|By: WSWS |
A US Air Force officer in California recently accused President Bush of deliberately allowing the September 11 terror attacks to take place. The officer has been relieved of his command and faces further discipline. The controversy surrounding Lt. Col. Steve Butler’s letter to the editor, in which he affirmed that Bush did nothing to warn the American people because he “needed this war on terrorism,” received scant coverage in the media.
Universally ignored by the press, however, was that the officer was not merely expressing a personal opinion. He was in a position to have direct knowledge of contacts between the US military and some of the hijackers in the period before the terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon.
Lieutenant Colonel Butler, who wrote in a letter to the editor of the Monterey County Herald charging that “Bush knew about the impending attacks,” was vice chancellor for student affairs at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California—a US military facility that one or more of the hijackers reportedly attended during the 1990s.
In his May 26 letter to the newspaper, Butler responded to Bush supporters, who had written the paper opposing the congressional investigation into the September 11 events. He wrote:
“Of course President Bush knew about the impending attacks on America. He did nothing to warn the American people because he needed this war on terrorism. His daddy had Saddam and he needed Osama. His presidency was going nowhere. He wasn’t elected by the American people, but placed in the Oval Office by a conservative supreme court. The economy was sliding into the usual Republican pits and he needed something on which to hang his presidency…. This guy is a joke. What is sleazy and contemptible is the President of the United States not telling the American people what he knows for political gain.”
The letter provoked immediate retaliation against the 24-year Air Force veteran. Butler was transferred from the Monterey installation and threatened with court martial under Article 88 of the military code, which prohibits officers from publicly using “contemptuous words” against the president and other officials.
Last week the Air Force announced it had concluded its investigation of the case and suggested Butler would likely face “nonjudicial punishment,” such as a fine or a letter of reprimand, rather than a stiffer sentence. If he refuses this punishment, however, Butler, who is ready to retire, could still face a court martial.
The issue is a particularly sensitive one for the Pentagon and the Bush administration. While many people believe that the Bush administration viewed September 11 as a priceless opportunity to implement an ultra-reactionary program of militarism and repression, Butler is different. His military assignment brought him into contact with at least one of the alleged hijackers.
Shortly after September 11, several US news outlets reported that Saeed Alghamdi—named as taking part in the hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in western Pennsylvania—had taken courses at the Defense Language Institute, the US military’s primary foreign language facility, where Butler was a leading officer overseeing students (essentially, dean of students).
Alghamdi, a 41-year-old Saudi national, was one of several alleged hijackers, including accused ringleader Mohamed Atta, who reportedly trained at US military facilities, according to a series of articles published between September 15 and 17 in the Washington Post, Newsweek magazine, the New York Times and several other newspapers.
On September 15, Newsweek reported: “U.S. military sources have given the FBI information that suggests five of the alleged hijackers of the planes used in Tuesday’s terror attacks received training at secure U.S. military installations in the 1990s.”
The magazine said that Saeed Alghamdi was among three who had taken flight training at the Navy Air Station in Pensacola, Florida—known as the “cradle of US Navy aviation”—which also administers training of foreign aviation students for the Navy. The magazine, citing “a high-ranking Pentagon official” as its source, reported that two others—both former Saudi air force pilots who had come to the US—also attended such facilities. One received tactical training at the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama and the other language training at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
Over the next few days, more detailed information appeared in several other newspapers. A September 16 article in the New York Times reported: “Three of the men identified as the hijackers in the attacks on Tuesday have the same names as alumni of American military schools, the authorities said today. The men were identified as Mohamed Atta, Abdulaziz al-Omari and Saeed al-Ghamdi.
“The Defense Department said Mr. Atta had gone to the International Officers School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama; Mr. al-Omari to the Aerospace Medical School at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas; and Mr. al-Ghamdi to the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio in Monterey, Calif.”
The Knight Ridder news service also reported that Saeed Alghamdi had been to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey and the Associated Press cited Air Force sources indicating that more than one of the hijackers may have received language training at the installation.
The media dropped the story after the Air Force officials issued a cursory statement aimed at preventing any further inquiry into links between the US military and the terrorists. While acknowledging that some of the suspected terrorists “had similar names to foreign alumni of U.S. military courses,” the statement said discrepancies in biographical information, such as birth dates and name spellings, “indicate we are probably not talking about the same people.” Without providing any substantiation, the statement suggested the hijackers may have stolen the identities of foreign military personnel who received training at the bases.
Following this less than convincing explanation, the Air Force refused to release the ages, countries of origin or any other information about the individuals whose names matched those of the alleged hijackers—making it virtually impossible to verify the claim that these were not the same individuals.
