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January 26, 2009

Fish. Barrel. No Bullets Needed.


What I know, too, is that more than one Joe or Josephine here are more than willing to jump to conclusions, and then -- when pressed -- to go on to foolishly deny that there's been any leaping at all. Leapin' Lizards, indeed!

Truer words... :p And then M. Lizard, having pointed out the danger of leaping to conclusions, goes on to do just that:

... you would have had such unfortunates to have no voice whatsoever. I don't think I've ever seen you write a kind word about the lawyers for those who have been imprisoned in Guantanamo for so long -- and lord knows, many, so very many, have been imprisoned wrongly, and unconscionably, and to the everlasting shame of the United States.

But wait! There's more unfounded lizard-leaping where this came from!

You want so feverently to dislike Obama that I am sure that you will not be disappointed.

...Perhaps I misjudge you, but I suspect you'd just as soon have [the detainees] locked [up] forever, no matter the proof or non-proof against them.

So predictable...

Predictably wrong, that is:

There are many kinds of courage.

In a man's world, conquest is the crucible in which he is measured and found worthy; the road to Valhalla. Small boys eagerly gobble up tales of heroes performing feats of daring against mighty foes. Young men dream of glory, imagining themselves in countless confrontations against dastardly and despicable enemies. But in the end, virtue and valour win the day.

In such childish imaginings the lines between good and evil are drawn with brilliant clarity, each limned with its own blinding corona. It is impossible to mistake one for the other. If only real life were that simple

Wow. That's pretty harsh. But then what do you expect from a neo-con?

All of the foregoing must sound as though I disapprove of Colonel Couch's decision. I do not. I disagree vehemently, unless there is information missing from the WSJ article, with his assessment of the situation. Absent the coercion applied to Mr. Slahi to produce the list of al Qaeda names, there was no real prosecution case for the government to "ruin". Slahi had been in custody for quite some time and had never talked. He was unlikely to talk. He had almost certainly been trained to resist such mild measures as Col. Couch would approve. So it seems almost certain that, absent some kind of coercion, there would never be any case against Mohamedou Ould Slahi.

His only value was as a source of intelligence against al Qaeda.

Colonel Couch was faced with two courses of action. He could view his role as merely that of a prosecutor faced with a legal and moral decision in the instant case, or he could try to take on all the larger societal questions of whether Shahi needed to be punished and try to take the law into his own hands. Faced with two equally unpalatable courses of action: take the narrow view and risk letting a guilty man go unpunished, or take the large view and see justice done but compromise his own morals and that of his country, Couch took the more humble stance. He declined to be responsible for matters above his pay grade and did his job as he thought best. And he let the chips fall where they would. It is notable that there were no recriminations, though one doubts his career will go far.

Few of us in his place could do other than he did and still sleep at night. Laws themselves, no matter how well written, cannot guarantee against tyranny and it is foolish to try to build rigid fail safes into them, for that only brings about the opposite dangers from the ones we hoped to avoid. At best, good laws balance the twin dangers of an overbearing government and the venality of our fellow men. But in the end, justice relies on the honor of good men.

Yikes. What was I thinking?

The irony in this case is that the courage of a good man did not defeat the foe. So much for boyhood dreams. That is where we have failed men like Stuart Couch, because we send them out to fight monsters without a sword or a suit of armor and then wonder why they cannot protect us?

Posted by Cassandra at January 26, 2009 05:58 PM

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Colonel Couch? I much prefer Colonel Bogey. He has such a jaunty march named after him, don't you know. Cheery-O you Yanks, I'm off to tea!

-- Colonel Blimp

Posted by: a former european at January 27, 2009 04:09 AM

Projection: It's not just for movie theaters any more. :-)

Posted by: Not really good excercise at January 27, 2009 09:04 AM


After reading your writing - including the previously written linked part of the story, I am just stunned. Stunned that a serving Marine officer, for reasons that pale in the big picture of his failure to prosecute, would so allow his country to potentially suffer more. And suffer we will, by not punishing those who mean us ill. It is a license to do it again and again until they suceed.///

Fortunately, he is not a combat arms officer. He would have many many dead Marines in his former command. A testimonial to "morality" versus doing ones' duty.///

I am not one who criticizes a Senior Officer lightly, no matter their specialty or service. And my admiration for Marine officers is only exceeded by my admiration for Marine riflemen. (And this from an Army officer!!)///

We have an enemy who ignores all civilized rules. They should be given comparable quarter up to and including the equal treatment of their captives.///

War is cruelty. Lawyers have no place in the conduct of it.///



Posted by: Kbob of Katy (in Norway right now) at January 27, 2009 07:25 PM

The question was asked on another thread, "What is a conservative these days?"

Or something to that effect.

Oddly, I think this is why I think of myself as a conservative. By nature, in many ways I'd made a better liberal. I'm not naturally inclined to favor the tried and true.

I tend to say, "Why not?" a lot of the time instead of looking before I leap. It has taken me decades of living to settle down a bit, though I suppose I was always a bit security oriented too, even when young. But I had a wicked anti-authoritarian streak that has mellowed with time.

I'm a big believer in letting the system work.

I think if people don't get ahead of themselves, if everyone tries to do his or her best in whatever role we're assigned, for the most part things work out pretty darned well. It's when people get their asses up on their shoulder and decide the end justifies the means and they are gonna save the world before lunchtime that I think we often don't do so well.

So though I think Couch was wrong, I also think his role as defense atty was to give his client a zealous defense. I think it must have been agonizing for him. And I think we have to trust the system to work without deciding we're individually going to game it.

Even my husband was OK with what Couch did. He doesn't agree with him either, frankly. But as he said to me when we talked about this after I wrote the post, the adversarial legal system assumes defense attys will protect their clients' rights to the utmost.

It assumes the prosecution will do its utmost to convict.

No one should step outside the law or their conscience to make either of these things happen. All a man can do, is his duty. I think Couch did that, as he saw it, and I am content because I trust this country and because I don't believe the end justifies the means.

Posted by: Cass at January 27, 2009 08:58 PM

And by the way, I agree with you about lawfare for the most part. But once we're in that situation, we deal with the reality on the ground. That was the point of my last paragraph - as a Marine, Couch could have taken this guy out with a gun on the battlefield.

But in a courtroom, different rules came into play. That must be difficult for someone who considers himself a warrior, and I think most Marines still do think of themselves that way whether they sling law or artillery shells. Therein lies the tragedy.

Posted by: Cass at January 27, 2009 09:01 PM

Fortunately, he is not a combat arms officer. He would have many many dead Marines in his former command. A testimonial to "morality" versus doing ones' duty.///

I think as a combat arms officer (which is what my husband is) Couch would have had no trouble taking this guy out. The problem was, he's an attorney and he was tasked with defending Slahi.

And so he did his duty as he saw it.

I find it hard to fault him for that.

Posted by: Cass at January 27, 2009 09:05 PM


Your points are well taken and respected. I guess the reason I am an Engineer instead of a lawyer is that I could never sell my soul to the devil to provide that "vigorous defense" that a criminal "deserves.

Shades of grey do not exist in my world. People die in the shadows, in the grey area. Walls fall, beams break, trusses fail if my job is done poorly. Sometimes reality steps in to make the line fuzzy, but then it is up to me to bring it back into focus. If I can't make it safe, we start over. Can a lawyer make a criminal safe for society? I bet you would never guess that I support the death penalty too. ;^)

Anyway, keep up the great writing. It keeps me thinking. And that's a good thing.

With Deep Respect,


Posted by: kbob at January 27, 2009 09:13 PM

PS My thanks to your husband for his service, and to you for your support of him in that service. I have been doing it since 1972 (some reserve, some active, retired and recalled), so I really do understand.

Posted by: kbob at January 27, 2009 09:18 PM

Well, FWIW I didn't write that first post easily.

My first instinct was to say, "WTF??? This guy is a Marine. How could he do that?"

I had to take a big step back from my personal feelings about the story and think about it. The thing is, I try to see things from a larger perspective.

The thing I found interesting about this story was that there is a presumption out there that the military justice system is inherently injust and overly harsh to these detainees (IOW, that no one will be fair or champion their rights the way a civilian lawyer would).

