Navy: Officer in Iran detention video will remain in the service
By ALEX HORTON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 21, 2017
SAN ANTONIO — A Navy officer captured by Iran and briefly held prisoner along with nine other sailors in early 2016 will be allowed to remain in the service, his lawyer said Thursday.
A trio of senior officers at a Navy separation board in Imperial Beach, California, ruled Lt. David Nartker will stay in the Navy, according to his lawyer, Phil Lowry. The board’s decision appears to bring charges and punishment against Nartker to an end fifteen months after the incident.
Nartker, as the commander of two riverine patrol boats, accidentally crossed into Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf on Jan. 12, 2016. He was captured, along with the other sailors, and his filmed apology to Iran sparked an international incident.
The sailors were detained overnight and returned after they were interrogated, Stars and Stripes reported.
The Navy found Nartker guilty of three general order violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice at an admiral’s mast, a proceeding to determine minor offenses, Lowry said. Lowry is a lawyer in the Utah Army National Guard but represented Nartker in his civilian capacity.
The Navy said Nartker failed to conduct a patrol brief and prepare a paper chart of his intended movement, Lowry said.
Those two charges were dropped, but a third -- failure to move his ship’s weapons from class 4 to class 3 when leaving port, which is a higher readiness posture in the region -- remained, Lowry said.
Now retired Rear Adm. Frank Morneau, who led the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command at the time, handed down the guilty decision following the admiral’s mast, which triggered the hearing, Lowry said.
At the board, Navy officials also argued an administrative charge that Nartker displayed “substandard deportment,” the Navy’s term for poor performance or appearance, despite his history of high fitness reports, Lowry said.
“We could only assume it has to deal with his appearance in pictures and videos,” Lowry said of images from Nartker’s capture. He argued it was a regulation meant in part to enforce grooming and physical fitness standards and not applicable in this case.
“[The Navy] was trying to be creative and say: ‘You embarrassed us.’ They were trying to drive a truck through a very small hole,” Lowry said.
Senior leaders from Nartker’s command vouched for his character during the hearing, Lowry said, offering descriptions of an officer with a history of high performance and little evidence of poor leadership.
“He’s a good officer. That’s the bottom line,” he said.
Investigations into the incident found a toxic culture of leadership, Lowry said, which he argued the Navy was attempting to pin on Nartker, following an embarrassing incident with a hostile nation.
“Do you lay it at the feet of a junior officer when the command climate did not exist to implement checks and balances?” Lowry asked rhetorically of the Navy’s charges.
The fallout from the incident resulted in the removal of the commodore and executive officer responsible for the vessels, Capt. Kyle Moses and Cmdr. Eric Rasch, Stars and Stripes reported.
In all, four officers involved went to admiral’s mast, with three given a punitive letter of reprimand and one found not guilty of violations, said Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg, a spokesperson for Naval Expeditionary Combat Command, which oversees the riverine boats.
Two enlisted sailors were given punitive letters of reprimand for dereliction in performance of duties and failure to obey a lawful written order, she said.
It remains unclear what will happen to Nartker now or when he can expect his next assignment. Nartker was stripped of his surface warfare qualification and pin following his reprimand, Lowry said, and he could re-earn it depending on his future career track. The board did not have the ability to give Nartker the qualification back, Lowry said.
But for now, Nartker is relieved about the decision, Lowry said.
“The system worked as it was supposed to,” he said. “[Nartker] wants to stay in the service. He loves the Navy.”