Attorney General John Ashcroft and the FBI also refused to make public any information. Asked by Florida Senator Bill Nelson whether any of the hijackers were trained at the Pensacola base, the Justice Department refused to give a definitive answer, and the FBI said it could not respond until it could “sort through something complicated and difficult,” according to the senator’s representative.
To receive such training, the hijackers would have had connections to Arab governments that enjoyed close relations with the US government. A former Navy pilot at the Pensacola air station told Newsweek that during his years on the base, “We always, always, always trained other countries’ pilots. When I was there two decades ago, it was Iranians. The Shah was in power. Whoever the country du jour is, that’s whose pilots we train.”
Military officials acknowledged that the US has a longstanding agreement with Saudi Arabia to train pilots for the kingdom’s national guard. Candidates receive air combat training and other courses on several Army and Navy bases, in a program paid for by Saudi Arabia. Significantly 15 of the 19 hijackers were believed to be Saudi nationals.
According to its web site, the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey—founded in 1946 as the Military Intelligence Service Language School—“provides foreign language services to Department of Defense, government agencies and foreign governments” to support “national security interests and global operational needs.”
As vice chancellor for student affairs, Butler had extensive contact with students, according to Pete Randazzo, a close associate of the officer and president of the National Association of Government Employees Local 1690, which represents civilian employees at the language school.
“He would go and have lunch with the students, sit in their classrooms. He was a very caring officer over there,” Randazzo told the Herald. Butler was also navigator of a B-52 bomber during the Persian Gulf War, which made it likely he was familiar with Saudi military operations, given the close relations between the US and Saudi Arabia during the 1990-91 war against Iraq.
In the 1990s, several officers were disciplined under Article 88 of the military code for publicly denouncing Clinton, including an Air Force general who went so far as to ridicule the president as a “gay-loving, pot-smoking, draft-dodging womanizer” in front of 250 people at an awards banquet.
With Butler’s comments, however, the Pentagon faces a more delicate problem. The Lieutenant Colonel may well know considerably more than he is saying about US military-intelligence apparatus involvement in the September 11 events, and, on the eve of his retirement, took the opportunity to set the record straight.
By DEAN G. FALVY
Thursday, Jun. 19, 2003
As if the fruitless hunt for weapons of mass destruction and persistent rumors of intelligence manipulation weren't annoying enough, the Pentagon faces a new headache: rumblings of discontent from soldiers in the field.
The putative liberation of Iraq has turned into grinding, dangerous occupation duty - exacting a steady toll in lives and morale. And some disgruntled troops have begun complaining about ambiguous missions and delayed homecomings.
You know things must be serious if an Army private feels compelled to bend the ear of a New York Times reporter to get a message to the Secretary of Defense. After all, Mr. Rumsfeld has asserted the power (so far unchecked) to assign cages at Guantanamo Bay to people whom he deems "enemy combatants," not excluding American citizens. In other words, you don't mess with this guy.
And something about the Secretary's demeanor suggests that he would not be amused to find the words "Rumsfeld" and "sorry ass" in the same sentence, let alone as the ramblings of a distant subordinate on the front page of his Sunday Times.
So is Private O'Dell in deep trouble? Surprisingly, he may not be. Military conduct codes do not reach his comments.
The Military and Free Speech
The military is perhaps not the best career choice for someone bent on the vigorous exercise of civil liberties. As countless drill sergeants have informed their new recruits, "We're here to defend democracy--not to practice it."
Qualities valued by an open society--respect for the individual, independent thinking, skepticism about leaders, the nobility of principled dissent--do not tend to thrive in a military environment. For obvious reasons, self-sacrifice, discipline, order and obedience to authority tend to be emphasized instead. For every Tom Cruise who wishes it were otherwise, there's a Jack Nicholson to bark at him, "You can't handle the truth!"
Surely, without respect for the chain of command, a military organization would simply disintegrate in the heat of battle. So it is not surprising that the free speech rights of soldiers are sharply curtailed when it comes to criticizing their superiors.
But how sharply? Not as much as you might think. Private O'Dell, at least, seems to be in the clear.
Why O'Dell's Comments Are Not Punishable Under the UCMJ
But a closer look shows that O'Dell's comments fall outside Article 88, which states:
"Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct."
Fortunately for O'Dell, he's a private - not a "commissioned officer." He can be thankful for his lack of stripes, because there is no way Article 88 can be applied to him without them.
