The Saga of Our Son, Lt. Commander John Sharpe

For those of you who have not been aware of this “saga,” we thought you might like to know of the U.S. Navy’s proceedings against John Sharpe, an active duty Lt. Cmdr. who edited two collections of essays (the “Neo-CONNED” volumes, which include essays by the editors of CounterPunch) condeming the war in Iraq based upon the Christian Just-War Doctrine and the western tradition of domestic and international law. Due to these proceedings, John is facing formal reprimand and possible dismissal from the service.

Here’s the latest on the Naval investigation.

John was notified, on May 2, by the staff Judge Advocate General (Legal Officer) of his ship, the USS CARL VINSON, that the investigation – technically called a “preliminary inquiry” – was completed. All this time, contrary to what we were initially led to believe by various comments made by John’s superiors (i.e., his Commanding Office (CO) and Executive Officer (XO)), the investigation amounted simply to this JAG reading through the volumes of material – articles, books, etc. – that John has over the years edited, written, or promoted.

As a result of this inquiry, no charges of any kind were brought relating either to Navy Regulation 1167, banning supremacist activity, or to any of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) provisions against “Conduct Unbecoming” and other “general” kinds of banned activity (see UCMJ, Articles 133 and 134). At least the SPLC has, on this score, lost round one.

The JAG did, however, present John with official notice that he was being summoned to a non-judicial punishment (NJP) hearing, which is a formal but non-judicial (i.e. it is not a trial and not in a courtroom, and does not result in criminal “convictions”) tribunal that military commanders are authorized by UCMJ Article 15 to convene for alleged misconduct by members of their commands. The allegation against John which was to be heard at the NJP hearing was 6 instances (they call them “specifications”) of an offense against UCMJ Article 88. The Article says:

Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Though the Article refers to court-martial, Article 15 of the UCMJ allows punishment of “minor” offenses via NJP.

The six specifications were:

1) A quote by John in an internet newsletter of an allegedly contemptuous article Sam Francis wrote in the days following 9/11;

2) and 3) comments John made to Meria Heller in an Internet interview on May 17, 2006;

4), 5), and 6): Editorial comments that were included in the books on the Iraq war that John edited (see

John had two weeks to prepare a defense to present before meeting with the CO of the ship, whose bio is here, if anyone’s interested.

During those two weeks he talked several times with the ship’s JAG (who was not able to advise him as he represented the Government), met with Navy defense attorneys (although this involved sitting in a waiting room for hours at a time, since NJP does not entitle you to Defense Counsel – you just have to go to the “customer service” desk at the nearby legal service office, and take a number!), and hired Gary Myers, James Culp & Associates, Washington, D.C., attorneys who specialize in military law and were recommended by friends who have recently taken an interest in John’s case.

John’s defense revolved around 4 or 5 main points.

1. Statute of Limitations. No act committed more than two years before the date of punishment may be punished. The publication date of the Iraq war books was April 2005, and the statement by Sam Francis (that John didn’t even write, and which referred not to the President but to former President Clinton) was dated Sep. 16, 2001.

2. Endorsement. John was alleged to have made contemptuous remarks simply by commenting on statements made by other people that were allegedly contemptuous. This is outside the bounds of Article 88.

3. Previous action. When John worked at the Pentagon, one of our fellow traditionalists (sadly) denounced him as a traitor for having been involved with books critical of the war on Iraq. This triggered an investigation in November of 2005 by the Navy Inspector General (IG), who reports directly to the Secretary of the Navy. In this investigation, the IG found one possible violation of Article 88, which wasn’t one of the phrases brought up in this current action. Aside from that, IG (who is a three-star Admiral) concluded that the books were “reasoned and academic” and that LCDR Sharpe was simply exercising his first-amendment rights under the constitution.

In response to this report, John’s then-boss, the Navy Chief of Information (CHINFO) issued a non-punitive letter of caution, reprimanding John (informally – not in a document that went into his record) for having edited books commenting on the war and potentially containing statements contravening Article 88 of the UCMJ. John was not ordered to destroy the books, have the publisher cease selling them, or modify their contents in any way.

John’s defense, therefore, as regarded the three charges relating to content from these books, was that he was already investigated, moderately reprimanded, and the matter required no further action as he did not transgress against the reprimand or commit the same alleged offense.

4. There were a number of other defenses, such as the fact that the 2005 Manual for Courts Martial bans prosecution of officers for criticism, that is not personally contemptuous, of officials named in Article 88 made in the context of a political discussion. Other aspects of John’s conduct he attempted to defend as an exercise of religious expression protected under Amendment 1 of the U.S. Constitution.

All this and more, with exhibits and evidence, was submitted to Capt. Carter on Tuesday, May 15. On Wednesday, May 16, John stood before the Captain at his NJP hearing. The Capt. dismissed four of the charges for various reasons (which he didn’t identify – but one presumes that the Statute of Limitations prevailed for the first charge and the “endorsement” argument for the other) and found him “guilty” (technically it is a “finding of misconduct,” since NJP does not formally decide “guilt or innocence”) of the other two. The punishment he was awarded was a formal letter of reprimand that will go in John’s record. This will stop any future promotions, and it may even form the basis for the initiation of a Board of Inquiry at the Bureau of Naval Personnel, which could convene to examine whether John should be ejected from the Navy.

Of the two specifications in which “misconduct” was found, one was one of the two comments from the Internet interview with Meria Heller. The relevant (in brief) transcript of his conversation that was allegedly “contemptuous” follows:

Meria: Right, well you know, I think that a lot of, you know, Christians or Catholics, or maybe all the Christians, who knows, really think and, and, more so here in America I’m sure, really think that if it comes between, you know, their conscience and whatever their government asks, that they should have obedience to their government first, you know, and that always makes me think of, you know, what about, you know, paying back Caesar’s things to Caesar, and God’s things to God.

