Politicizing the JAG Corps:

Via Jeralyn Merritt at TalkLeft comes a disturbing Boston Globe story about Bush Administration efforts to assert greater political control over the JAG corps.

The administration has proposed a regulation requiring "coordination" with politically appointed Pentagon lawyers before any member of the Judge Advocate General corps - the military's 4,000-member uniformed legal force - can be promoted. . . .

The JAG rule would give new leverage over the JAGs to the Pentagon's general counsel, William "Jim" Haynes, who was appointed by President Bush. Haynes has been the Pentagon's point man in the disputes with the JAGs who disagreed with the administration's assertion that the president has the right to bypass the Geneva Conventions and other legal protections for wartime detainees.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said that Haynes was traveling and unavailable for an interview, and she did not respond to other written questions submitted by the Globe. In the past, Haynes has made several proposals that would bring the JAGs under greater control by political appointees.

As part of the uniformed chain of command, the JAGs are not directly controlled by civilian political appointees. But Haynes has long promoted the idea of making each service's politically appointed general counsel the direct boss of the service's top JAG, a change Haynes has said would support the principle of civilian control of the military.

Under the current system, boards of military officers pick who will join the JAG corps and who will be promoted, while the general counsels' role is limited to reviewing whether the boards followed correct procedures. The proposed rule would impose a new requirement of "coordination" with the general counsels of the services and the Pentagon during the JAG appointment and promotion process.

The proposal does not spell out what coordination means. But both JAGs and outside legal specialists say that it is common bureaucratic parlance for requiring both sides to sign off before a decision gets made - meaning that political appointees would have the power to block any candidate's career path.

The only argument for this change mentioned in the article is Haynes' claim that such reforms would "support the principle of civilian control of the military." I am not persuaded. As I see it, Congressional oversight and approval of UCMJ and the general policy-making authority of political appointees in the Pentagon is sufficient to ensure adequate civilian control of the military in this context. I do not see why it would require (if even support) injecting political appointees into the promotion process, but perhaps I am missing something.

UPDATE: Intel Dump places this policy change in the context of broader tensions between Bush political appointees and the military.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Administration Backtracks on JAG Proposal:
  2. Politicizing the JAG Corps: