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Legal Background

Across my time on active duty, I was expected to be knowledgeable of law. Early in my career I was tasked with minor investigations of things that didn’t go well in our nuclear submarines. We called them “Incident Reports” and they were a pain to prepare. To top this off they were read by a Four Star and if he didn't like it, you got it back!

On my way to command I was required to take a course, conducted by Navy JAG Officers (Lawyers), designed to prepare me for serving as an Article 15, Captain’s Mast Hearing officer (equivalent to a Justice of the Peace). The essence of this course was that our Founding Fathers designed the Judiciary to be a barrier between the people and the Government, and that was precisely the role I must prepare for.

In the course of serving as Commanding Officer on two ships, I presided over some 600 or 700 cases of many kinds. Some were truly tough decisions. It took real work in that capacity to step out from the ship and act as that barrier mentioned above. In one case I heard, to do the right thing caused me to consider my career. I still did the right thing.

I also served as a Court Martial Member on two serious cases. Later I was a member of a Show Cause Board. A Commanding Officer at Sea is required to be knowledgeable of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and any Rules of Engagement appropriate to current operations.

A Commanding Officer must write Standing Orders. These have all the force of law within the ship. I did that across my 5+ years in command, I saw myself writing things only to observe what my people actually did. I learned to write clearly and to rewrite when needed. When things didn’t go well, I learned to first go back and look at what I really wrote not what I thought I wrote.

Along the way of performing Investigations, shortly before retiring I was tasked with leading an investigation into the near Sinking and Abandoning at Sea of the USS Dolphin. This was a major investigation. I was leading a board of three Navy Captains (O-6). Another investigation occurred shortly after leaving command of USS Benjamin Franklin where I was tasked with an investigation with a foreign vessel involved in the English Channel. Thus, I had to be knowledgeable of Admiralty Law.

I find myself seriously concerned regarding the prosecutions currently underway against former President Trump. They, broadly, involve a Bill of Attainder and courtrooms where the judges do not find themselves able to be a barrier between the government and the person as I described I was trained to be above.

Many years ago, while stationed in Charleston, SC, I attended a small church on James Island, SC. There was a family where the husband, who had been a Navy Seal, participated in supporting federal prosecutions against drug traffickers. He had let himself get involved with that using his skills from the navy.

Realizing what he was doing he went to authorities and offered to assist, which they accepted readily. He met his wife after that phase and before authorities completed their actions. At the very end of things, he was then put in front of a judge for his adjudication. The judge found himself bound by law and remarked on that in court. But in the end, sentenced him to the shortest prison time allowed despite his support of the prosecutions. I would expect our judges today to be so bound, but they seem not to be.

Paid for by: Bill Winney
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