John S: Right, yeah, I mean, it’s fine to give Caesar his due but they forget the whole other side of the equation and ah, and ah the one interesting thing we run across so much in the research and reading that we do is you will have, ah, very savvy commentators, I think, say, yea, people use that render to Caesar what’s Caesar’s thing, only to emphasize one side of the question. Ah, and the statement itself doesn’t really answer the question, as to what if God’s aims and Caesar’s aims are in conflict. I mean, that’s, at the end of the day where the real, you know, rubber meets the road in terms of having to make a decision where do your priorities lie? Who do you, who do you give, who do you give, ah, allegiance to? And this argument that well a Christian is obligated to obey the civil authorities, yea, that’s fine if you’re talking parking tickets. But, but ah, not when you’re commanded to take people’s lives in war when, when it’s case is obviously ah, you know, unjust and there is no just cause which is, which is the fundamental criteria for a just war, is there’s got to be a just cause. And if there’s no just cause, you have no business killing anyone and if fact, the people who really call a spade a spade will say very candidly, that any killing in war that’s not a just war is murder, whether you like it or not. It’s a sad thing to say, but, ah, at the end of the day, the support our troops thing has to give way to what am I going to do when I stare God in the face, you know, after the end of my life and He says, hey, you murdered all those Iraqis, “Oh, well, George Bush said.,” I mean, I don’t know that that’s going to be a persuasive answer when ah, when you’re standing before the throne of Judgment.

It seems that these days a military officer is not permitted to voice his concerns over whether or not his actions will be deemed acceptable to God on the Day of Judgment. In the letter of reprimand, the Capt. boiled down John’s discussion to an accusation that John claimed the President ordered soldiers to “murder Iraqis,” and he found evidence of contempt in that alleged claim.

The second charge in which misconduct was found had to do with – notwithstanding the obvious statute of limitations issue – an “Editors’ Gloss” in Neo-CONNED! Again which introduced an article on international law and the war in Iraq by legal scholars John Burroughs and Nicole Deller. The full Editors’ Gloss is below:

On September 12, 2002, President Bush asked the UN General Assembly, in reference to Iraq: “Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? . . . We want the resolutions of the world’s most important multilateral body to be enforced.” A year and a half later, when it was more than clear that the WMD and al-Qaeda charges were essentially devoid of substance, neoconservatives like George Weigel scrambled to piece together a persuasive justification for the war in Iraq. On April 21, 2004, he asked himself this hypothetical question: ” . . . if you knew then what you know now, would you have made the same call?” His answer:

We know some things now that we also knew then. We know Saddam Hussein was in material breach of the “final” UN warning, Resolution 1441; his formal response to 1441 was a lie. We know he had the scientists, the laboratories, and the other necessary infrastructure for producing weapons of mass destruction [WMD]. We know he was seeking longrange ballistic missiles (again in defiance of the UN) to deliver biological, chemical, and perhaps nuclear weapons.

This obsession with UN requirements is hypocritical at best, given the willingness of both Bush administration officials and its supporters (like Weigel) to ignore the more binding statues of the UN: that is to say, its founding Charter. References to resolution after resolution (not to mention the oil-for-food “scandal” which sent neocons into orbit because Saddam and others allegedly had the temerity to ignore the requirements of a UN-managed program) ring a little hollow when regime-change advocates ignore the Charter’s Article 2, which reads: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” As international law scholars Nicole Deller and John Burroughs make perfectly clear (in this expanded and updated iteration of an article originally appearing in the Winter 2003 Human Rights), it is the Charter that governs relations between nations that have signed and ratified it, and the force of any Security Council resolution must always be understood in light of the document of positive international law that gives those resolutions whatever force they possess.

So how credible is it for Bush and Co. to run roughshod over the UN Charter and then maintain that their regime-change operation was based upon their unilateral enforcement of UN decrees? “Hypocrisy” is not even the half of it.

Here John was adjudged to have committed misconduct in the words comprising the last paragraph of the Gloss.

John had until Friday May 25, (Feast of Pope St. Gregory VII), to appeal these findings to the Commander, Naval Air Forces, Atlantic, the Capt.’s boss. He and his attorneys are working on the appeal as we write, which will focus on the obvious Statute of Limitations issue, the effective “double jeopardy” of issuing counseling that is adhered to and then issuing a formal reprimand for the same action, and the obvious misunderstanding the Capt. had of John’s remarks to Meria, not to mention the clear religious-freedom issue involved in the right of a Catholic to express his belief that morally and objectively speaking, killing in an unjust war is murder. To offer just a single of numerous examples, as the Catholic theologian and Dominican Dominic Bañez wrote, following the complete tradition of thinkers within the Church on principles of war and peace,

“[T]he state that wishes to declare war must not entertain a single doubt, the justifying reasons must be clearer than day. A declaration of war is equivalent to a sentence of death; to pronounce the latter with a doubtful conscience is murder.”

As John’s parents, our take is that the war in Iraq is as evil as it can be. The death and maiming of our men and women on an almost daily basis causes us great grief, as does the death and injury to the thousands of Iraqis. There may be just wars, but this is not one of them as has been proven over and over again. We find it an honor for our son to be used as a spokesman for truth. And we will fight for that truth with him as fortitude provides. We ask you to join us in the fight and keep John and his family in your prayers.

If you have any questions, please holler. Be assured we will forward you the results of the next installment as soon as we have them. Meanwhile, the outcome is in the hands of God.

God bless.

Judith and John Sharpe are the parents of Lt. Cmd. J. Forrest (John) Sharpe.