Winter Soldiers Face New Law, by D. Keohane (with correction)

Denis Keohane
In 1971 the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) held their Winter Soldier Investigation (WSI) during which over one hundred members told often lurid stories of war crimes and atrocities they had witnessed or participated in during the war. The event led to young John Kerry's testimony before Senator Fulbright's Foreign Relations Committee to the effect that such behavior was widespread and routine.

None of those who testified faced any charges for crimes they claimed to have committed or witnessed and had not reported at the time, most likely owing in large part to the inability of the military investigators to substantiate that any of the claims were true other than one which had already been under investigation before WSI. Neither, however, were the testifiers put under oath where their claims could subject them to charges of perjury if not true.

The Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), formed with the assistance of the older VVAW, is holding its own WSI this week near Washington D.C. (Mar 13-16), patterned after its 1971 namesake.

Writing in Winter Soldiers on Slippery Slope to Haditha, Nathaniel R. Helms and David Allender point out that the law has changed since 1971, when the legal ramifications were more of a grey area:

"Lawyers watching the events say the former warriors who participate in Winter Soldier II face a different world than their Vietnam-era counterparts. A new law adopted in 2000 puts them at risk of prosecution by the federal government... the IVAW member's desire to 'tell the truth' about the war in Iraq carries with it possible heavy consequences because doing so expose the veterans to possible prosecution under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA)."

One IVAW member identified by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Citypages only as "Jen" (and who may be Jen Spranger, of the IVAW Milwaukee chapter), has claimed to have poisoned Iraqi detainees and will likely "testify" at WSI. 

Members of IVAW relying on the National Lawyers' Guild for legal protection should remember that the NLG is an ideological group. A presumed propaganda victory for time in jail might help the "cause" ! If the NLG attorneys have not informed IVAW's testifiers of MEJA and the possible ramifications, including facing subpoena and testifying under oath, it just might be a signal for the Winter Soldiers to get a second legal opinion, or another attorney for the appeal. Of course, we are not privy to confidential communications between lawyers and clients.

Update:

The National Lawyers Guild writes:

Dear Editor American Thinker:

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) has existed since 1937 and is an organization of progressive lawyers, law students, legal workers and jailhouse lawyers. Individual lawyers who are members of the National Lawyers Guild are retained on cases in the same way that any other lawyer is retained on a case. An NLG member is in no way constrained by, or directed by, the national organization. To the extent that anyone states or implies differently he or she is woefully misinformed.

The implication in your article that an individual client would be sacrificed on the altar of a "cause" is incorrect and libelous. It is interesting that your magazine does not (and could not) point to even one instance where this has occurred. The truth is that individual NLG members have conducted legal work of the highest caliber, recognized by bar associations all across the country, in the areas of civil rights, labor law, immigration, and criminal defense. More information on the NLG can be obtained on the internet at www.nlg.org.

Sincerely,

Marjorie Cohn
President

Editor's note: We have changed the wording to address the concern expressed that this item implied that an NLG lawyer might be expected to sacrifice a client's interest. We presume that NLG lawyers, like all lawyers, are expected put their clients' interests first. We aplogize if we contributed to any misunderstanding on this point.

In 1971 the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) held their Winter Soldier Investigation (WSI) during which over one hundred members told often lurid stories of war crimes and atrocities they had witnessed or participated in during the war. The event led to young John Kerry's testimony before Senator Fulbright's Foreign Relations Committee to the effect that such behavior was widespread and routine.

None of those who testified faced any charges for crimes they claimed to have committed or witnessed and had not reported at the time, most likely owing in large part to the inability of the military investigators to substantiate that any of the claims were true other than one which had already been under investigation before WSI. Neither, however, were the testifiers put under oath where their claims could subject them to charges of perjury if not true.

The Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), formed with the assistance of the older VVAW, is holding its own WSI this week near Washington D.C. (Mar 13-16), patterned after its 1971 namesake.

Writing in Winter Soldiers on Slippery Slope to Haditha, Nathaniel R. Helms and David Allender point out that the law has changed since 1971, when the legal ramifications were more of a grey area:

"Lawyers watching the events say the former warriors who participate in Winter Soldier II face a different world than their Vietnam-era counterparts. A new law adopted in 2000 puts them at risk of prosecution by the federal government... the IVAW member's desire to 'tell the truth' about the war in Iraq carries with it possible heavy consequences because doing so expose the veterans to possible prosecution under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA)."

One IVAW member identified by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Citypages only as "Jen" (and who may be Jen Spranger, of the IVAW Milwaukee chapter), has claimed to have poisoned Iraqi detainees and will likely "testify" at WSI. 

Members of IVAW relying on the National Lawyers' Guild for legal protection should remember that the NLG is an ideological group. A presumed propaganda victory for time in jail might help the "cause" ! If the NLG attorneys have not informed IVAW's testifiers of MEJA and the possible ramifications, including facing subpoena and testifying under oath, it just might be a signal for the Winter Soldiers to get a second legal opinion, or another attorney for the appeal. Of course, we are not privy to confidential communications between lawyers and clients.

Update:

The National Lawyers Guild writes:

Dear Editor American Thinker:

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) has existed since 1937 and is an organization of progressive lawyers, law students, legal workers and jailhouse lawyers. Individual lawyers who are members of the National Lawyers Guild are retained on cases in the same way that any other lawyer is retained on a case. An NLG member is in no way constrained by, or directed by, the national organization. To the extent that anyone states or implies differently he or she is woefully misinformed.

The implication in your article that an individual client would be sacrificed on the altar of a "cause" is incorrect and libelous. It is interesting that your magazine does not (and could not) point to even one instance where this has occurred. The truth is that individual NLG members have conducted legal work of the highest caliber, recognized by bar associations all across the country, in the areas of civil rights, labor law, immigration, and criminal defense. More information on the NLG can be obtained on the internet at www.nlg.org.

Sincerely,

Marjorie Cohn
President

Editor's note: We have changed the wording to address the concern expressed that this item implied that an NLG lawyer might be expected to sacrifice a client's interest. We presume that NLG lawyers, like all lawyers, are expected put their clients' interests first. We aplogize if we contributed to any misunderstanding on this point.