Friday, September 14, 2007

Webster Smith, battered but unbowed.
Denzel Washington? Or Tyrese Gibson? Who would you cast in the lead role?
So here's how David Collins sees the Webster Smith story, as it seems to be shaping up for the inevitable major motion picture.

Webster's the handsome, smart, young Black cadet at the Coast Guard Academy, son of an academy graduate, excellent student, star of the football team.

He's also a ladies' man, and in time he's dating one of the ranking female students of the cadet corps, also smart, beautiful, a darling of the academy brass. She's white.

She gets pregnant, has an abortion, and, eventually, news of the unfortunate development in their affair works its way up the ranks. Leaders in the cadet corps are not supposed to get pregnant.

It doesn't take long for an academy investigation to come down hard on Smith, bringing a wide assortment of charges, including rape. He's taken out of the cadet population, made to do hard labor while not in class and ordered not to have any contact with his fellow students. Presumed innocent?

Smith is eventually brought to court-martial, a public spectacle, the first of its kind in the school's 130-year history. No other cadet has ever faced this kind of response to a sexual-assault complaint. And there are lots of them every year, by the Coast Guard's own accounting.

Of the numerous charges finally whittled down to 10 for his trial, Smith is found guilty of four of the original. The others melt away with the preposterousness of much of the testimony: a witness, his girlfriend at the time, so intoxicated she couldn't remember what happened in an encounter with Smith; another who was kissed at a party but continued a friendly, budding relationship with him.

In a fade-away scene from the trial, a tearful Smith, in dress uniform, his wrists cinched in tight cuffs behind his back, is led past his accusers and paraded before a pack of press photographers.

As the story turns, though, the convictions come under attack in an appeal brought by one of the country's most prestigious law firms, which appears to have taken up the case as a pro bono civil rights cause.

It turns out the only sexual assault charges against Smith that stuck came from a woman who had lied in the past about the consensual nature of another sexual encounter with a service person. But the judge at Smith's court-martial did not let the jury hear testimony about the witness's previous lie about being sexually assaulted.

It doesn't take a Hollywood story line or smart Washington lawyers to conclude that Webster Smith was railroaded, a 21st-century lynching.

The Coast Guard surely knows this.

Rear Adm. James C. Van Sice was transferred from his post as superintendent of the academy soon after the Smith trial and allowed to retire early. An internal Coast Guard investigation later revealed that Van Sice had made “questionable” comments to one of Smith's accusers, prior to the court martial, suggesting the detrimental effect the trial was going to have on his own career.

A task force formed by the Coast Guard in the wake of the trial concluded that the academy has lost its mission, that there is a strong link at the school between sexual assault and alcohol abuse, and that minority cadets feel marginalized and mistrusting of the administration.

Sadly, this post-mortem reckoning and disciplining of academy leaders has not yet helped clear Webster Smith's name.

Just this week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security dismissed a racial discrimination suit brought by Smith on what amounted to a technicality. The department, which oversees the Coast Guard, said he couldn't challenge the findings of the military court martial through the civilian complaint forum.

Actually, the racial discrimination complaint was not directed at the outcome of the court-martial, but at the fact that he was court-martialed at all, unlike all the white cadets before him accused of sexual assault.

An academy spokesman, Chief Warrant Officer David M. French, made matters worse by saying that the Homeland Security decision “validates” the school's actions in the Webster Smith case. In fact, it does no such thing.

By the time the final movie script is finished, though, maybe the academy stonewalling will have stopped and Smith, as the music swells, will finally step up, in full dress uniform, to receive his academy degree, a commission, and maybe even an apology.



Blogger ichbinalj said...

Posted - 9/14/2007 7:25:05 AM
Thanks for the succinct, thorough recap of the "military justice" in the Webster Smith trial. I hope the attorneys at the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Liberties have read it.
Old Lyme, CT
- 9/14/2007 7:41:22 AM

10:23 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

Posted - 9/14/2007 9:21:46 PM
The person who knows the real truth is Captain Wisniewski. Interesting enough he was moved to a desk job in Washington. He was also passed up for Admiral. Why? Van Sice was moved into early retirement. Why? Both men will answer one day to a higher being.
Susan Stopper
Cherry Hill, New Jersey

4:59 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

Posted - 9/14/2007 10:35:11 AM
The only travesty in the Smith case is that the female cadets involved weren't brought up on charges also. You think that the Smith trial was fed by racism but, my guess is that you're one of those left-wing, liberal journalists who was screaming for the heads of the Duke Lacrosse players without hearing any of the facts.
Waterford, CT

5:02 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

Posted - 9/14/2007 4:59:56 AM
Mr. Collins: You are extremely out of line and misinformed about the facts and procedures in this case. You obviously were not part of the media that covered this case. You want the facts see the New York Times account, see (formerly of the AP) Matt Apuzzo's account, see your paper's own account. Do not make up the facts to advance your own - or the Smith's family's - version of the events. I will not take the time to dispute each individual flaw in your article - but for example, there wasn't one member of the media near Mr. Smith when he led out of the courtroom -- and the "hard labor" you mention was painting and cleaning sailboats -- an assigned duty for many at the CG Academy. Mr. Smith was convicted by a panel of independent officers of indecent assault, sodomy, extortion, being absent from his assigned watch, and attempted violation of an order. Having read your other articles, it is clear you have an agenda.
An informed party
New London, CT

5:07 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

Posted - 9/14/2007 3:19:18 PM
The above comment was a great return fire by the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Call AP's Matt Apuzzo. I have spoken to him and he will concur. Call Chief Manley at Waterfront and ask about Smith's daily tasks. The Smith Family has frequently avoided press coverage so that coverage would not be biased by their words. Bottom Line: one day, an officer at the academy will have the integrity to speak up. The Tatooed Warrant Officer will have the integrity to remain silent. And Black Cadets will no longer be afraid to report a fellow cadet finding a noose in his bag, on The CGC Barque Eagle. Ask David French to address the way the handled that situation.
An Informed Party
New London, CT

5:10 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

Posted - 9/14/2007 4:40:35 PM
Informed Party: If Mr. Collins was "extremely out of line" for referring to painting and cleaning sailboats as hard labor and for misrepresenting that the media was hoarding Webster outside the court room, how would you classify the Coast Guard ruining Webster's lifelong dream for "crimes" that many white cadets have committed before Webster and will continue to committ? I am white and firmly believe that if I had been in Webster's position I would have graduated with the rest of my class. Our country deserves to have Webster Smith defending it. That is the truth.
Houston, TX

5:11 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

Posted - 9/14/2007 3:03:23 PM
The drinking and sex with another cadet in and of themself were enough to expel Smith and the "victim" from the CGA. Just because the CGA has never had a General Court Martial in the past is no excuse not to have one in this case. It does point out the fact that they may have been too lax in the past. Perhaps that will change and they will take offenses more seriously in the future. Informed Party has it right in the earlier comments. It seems that Mr. Collins has an agenda, "anti-military" I would expect. How sad being that he lives and works in a military (USN/USCG) community. The Day is to be commended for its coverage and fairness in this and other reporting relating to military matters.
david irons

5:18 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

In a court of law, when an attorney has a good case, and the law and facts are on his side, he will pound on the law. If his case is weak, but the facts are on his side, he will pound on the facts. If neither the law nor the facts are favorable to him, he will pound on the table. If he has a hopeless case, then he will simply attack the opposition, or the judge, or anyone with a difference of opinion. In this case, a personal attack on the integrity of David Collins is a good example of the latter.

11:53 AM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

Word on the street is that "Mr Informed Party" is none other than CWO David French, the Coast guard Academy Public Information Officer. That being the case, why is he hiding behind a pseudonym? Why would he want to conceal his identity? He should come out from the shadows and identify himself. He should take credit for his work. If the Academy's Official spokesman wants to take shots at Op-Ed writers, he should do so in the sunshine, not in the shadows. It gives the impression that he does not truly stand behind what he says and thinks.

12:35 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

Doug Wisniewski is at the bottom of the List. He is the "anchor man" on the Rear Admiral's Selection List. That is a List, I am sure, Doug does not care about being at the bottom of. After all, that is the only reason he is still hanging around. He wants to see if the wind has shifted. He thinks that enough bigots and twisted souls will be on the Selection Board to promote him to the rarified level of "Assistant God".
He assumes that there must be someone out there who thinks his tour at the Academy was the Academy's Finest Hour. After all, what did he do that they would not have done, if they had been in his position? All he did was frame a Black senior cadet, suborn perjury, publicly lambast an innocent man before the entire Corps of Cadets, flagrantly disregard the Uniform Code of Military Justice, coordinate a kangaroo court, ruin the reputation of the Coast Guard Academy, violate the civil and constitutional rights of an innocent cadet, taint the reputations of several female graduates, drag the Academy through the mud, upset the Alumni, give the news media the impression that all Coast Guard officers are jerks, and get the Superintendent fired. That's not a bad piece of work for a man who wants to be Commandant. What about it, Admiral Thad Allen, are you prepared to hand the reins of "absolute power" to Doug Wisniewski? Or is there a female (VC)(Vice-Commandant, Vivien Crea) more deserving? Afterall, the torch has been passed to a new gender! No?

12:52 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

On Sept 24 a Suppl RDML Selection Board will convene. There are 200 names on the List, from Dan Abel to Doug Wisniewski. Only 4 will be selected. Many are called, but few are chosen. Wow!!
Christine D. Balboni is number 5 on the List. She is a living and breathing symbol that the System works, sometimes. She won her case. She was vendicated. She was redeemed.
There are 8, possibly 9, women on the List. Considering what Doug Wisniewski has done for women, I am sure he would not mind being passed over a second time so a deserving women can be promoted to Rear Admiral.
However, can you imagine a fully qualified male captain, or even "Best Qualified" captain being passed over so Wisniewski can be promoted to RADM? All those guys and gals with perfect records, who never once caused a flap or a public embarrassment for the Coast Guard, are wondering if Doug may still be rewarded for the excellent work he did in the Webster Smith case. If Doug is promoted, every single one of the 194 captains who got passed over, should immediate resign their commission in protest. After all, they would have just been given the greatest insult one could ever imagine, and they would have received the greatest "no confidence" vote in the history of the Coast Guard. Or, if they are in a positio to do so, they should all go out and find a Black cadet to court-martial. Maybe that would improve their chances for selection the next time around. Doug will have proven that patience is a virtue, and the "stuff" not only happens, but it always rises to the top, in this man's outfit.

1:15 PM  

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