Unbecoming Conduct

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What defines conduct unbecoming an officer?

Major General Thomas Fiscus, judge advocate general of the Air Force, opposed the harsh interrogation techniques approved and later rescinded by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for use on Guantanamo prisoners. Subsequently, General Fiscus has been reprimanded for a dozen sexual affairs during the last decade and may face disbarment proceedings.

As the affairs were consensual with civilian and military women, one doesn’t know whether the general is being punished for sticking up for human rights or whether the US military thinks abstinence is a requirement of general officers, with sexual license left to the Dominitrix of Abu Ghraib.

Punishing a general for sex is inconsistent with the macho "burn, kill and destroy" image being cultivated by the US military in Iraq. Can a hegemonic army be commanded by saints?

Gen. Fiscus’ punishment is unlikely to stifle sex in the military. His punishment can, however, be defended as an attempt to uphold rules against fraternization and conduct unbecoming an officer. However impractical these old rules might be in a military integrated with women and homosexuals, it these rules are not enforced, other rules will go by the wayside, and the rot of demoralization will take hold.

What jumps out from this reasoning is the extent to which the US military, which abandoned the Geneva Conventions against prisoner torture and the US War Crimes Act of 1996, is being a stickler at enforcing its rules against sexual affairs. Is the military clutching the rule against fraternization closely to its breast because it is the only rule the military has left?

Alas, such may indeed be the case. White House Counsel and Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales advised President Bush in January 2002 that all laws and conventions against torture could be swept away simply by declaring detainees to be outside the protection of law and international agreements. Gonzales advised President Bush to turn his back on the "obsolete" and "quaint" requirements in the Geneva Conventions for the humane treatment of prisoners. A year later a Pentagon task force reasoned that the president had the authority to approve any policy needed to protect the nation’s security.

These are the "moralists" who are compelling General Fiscus to retire at a lower rank because he misbehaved with a dozen women.

Numerous reports, including reports from the FBI, have made it clear that torture of prisoners is more widespread than the White House has admitted. Numerous reports have made it clear that US troops, whether from confusion, fear, or sport have slaughtered Iraqi civilians. Marines destroyed the city of Fallujah, and the commander on the scene claimed no Iraqi civilians were killed.

But General Fiscus has behaved unbecomingly.

President Bush, VP Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz lied about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction and being involved with the September 11 terrorist attack on the US. The consequences of these lies: tens of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians and countless others wounded, Iraq’s infrastructure in ruins, 1,325 dead US troops and another 21,000 maimed and wounded and the toll is mounting, 150,000 US troops tied down by a few thousand ragtag insurgents, US alliances and reputation in tatters, and America roundly hated throughout the Middle East.

But General Fiscus behaved unbecomingly for an officer.

Yes, he did. And President Bush behaved unbecomingly for a commander in chief. Dick Cheney behaved unbecomingly for a Vice President. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz behaved unbecomingly for civilian leaders of the military.

But no one is being held accountable except General Fiscus.

Is this right? Is this what Americans want? Do we want to punish General Fiscus for violating "obsolete and quaint" rules against consensual sex but not punish government leaders who tell us lies about Iraq and get our sons, fathers, husbands, brothers, and daughters killed as a consequence? Do Americans really want to be led by people who believe in the efficacy of torture, military might and propagandistic manipulation of an unsuspecting public?

If so, where is the virtue that neoconservatives claim justifies American hegemony?

Dr. Roberts [send him mail] is John M. Olin Fellow at the Institute for Political Economy and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. He is a former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, former contributing editor for National Review, and a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury. He is the co-author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.

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