I think this story shows the INTEGRITY of the military justice system. Even when Couch detested the result (the possibility his guilt client wouldn't be convicted) he did his duty to the utmost of his ability, according to the law. I think that's remarkable. He wouldn't violate his code of ethics in order to "engineer" a desired result even though he personally believed this guy was guilty.

And I think that's right, because a personal belief that someone is guilty shouldn't be enough to determine the outcome of a trial. A trial, unless we're truly talking about the kangaroo courts the press SAY the military wanted to conduct, must be fair and must follow certain procedures.

As I've written before, giving these guys a trial at all mediates for acquittal - that is the salient point 98% of folks reading about this issue miss outright. The rules of evidence were never designed for battlefield 'arrests' - any competent atty can easily blow a hole in any "evidence" presented because there won't be a chain of custody, Miranda rights, etc. This is why it's so G**damned stupid saying these guys have all the rights Americans do.

But then many of the people who yammer on about this issue - and many of them are lawyers - haven't thought things through.

Posted by: Cass at January 28, 2009 05:46 AM

Whoops! "injust"???

I meant "unjust" :p Never type before you've had your first cup of coffee.

Posted by: Cass at January 28, 2009 05:47 AM

But then many of the people who yammer on about this issue - and many of them are lawyers - haven't thought things through.

They've thought things through, but lack the knowledge to think them through *completely*.

I have an attorney friend who said something about the harshness of the military judicial process, so I loaned him a copy of the UCMJ. He read it and, when he returned it, told me that if Charlie Manson had been tried under the UCMJ, he'd have been acquitted due to insufficient evidence.

Posted by: BillT at January 28, 2009 12:35 PM

Whoops! "injust"???

Your neural system was telling you you needed to injust some liquid caffeine...

Posted by: BillT at January 28, 2009 12:37 PM

Having trouble with the wogs again, eh wot? I recall my journey with Lord Kitchener in the Sudan. We gave fuzzy-wuzzy a jolly good thrashing at Omdurman, let me tell you! I don't give a fig about what some barbarous cur may claim against the Queen. Such calumny will be answered by British powder and British steel!

-- Brigadier Taffington-Smythe

Posted by: a former european at January 28, 2009 01:04 PM

Fish. Barrel. No Bullets Needed.

Pithy. Cutting close and sharp to the point. Unjustified.

When I first read this post (for which I served as the humble muse, apparently), I was impressed by the pithiness of the title (Cassandra indeed has certain talents as a writer). I was somewhat less impressed with the on-pointedness of the title and the point of the post -- for several reasons.

As should be obvious to any reader of middling intelligence and diligence, for example, the original post itself seems mismatched to its title. How, for example, does the story of Col. Couch relate to Fish. Barrel. No Bullets Needed? Or, alternatively, how does that pithy title relate to the good Colonel's story?

After all, La Cassandrina apparently views the story in light of the (and as a riposte to) text (from a prior thread) which she emboldens in the present thread -- that " . . . I don't think I've ever seen you write a kind word about the lawyers for those who have been imprisoned in Guantanamo . . ." And, after all, the story of Colonel Couch is not one "about" a defense attorney, but rather is one about certain experiences and decisions of Prosecutor Couch.

Indeed, it's "obvious" that Cassandra knows this -- that is it clear from the archived post itself, which she wrote, and presumably remembered aright - apart from her presumably having re-read that post before publication of the instant post. Likewise it's obvious from material from the archived post which was expressly extracted and reproduced in the original post in this thread (". . . He could view his role as merely that of a prosecutor faced with a . . .")

So obvious were such aspects that I bit back an impulse to respond with a post-in-riposte (tentatively entitled something along the lines of "Schooling by Cassandrita (or) Miss Direction in the Classroom and at Play".

Surely someone will point out the mis-match in a manner surely more kindly than I could manage. (So I told myself.)

So much for obviousness. So much for "reading comprehension" (And oh, my heavens, I myself have been taken to task here, severely and repeatedly (and in CAPS, no less), for deficits in reading comprehension.) So much for exercise of the most remotely critical eye.

Not only did no such post find authorship, but the real story changed from mis-direction (which I confess to find to be a recurring (albeit not invariable) attribute of Cassandra's posts/comments ) to case of mistaken identity. That is, as her subsequent comments in the thread clearly demonstrate, Today's Cassandra thought that Cassandra of Yesteryear had written about a defense attorney, his travails, and his triumphs, etc.

