Inside The Pentagon
by Elaine M. Grossman
June 24, 2004
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Senate Passes Measure To Strengthen JAGs
Amendment would give JAGs a third star
The Senate on June 15 passed a provision giving the military’s most senior attorneys a boost in rank from two to three stars.
Proponents argue the higher rank would allow the Army, Navy and Air Force judge advocate generals a stronger voice inside the Pentagon.
The idea had been in the works for more than a year. But it took on new urgency following revelations that uniformed attorneys felt their legal concerns about U.S. military conduct in prisoner interrogations from Iraq to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, went unheeded, sources said (Inside the Pentagon, May 27, p1).
The amendment to the fiscal year 2005 defense authorization bill — sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), an Air Force Reserve colonel and attorney — also seeks to ensure civilian general counsels cannot wrest day-to-day control over the JAG corps from the services’ top military lawyers. Passed by unanimous consent, the measure was part of a package of amendments the Senate approved “en bloc.” The Senate continues to debate other amendments to the bill this week.
The new bill language calls the top JAGs “the legal adviser” to the secretary and chief of staff in each service. For the first time, the proposed law would spell out that for all three services, the top JAG would “direct and supervise the members of the judge advocate general’s corps and civilian attorneys” employed by the service, outside of those assigned to the general counsel’s office.
Advocates say such moves are necessary in light of attempts over the years by White House-appointed service secretaries — most recently in the Air Force under President Bush — to strengthen the hand of civilian general counsels in directing the respective top military attorneys and their JAG corps. Although many seek to ensure that appropriate civilian control is exercised over the military in legal matters, some former judge advocates complain general counsels typically have too little understanding of field units to intervene in those issues.
Graham’s amendment does not increase the total quantity of three-star general or flag officers the services may maintain, suggesting the military would have to eliminate three such slots elsewhere to compensate for the new JAG ranks.
To become law, the measure must first get through a conference with the House, which has not passed any similar bill language. If the provision surmounts that hurdle, it would be sent up to the president as part of the defense authorization bill.
— Elaine M. Grossman