Wednesday, February 11, 2004

AWOL: The other shoe

The news on the AWOL front is breaking all around, with the story unfolding in ways that could perhaps have been expected. As Atrios and Kevin Drum at Calpundit have reported, this morning's Dallas Morning News quoted former Guardsman Bill Burkett regarding the "scrubbing" of Bush's military record he says he witnessed:
Retired National Guard Lt. Col. Bill Burkett said Tuesday that in 1997, then-Gov. Bush's chief of staff, Joe Allbaugh, told the National Guard chief to get the Bush file and make certain "there's not anything there that will embarrass the governor."

Col. Burkett said that a few days later at Camp Mabry in Austin, he saw Mr. Bush's file and documents from it discarded in a trash can. He said he recognized the documents as retirement point summaries and pay forms.

Bush aides denied any destruction of records in Mr. Bush's personnel file. "The charges are just flat-out not true," said Dan Bartlett, White House communications director.

I've reported in detail on Burkett's story previously (here and here). Nonetheless, I think Kevin Drum's caveats are well worth heeding. (FWIW, I've been trying for the past week to contact Burkett to interview him and have not had any success tracking him down.)

Regardless, the story is moving in largely the right direction. The press, hot on the heels of answering the key question (Why won't Bush release his records?) I raised a little while back, is now avidly wondering about the next question (Was there tampering with the records that we have?), though none of them so far have tackled the significance of the "torn document."

So now maybe it's time for them to ask the next logical question:
What about the Flight Inquiry Board?

As I mentioned some time ago, one of the hard facts we know about the case is that Bush blew off his required physical and was suspended from flight duty. This has some serious implications:
The reality is servicemen do not ordinarily have the option of deciding whether or not to attend drills. They do not typically have the option of shortening their commitment to the task for which they have been trained based solely on their own assessments of where they fit into the scheme of things. Those decision are made by their superiors. Moreover, the military considers the training of its personnel to be a significant asset that it protects, particularly for high-skill positions like jet-fighter pilots. This training is expensive, and pilots' status -- particularly their availability for potential combat -- is a carefully monitored commodity.

Moreover, as Bob Rogers has pointed out:
In the Air National Guard, expensively trained pilots are not casually suspended. There is normally a Flight Inquiry Board, which exercises the military chain of command's obligation to insure due process. If one had been convened, its three senior officer members would have documented why such a severe action was justified in relation to the country's military objectives at the time, as opposed to the simple desire of a trained pilot to just "give up flying".

In the event of serious misconduct, such as substance abuse, a Flight Inquiry Board would have determined the appropriate punishment. The punishments could have included temporary or permanent 'grounding,' a career-damaging letter of reprimand, forced reenlistment in the US Army with active duty in Vietnam, or a less-than honorable discharge.

In fact, there is no evidence now in the public domain that a Flight Inquiry Board was convened to deal with Bush's official reclassification to a non-flying, grounded status. However, the records of such a Board would not be subject to an ordinary FOIA request because of privacy protections under FOIA.

This absence of a Flight Inquiry Board is of particular interest to veteran pilots who are intimately familiar with normal disciplinary procedures. In the absence of Bush's releasing his complete service record, the implication is that Bush's misconduct in regards to "his failure to accomplish annual medical examination" was handled like everything else in his military service: aided and abetted by powerful family connections with total disregard for the needs of the military as well as Bush's solemn oath.

This point is especially relevant in light of Kevin Drum's great work at Calpundit, in which he obtained a copy of the "untorn document" -- whose dates, he also found, don't match up with actual service dates in Alabama -- and uncovered that it may actually demonstrate that Bush was placed, after his suspension, in the Air Reserve Forces, which would indicate he had been punished by his superiors.

And that punishment, in fact, may well be what Bush is trying to hide here, since it would be an embarrassing blemish on any Commander in Chief's record. That's why the questions about the Flight Inquiry Board -- Was one called? If not, why not? If so, why haven't we seen these records? -- are so important.


REFERENCE NOTE: For the sake of handiness, I've decided to compile chronologically all my posts dealing with the AWOL issue (or in which it is brought up). The first one dates back to May (though my involvement in this story dates back to 2000, when I tried pitching it, unsuccessfully, to my bosses at MSNBC and the editors at Salon):

Flyboy Bush

Bush the Liar

Bush the 'Deserter'

AWOL Bush: Debunked? Hardly!

A quick question

Howling about AWOL

All AWOL all the time

Drip drip drop


AWOL again

AWOL: The next question, please

An AWOL aphorism

Talkin' AWOL

Tim Russert goes AWOL

No comments: