Change to JAG promotions dropped by General Counsel
ARLINGTON, Va. — A proposal to give the Defense Department General Counsel’s Office a say in the promotions of military lawyers is dead.
The Boston Globe reported Saturday that the Bush administration was pushing to require “politically appointed Pentagon lawyers” to become part of the Judge Advocate General Corps promotion process.
On Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the idea was that the general counsel’s office would provide an extra layer of “quality control” over promotions, noting one top JAG was able to be promoted to a high level even though he had not been admitted to the bar.
Air Force Col. Michael D. Murphy, was head of Air Force Legal Operations Agency in Washington, when he was relieved of command in November 2006 after it was learned that his license to practice law had been revoked more than 20 years ago.
“We’d certainly like our JAGs to be in good standing with the bar,” Morrell said.
William J. Haynes II, the head of the general counsel’s office, hoped the proposal would provide another check and balance in the promotions system, but he decided against the idea after getting feedback from the services and military departments that “perhaps the tack he was taking was not the best one,” Morrell said.
“There are good ideas and there are bad ideas, and he thinks that is an idea that is not worth pushing anymore,” Morrell said.
But military law expert Gary D. Solis said he interpreted the proposal as a way to silence military attorneys defending detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“Obviously, if you go public with a perceived legal problem with Guantanamo legal procedures, future promotion is at risk,” Solis said in a phone interview Wednesday.
Solis is an adjunct law professor at Georgetown University in Washington, where he teaches the law of armed conflict. He also taught law at West Point and is a retired Marine judge advocate lieutenant colonel.
He said he had not seen the general counsel’s office proposal, but he had read about it in the newspaper.
As for Morrell’s comments about “quality control,” Solis said he did not believe Murphy’s case in particular merited changing the entire promotion system for military lawyers.
Asked if the general counsel’s office proposal was an attempt to politicize JAG promotions, Morrell did not respond directly.
“I think it’s a moot point though,” he said. “I think the, the, the intent to put this in the draft instructions has, is over. He’s not going to pursue it, so I don’t know what more — it warrants being commented on.”
Morrell stressed that the proposal was only viewed internally, and neither President Bush nor Defense Secretary Robert Gates was aware of it.
The decision to kill the proposal drew praise from Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice and a military law practitioner in Washington.
“I’m glad this idea has been thrown into the waste bin,” Fidell said in a phone interview Wednesday. “It’s unfortunate that it got as far as it did, but our system does have checks and balances, and obviously someone was listening to the fact that this was universally viewed as a dreadful idea.”
Fidell, who did not see the proposal for himself, also said he was not surprised to hear that President Bush was unaware of the idea.
“I would be disturbed if he were aware of it, given the many far more important things competing for his attention,” he said.