Thursday, August 19, 2010

unauthorized bombing

Years ago, working for Senator Harold Hughes [D-Iowa], I was involved in the investigation of Air Force Gen. John D. Lavelle, who was removed from command because of unauthorized attacks on North Vietnam and an elaborate system of falsified reports. We received a letter from an Iowan who was an Air Force sergeant based in Thailand, who asked whether it was legal to file false reports. That letter, with the author's identity concealed until he later gave permission, let to the Air Force investigation that prompted Lavelle's firing.

Now the President has accepted an Air Force recommendation that Lavelle be promoted posthumously on the retired list. I oppose that action for reasons laid out in a New York Times piece today. The only new evidence cited by the Air Force is White House tapes showing that President Nixon wanted Lavelle to conduct such strikes. There is no evidence that he ever ordered a change in the rules of engagement to allow such attacks, and the people he told of his wishes were not in the military chain of command to give any orders. That ain't good enough for civilian control in wartime. Nixon told his staff of a lot of things he wanted, but they wisely ignored many of his demands. In fact, that tendency to want actions he was unwilling to order in writing -- and thus be held accountable for -- led to another controversy when Sen. Hughes successfully authored an amendment I wrote, which is still the law, requiring the President personally to approve all CIA covert operations -- and for Congress to be promptly notified. But that's another story.

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