Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 03.14.15
Just Outside Washington


Equal Justice Under American Law?

General David Petraeus is a highly decorated four-star general who served over 37 years in the United States Army. He was Commanding General, Multi-National Force -- Iraq, Commander, U.S. Central Command, and Commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1974 and was a distinguished cadet (top 5 percent of his class). He also earned a Ph.D. degree in international relations in 1987 from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. General Petraeus is a smart and capable guy.

But General Petraeus screwed up. And it looks like he will receive a slap on the wrist.

General Petraeus, like many officers in the military, had a security clearance and access to classified information. It has been a long time since my Top Secret clearance lapsed but I still vividly remember the rules we operated under when dealing with classified information. They were:

  • Do not take classified information out of secure locations;

  • Do not give classified information to anyone without the proper clearance;

  • Do not give classified information to anyone without a Need to Know.
There were other rules but you get the idea.

General Petraeus violated all three of these rules, if you can believe what has been in the media. For these transgressions he has cut a deal with the Department of Justice for pleading guilty.

The consequence is two years probation and a $40,000 fine. [Retirement pay for a four star general with 38 years of service is something over $200,000 for the rest of his or her life. $40,000 is peanuts.]

In contrast, Bradley Manning was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison, reduction in rank to private (private E-1 or PVT), forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a dishonorable discharge.

In both of the cases, the goal of sharing classified information was to publish it. In General Petraeus' case it was for self-serving reasons, to include in his biography. In Bradley Manning's case it was for the good of the country, or so he claims.

The outcomes appear to me to show gross inequality. You may make a variety of arguments to justify this: Manning released more pages; Manning's material was more secret; Manning had a malicious intent; Patraeus was confused because he was sexually involved; etc, etc, etc.

Equal justice under law was carved into the west pediment of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington DC. And forgotten.