[ So though I think Couch was wrong, I also think his role as defense atty was to give his client a zealous defense. I think it must . . .

The problem was, he's [Couch is] an attorney and he was tasked with defending Slahi. . .

Even when Couch detested the result (the possibility his guilt[y] client wouldn't be convicted) he did his duty . . . ]

We all must be careful not to jump to conclusions. I (for example) fell into the conclusion that Cassandra was simply countering critical comment with mis-direction ("once again, for heaven's sake!", said hoover1 to himself). While such a "fall" was certainly not a "jump", after reading her comments subsequent to her original post, it became nonetheless reasonably clear that that wasn't the explanation at all; Cassandra, rather, mis-remembered and mis-read her prior (archived) post.

What is perhaps more revealing than such an error (and I have an opinion on what caused (or contributed) to such error; naturally), is that no one who read the original post here (or the subsequent comments by Cassandra) apparently noticed any dis-connect at all -- however characterized.

What that reveals is unclear -- and without further data one would be loathe to jump to any conclusions on the matter, however tentative. It does suggest, however, that perhaps it would not go awry for there to be an increase in scepticism or a heightening of meaningful critical thought here at Casa Cassandrita. And elsewhere, for that matter. Especially as regards pronouncements/expressions of the relevant "powers-that-be" or the applicable "default" or "status quo" position.

Fish. Barrel. No Bullets Needed.

Indeed. Kinda.

Posted by: hoover1 at January 28, 2009 07:48 PM

A couple of late nite thoughts, and I will let this thread go....although I enjoy the repartee...

I, in a curious way, know that the Lt.Col. did his "duty" as he saw it. I simply cannot wrap my head around an officer doing all he can to release a cretin (or as the brigadier would say "a wog") to once again inflict mayhem at a minimum, death at the worst, upon his fellow Marines.

I think if I did that, and the worst happened, I would not be able to live with myself. I would be like putting a PE stamp on a knowingly flawed design, hoping that it was never used.

I stand by my earlier contention that a lawyer has no place on the battlefield - or maybe they do need to be right there to make the calls. I can see it now: L Company, 1st Battalion, Second ACLU Brigade "The Litigating Beauracrats" "personing" the front lines in Peshwar, making the tough calls - Do incoming rounds justify a patrols' returning fire? If a coalition trooper is wounded, can their comrades shoot to kill, or is that excessive force???

As has been written, only two forces have ever been willing to give their lives for you. I have the privilege of being in the second group. I hope to meet the man who is the first one day.

"Semper Fi" Mrs. Marine. From an ex USN enlisted, current USA officer. May your writing continue for a long time, and your UPS guy look like one of those calendar dudes....HAHAHAHAHA



Posted by: kbob of Katy (still in Norway) at January 28, 2009 07:51 PM

Quite so, quite so! As a young lad, I had the honor to patrol Her Majesty's Northwest Frontier, near the Khyber Pass. Dealing with the wily Pathan was far different than fuzzy-wuzzy, indeed it was! Why, the dastardly scoundrels would knife you in the back while you were taking tea. Uncivilized brutes! It's no use pretending the wily Pathan will act like a civilized gentleman invited to Westminster, such tomfoolery will only result in one less Tommy Atkins! Our Regiment always had a few rough men ready to sort out the wogs who caused trouble. These things are best done quietly, so the Lords and gentlefolk not be disturbed by the spectacle of a public lashing.

-- Brigadier Taffington-Smythe

Posted by: a former european at January 28, 2009 10:02 PM

*waving hi to Brigadier-Sah*

It's *us*! Arshad and Muktar!

No hard feelings, please?

Posted by: The Boyz From ISI at January 29, 2009 12:09 AM

Dude, hoover, you keep missing the forest for the trees. The people (*defense* attorneys) are not the issue. You leaped to the conclusion that Cass would not favor a just and fair process for detainees. (If you support a just and fair process you, logically, must support having people fulfill all of those roles) She has quite amply demonstrated that you are wrong. And did so, more easily than shooting fish in a barrel.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 29, 2009 02:08 PM