It turns out that O'Dell was wise in his choice of targets as well. For if he had "behaved with disrespect" toward a superior commissioned or non-commissioned officer - from Gen. Tommy Franks down to his own platoon sergeant,. he could have been subject to court martial under Articles 89 and 91 of the UCMJ. These articles apply to all soldiers, including enlisted men and women. But the civilian officials who are specifically protected from criticism in Article 88, including the Secretary of Defense, are not mentioned in Articles 89 and 91.
Why the UCMJ Treats Speech By Enlisted Men and Officers Differently
What is the reason for the difference? Why can a foot soldier dis the civilian Secretary of Defense, but not the Army Chief of Staff? Is the Pentagon simply taking care of its own?
Not likely. The UCMJ is not the product of military fiat, but rather a 1950 act of Congress. Congress intentionally chose to narrow the prior version of Article 88, which had covered all soldiers, in order to ensure that it applied to officers but not enlisted personnel. From a policy standpoint, why did it chose to do so?
First, Congress probably recognized that the primary purpose of Article 88 should be to prevent active military officers from meddling in politics--a persistent problem in other republics, both ancient and modern.
At the same time, there was probably a recognition that earlier versions of Article 88 had overreached in punishing the views of rank and file soldiers. While serving in previous conflicts, dozens of enlisted men were court-martialed for expressing mildly derogatory views about Presidents Lincoln, Wilson and Roosevelt, even in private conversation and correspondence.
That makes sense, for many enlisted personnel are not far removed from civilian life. Their military service is more likely a temporary status than a career choice.
Indeed, in the case of draftees, who provided the bulk of the U.S. fighting force in the Civil War, both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam, it is not even a voluntary status. In a democracy, to deny conscripts the right to voice criticism of their own civilian leaders--very often the same ones who sent them to fight and die--seems grotesque.
Moreover, it was arguably in Congress's own self-interest to let enlisted personnel speak out. Practically speaking, the grumbling of enlisted personnel can give valuable signals to elected officials about the true course of military campaigns, which may otherwise be filtered out by overly optimistic generals. Congress is more powerful when it can contrast optimistic assessments such as Rumsfeld's with on-the-ground complaints like O'Dell's.
Why Officers Must Still Hold Their Tongues
Commissioned officers are not so lucky when it comes to political expression. In recent years, Article 88 has ensnared several would-be commentators.
Actual court martials have been very rare. But administrative punishments, forced retirements and potentially chilling warnings have not.
During the Vietnam War, an Army lieutenant was successfully court-martialed for marching in an antiwar demonstration while carrying a sign that assailed President Johnson's "ignorance" and "fascist aggression."
More recently, a number of military officers faced disciplinary action after drawing attention to deficiencies in President Clinton's moral character - an activity which for civilians seemed to constitute a hearty national pastime throughout the 1990s. These cases, while relatively few in number, became emblematic of Clinton's difficult relations with the military, particularly its professional officer corps.
For example, Maj. Gen. Harold Campbell was compelled to retire after referring, no doubt affectionately, to the "gay-loving," "womanizing," "draft-dodging" and "pot-smoking" President in a speech at an Air Force banquet. Other officers received reprimands for characterizing their Commander-in-Chief as a "lying draft dodger," a "moral coward," and an "adulterous liar" in letters to their local newspapers.
Even retired officers may be at risk when they speak out - as Lt. Col. Michael J. Davidson noted in his July 1999 Army Lawyer article, "Contemptuous Speech Against the President." Davidson noted that Article 88 may apply to retired commissioned officers by virtue of other articles of the UCMJ.
No charges have been brought against a retired officer for such an offense since 1942, and most retired commentators are probably oblivious to the risk. But the theoretical possibility does exist.
One wonders whether retired Lt. Col. Oliver North thought about it when he declared that Clinton "is not my Commander-in-Chief." Or if retired Lt. Col. Robert Patterson, a former military attache in the Clinton White House, worries that he might be court-martialed for his recently-published, best-selling tell-all screed, Dereliction of Duty: The Eyewitness Account of How Bill Clinton Endangered America's Long-Term National Security. Yet somehow one suspects that such a prosecution would not be at the top of the Pentagon's priority list under Donald Rumsfeld.
Comments by officers during the aftermath of the 2000 election might have been a bit more risky, as the counting of military absentee ballots became embroiled in the Florida recount controversy. At that time, Democrats attempted to challenge certain military ballots based on the technicalities of Florida election law. In response, some officers became so vociferous in their criticisms that two major military commands issued general warnings about Article 88. One cautioned officers that "this is not the time to send e-mails or otherwise get involved in an improper or unprofessional manner with the continuing controversy over the presidential election." Another even suggested that commanders use the opportunity to conduct educational sessions "on the question of civilian control of the military." (In the end, however, no officers were charged, and the Democrats hurriedly dropped their challenges to military ballots.)
