Sunday, August 2, 2015

Lt. Cmdr. White, A Shooting in Chattanooga, Part I: No Charges Currently Against Navy Officer for Defensive Shooting

[This first post on the possibility that a Navy officer may be charged for the use of his personal weapon to protect himself and others from an unlawful attack by Muhammad Abdulazeez principally addresses the Pentagon's "denial" of such a charge. Part II addresses the power of the Executive Branch to decline to prosecute the Officer even if, technically speaking, his actions constituted a violation of law, by comparing a decision to prosecute or not against the Officer with the decisions of the Obama administration to "Defer Action" against certain illegal immigrants in the United States. Part III addresses the certain defenses that the Officer would be entitled to assert if charged.]

July 16, 2015, an attack on two separate military facilities in Chattanooga left a total of five military personnel dead or dying. The shooter, Muhammad Abdulazeez, was also killed.

In the aftermath, we learned that Navy Lt. Commander Timothy White fired on Abdulazeez using his personal sidearm. We also learned that an unnamed Marine also fired on Abdulazeez, also using a personal firearm. We have not yet learned from investigators or medical examiners whether shots from either Lt. Commander White or the unnamed Marine his Abdulazeez or contributed to his death.

What we have learned, however, is that the United States Navy keeps a careful eye on its Social Media presence.

Saturday, August 1, Allen B. West revealed that he had learned that the United States Navy planned to charge Lt. Commander White with discharging a weapon on federal property. West wrote:

I never like to be reactionary and follow anything that may just be hyperbole or conspiracy theory. That’s why I held off on addressing this issue until I got confirmation — which came Friday afternoon via text message. ...  But this story has me dog fighting mad and seriously pissed off.  ...  The cold-blooded assault killed four Marines and one active-duty Navy reservist. The center’s commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Timothy White, used his personal firearm to engage the shooter during the attack, according to sources quoted in the Navy Times. A report from The Washington Post said that one of the Marines killed in the shooting might have been carrying a 9 mm Glock and possibly returned fire on the shooter....Ladies and gents, resulting from the text message I received yesterday, I can confirm that the United States Navy is bringing charges against Lt. Cmdr Timothy White for illegally discharging a firearm on federal property.

As we mature into this age of social media presence, many of us have learned how sensitive businesses can be to comments about them in social media. As an example, I have received assistance from retail stores and restaurants as a result of posting comments on their Facebook pages. This past Spring, I received five coupons for free coffee from a local establishment after I described an incident of poor service on Facebook. On another occasion, Sprint contacted me on Facebook over an issue related to our service when I posted on their Facebook page about the problem. I am surprised more folks don't flex their consumer and civic muscles in this fashion.

Well, some folks that follow Allen West on the web, and who got his morning missive announcing the Navy's intention to prosecute Lt. Commander White. did a bit of citizen activism and went to the Navy's Facebook page. While on the page, they challenged the intention of the Navy to prosecute White. 

Yes, the Navy does monitor its Facebook page.

You can see the response of the Navy in the image below. That blue circle with the white check mark means that this is the "verified" Facebook account of the United States Navy. Just in case someone says, well, that's just some guy in a stained wife-beater, in his mom's basement, making this stuff up. No. This is the Navy's Official Facebook page and account.

What is said and what is not said by the Navy are equally important. Here's that comment:
Paul, stories of Navy personnel being charged with an offense are not true. There is still a long way to go in reviewing the facts of this tragic incident, but at this time we can confirm no service member has been charged with an offense.
Okay, then. As of approximately 8 p.m., Saturday, August 1, 2015, "no service member has been charged with an offense."

Good. Or, good, as far as it goes.

Read the comment again. See those other words, "There is still a long way to go in reviewing the facts of this tragic incident[.]"

Before giving further consideration to the ramification of those words, let's go back to January, 2015.

The Obama administration had completed negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, a deal that won the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, but that also resulted in the release from our detention facility in Guantanamo of five members of the Taliban. Nearly nine months after Bergdahl was recovered, in January, the Army had still not made a decision on the question whether to charge the sergeant with desertion or other offenses related to his disappearance from his duty station.

Then, in January, 2015, rumors surfaced that the Army would charge Bergdahl with desertion. In response, at a press conference on Tuesday, January 27, 2015, Pentagon Press Secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby stated,
Sgt. Bergdahl has not been charged with any crime. No decision has been made with respect to the case of Sgt. Bergdahl. None. There is no timeline to make that decision, and Gen. Milley is being put under no pressure to make a decision.
Here's how the headline looked that day:


I suppose St. Bergdahl could breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that he would not face charges for whatever possible misconduct might have led to his long absence from the military without leave.

He could.

Until Wednesday, March 25, 2015, Bergdahl could breathe a sigh of relief every day, if he thought that Rear Adm. Kirby's completely true statement on January 27, 2015, meant he would never face charges. That, of course, was not at all what Rear Adm. Kirby, the Pentagon's Press Secretary meant. Nor would any sensible person have read his words at the time and thought, "Well, look at that, Bergdahl is in the clear." The other shoe, in Bergdahl's case, dropped on March 25, 2015:

So, now, back to Lt. Commander Timothy White.

What the US Navy's Facebook comment says is, in important respects, indistinguishable from the remarks made by Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby in January 2015. Just two months later, what the Press Secretary said became meaningless to Bergdahl. It was never a promise or assurance that no charges would follow. Instead, it was just a "weather report." "No, it's currently not raining on Bergdahl's parade!"

But the weather changed for Bergdahl. And the weather might change for Lt. Commander White. Only time will tell.