News Briefs – January 13, 2016


Classified documents prompt wrangling in Bowe Bergdahl case

An Army judge is considering how to handle thousands of documents — many of them classified — that will be part of the case against a soldier who walked off an outpost in Afghanistan.
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl appeared Jan. 12 before Col. Jeffery Nance, an Army judge, for the pretrial hearing at Fort Bragg, N.C. He faces charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
Prosecutor Capt. Michael Petrusic estimated the discovery process could involve more than 300,000 pages.
The judge is preparing an order that will shape how the defense can use classified information to prepare its case.
Defense attorney Lt. Col. Frank Rosenblatt argued the prosecution’s desired approach would place obstacles in front of Bergdahl’s lawyers.
Bergdah’s military trial is expected to start this summer. AP

Cuba to attend security conference with U.S. for first time

A U.S. military official says Cuba will attend an annual Caribbean security conference for the first time in another sign of normal relations between the long-hostile nations.
Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly says Cuba has accepted an invitation to send a delegation to the Caribbean Nations Security Conference. The three-day event co-hosted by U.S. Southern Command will be this month in Jamaica. Most countries in the region usually take part with the exception of Cuba and Venezuela. The conference focuses on co-operation against drug trafficking and other crime.
Cuba was invited due to the agreement establishing normal relations with the U.S. Kelly portrayed it as a significant development Jan. 12 in an interview marking the end of his leadership of Southern Command. The Cuban government had no immediate comment. AP

Philippine court OKs pact allowing U.S. troops in local camps

The Philippine Supreme Court Jan. 12 declared as constitutional a defense pact that allows American forces, warships and planes to temporarily base in local military camps, in a boost to U.S. efforts to reassert its presence in Asia as China rises to regional dominance.
Ten of the 15 members of the high court also ruled that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which was signed by U.S. and Philippine officials in 2014 and has a 10-year lifespan, is an executive agreement that does not need Senate approval, court spokesman Theodore Te said.
“EDCA is not constitutionally infirm as an executive agreement,” Te said at a news conference after the justices’ long-awaited vote.
The ruling will bolster U.S. efforts to reassert its presence in Asia and dovetails with Philippine efforts to harness America’s help in addressing what it perceives as China’s aggressive acts in the disputed South China Sea.
Washington immediately welcomed the court’s decision, saying the defense pact is a mutually beneficial accord that will bolster both countries’ ability to respond to disasters and strengthen the Philippine military.
Left-wing activists said they would consider filing an appeal, adding that U.S. military presence won’t solve the country’s current worries over China in the disputed waters.
The Philippines has turned to Washington as it scrambled to strengthen its military, one of the most ill-equipped in Asia, to deal with an increasingly assertive China in the South China Sea.
The long-simmering disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have escalated in recent years. Tensions have been especially high since Beijing transformed seven disputed reefs into islands on which it is now constructing runways and facilities that rival claimants say can be used militarily in an already very tense region. AP

Wearing unearned military medals is free speech

A federal appeals court Jan. 11 tossed out a veteran’s conviction for wearing military medals he didn’t earn, saying it was a form of free speech protected by the Constitution.
A specially convened 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the First Amendment allows people to wear unearned military honors.
Elven Joe Swisher of Idaho was convicted in 2007 of violating the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a misdemeanor to falsely claim military accomplishments. President George W. Bush signed it into law in 2006, but the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down in 2012 as a violation of free speech protections.
Investigators looked into Swisher’s military claims after he testified at the 2005 trial of a man charged with soliciting the murder of a federal judge. Swisher wore a Purple Heart on the witness stand.
Swisher testified that David Roland Hinkson offered him $10,000 to kill the federal judge presiding over Hinkson’s tax-evasion case. Swisher said Hinkson was impressed after Swisher boasted that he killed “many men” during the Korean War.
Prosecutors say Swisher enlisted in the Marine Corps a year after the Korean War ended but was never wounded in the line of duty. Swisher was honorably discharged in 1957, and discharge documents indicate that he didn’t receive any medals, according to the 9th Circuit ruling.
During his 2007 trial, prosecutors showed the jury a photograph of Swisher wearing several military medals and awards, including the Silver Star, Navy and Marine Corps Ribbon, Purple Heart, and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a Bronze “V.”
Swisher’s attorney Joseph Horras of Boise, Idaho, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday.
After the Stolen Valor Act was struck down, Congress passed a new law making it a crime to profit financially by lying about military service. President Barack Obama signed it in 2013.
After Swisher’s conviction, Congress removed a provision making it illegal to wear unearned medals. AP

Army acting secretary steps aside; waits Senate confirmation

Acting Army Secretary Eric Fanning is stepping aside, at least temporarily, because Senate hasn’t confirmed his nomination, officials said Jan. 11.
The Army’s undersecretary, Patrick Murphy, was confirmed last week, so he will oversee the Army. Fanning is expected to step down and move into another Pentagon post for now. He would return to the Army leadership position if his nomination is approved.
President Barack Obama nominated Fanning in September. If confirmed by the Senate, he would be the nation’s first openly gay leader of a military service.
In early November, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, placed a hold on Fanning’s nomination as a protest over Obama’s ongoing campaign to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility and transfer detainees to the United States. The move was part of an effort to prevent the White House from taking executive action to close the facility.
The White House had hinted that the president might use his executive authority to shut it down and move the detainees to the U.S.
Law currently bans detainees from being transferred to U.S. soil, but a Pentagon team has looked at facilities in Kansas, South Carolina and Colorado as possible alternative detention sites.
Officials weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.
Fanning had been serving as acting undersecretary of the Army since June. The previous Army secretary, John McHugh, stepped down late last fall, and Fanning had been serving as acting secretary since then.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a written statement that Fanning agreed to step aside “as a show of comity” with the Senate and “to focus on achieving confirmation in the near future.”
Prior to that he served as special assistant to Defense Secretary Ash Carter and held senior positions in the Air Force, including undersecretary from 2013 to 2015. AP