and let Lieutenant Ledford and his platoon get on with the war."
Then Colonel Rheault asked a telling question: "Where did the pressure come from for a court-martial?"
I told the colonel that the admiral who runs Naval Special Warfare -- the SEALs -- ordered the court-martial. But I pointed out there are two or three admirals who outrank him, and the Army runs special operations in Iraq. I told the colonel about the photos the SEALs took and suggested senior officers could have been afraid of another Abu Ghraib scandal if they appeared to be covering up. Wouldn't have been good for careers.
"No need to have worried about another Abu Ghraib," the colonel said. "Nobody but the lowest-ranking enlisted people paid for that disgrace. There was the reserve brigadier -- the woman -- who got a letter, but no court-martial for any officer. Where the hell were the lieutenants, the captains, the majors, and colonels? They should have been on site. Probably were sitting in some air-conditioned officers' club."
What do you think about the CIA guy testifying against Ledford, saying he'd seen Ledford's platoon mistreat prisoners before?
"I was appalled. If the CIA people had a problem with the way Ledford's platoon was operating, why didn't someone go to the SEAL commander and say, 'Listen, this is getting out of hand'? I mean, why didn't the CIA say something right then and there rather than wait until a court-martial?
"For the most part, special operations and the CIA work very well together. That's why what those agents did at Ledford's court-martial and my Article 32 was so terrible. That kind of stuff will destroy the trust you must have.
"You're a SEAL. You know the essence of unit integrity is trust. I trust that you will save my life, and you trust that I will save yours. We don't fight for democracy and the American way: we fight for each other. Like I said, I'm glad Lieutenant Ledford was acquitted. Never should have been a court-martial in the first place. But again, I have the highest regard for the CIA and special operations -- it's just that every once in a while bad choices are made."
News Item: "Charges tossed for Marine accused in Iraqis' deaths," by Tom Foreman Jr. (AP) "The Marine Corps yesterday dropped murder charges against an officer accused of riddling two Iraqis with bullets and hanging a warning sign on their corpses as a grisly example to other possible insurgents.... The decision to drop the charges was made by Maj. Gen. Richard Huck, commander of the 2nd Marine Division, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C."