The Rare Criticism President Bush Has Faced From the Military
As befits a Commander-in-Chief in more or less perpetual wartime, the current President Bush generally enjoys enthusiastic support from the nation's officer corps. But there are exceptions.
In May 2002, Air Force Lt. Col. Steve Butler sent a letter to the editor of the Monterrey County Herald, alleging that President Bush knew about the impending 9/11 attacks, but "did nothing to warn the American people because he needed this war on terrorism." Col. Butler offered the following theory about the Bush presidency:
"His daddy had Saddam and he needed Osama. His presidency was going nowhere. He wasn't elected by the American people, but placed into the Oval Office by the conservative supreme court. The economy was sliding into the usual Republican pits and he needed something on which to hang his presidency.... This guy is a joke. What is sleazy and contemptible is the president of the United States not telling the American people what he knows for political gain."
After the letter was published, Col. Butler was suspended from his position as vice-chancellor of the Defense Languages Institute.
If they are allowed to, the tempest may well remain confined to its teapot. But if the occupation drags on, and many of the hundreds of thousands of foot soldiers serving in Iraq begin to feel as Private O'Dell does, that could spell trouble for President Bush in next year's election.
There's no telling whether the rumbling among the rank and file represents a ripple or a gathering wave. But at least one thing is clear: the law won't do much to stop it.
Dean G. Falvy, a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, is an attorney focusing on corporate and international law.
|The Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program (MonTREP) at the Monterey Institute of International Studies is a research and educational component of the Graduate School of International Policy Studies that conducts in-depth research, assesses policy options, and engages in public education on issues relating to terrorism and international security. The focus of the program is on the study of violence-prone extremist groups and their historical evolution, ideological motivations, organizational structure, demographic profile, operational methods, and potential interest in carrying out mass casualty attacks (including through the acquisition and use of so-called “weapons of mass destruction” [WMD]). Our experts examine the motivational factors that lead terrorist groups to select designated “enemies,” choose particular targets, and resort to different types of attacks in an effort both to inform scholars and policymakers and to enhance the level of public knowledge about how and why such actors make strategic and tactical decisions. Our objective is to undertake projects that adhere to the highest scholarly standards but also have the potential to contribute to the formulation of more effective security and counterterrorism policies.|
|KEVIN HOWE / Monterey County Herald 3jun02|
An Air Force officer has been relieved from duties at the Presidio of Monterey after publication of his letter to the editor accusing President George W. Bush of having advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Lt. Col. Steve Butler was serving as vice chancellor for student affairs at the Defense Language Institute when he wrote the letter, which was published in The Herald May 21.
The letter accuses Bush of allowing the attacks to occur for political reasons.
The letter reads in part: "Of course Bush knew about the impending attacks on America. He did nothing to warn the American people because he needed this war on terrorism. His daddy had Saddam and he needed Osama.
"His presidency was going nowhere. He wasn't elected by the American people, but placed into the Oval Office by the conservative supreme court (if you really want to know why the justices voted like they did, I suggest 'Supreme Injustice' by Alan Dershowitz), the economy was sliding into the usual Republican pits and he needed something to hang his presidency on. "
Butler's letter called the president's course of action "sleazy and contemptible."
Army spokesman Sgt. Mitch Frazier said Butler "has been administratively suspended from his position as vice chancellor/student affairs pending the outcome of an investigation."
"Further details are not available at this time as the investigation is ongoing," Frazier said.
Butler could not be reached to comment Monday but his wife, Shelly Butler, said the military had given her husband "a lot of grief" over the letter. He was relieved of his duties at the language school and has been assigned to temporary duty at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, she said.
She said he plans to retire in a few weeks after 24 years in the Air Force, including duty as a combat pilot in Desert Storm.
In addition to criticism from the military, she said, "we got a few phone calls from people we don't even know" supporting his position. She said his friends also are also being supportive, "but work-wise, people won't say anything."
Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice says that "any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the president, the vice president, Congress, the secretary of defense, the secretary of a military department, the secretary of transportation or the governor or legislature of any state, territory, commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct."
The last Article 88 court martial came in 1965 when an Army second lieutenant was prosecuted for taking part in an antiwar protest in Texas, according to Lt. Col. Maritza S. Ryan of the Army Judge Advocate General Corps.
Ryan said the Pentagon "quietly issued" memos reminding officers of the Article 88 provisions after President Clinton became embroiled in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, setting off a number of articles and letters to the editor from military officers.