Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Man of Great Moral Courage

It's a given; defense attorneys will say--or do--almost anything to keep their clients out of jail, even when the evidence is overwhelmingly against them.

Consider the case of RAF Flight Surgeon Malcolm Kendall-Smith. Dr. Smith refused to deploy with his unit to Iraq in 2005, claiming that the British military presence in that country is illegal, and the war "is a crime." Not impressed, Kendall-Smith's superiors brought him up on charges of disobeying orders, and refusing to prepare and train for deployment. Yesterday, a court-martial panel found him guilty on five counts, and sentenced him to eight months in the brig.

In closing arguments, Kendall-Smith's attorney (Phillip Sapsford) made an impassioned plea for his client (and his refusal to serve), describing the flight surgeon as a "man of great moral courage." However, the court wasn't impressed by that tactic; the judge ruled that the British military presence in Iraq is legal, and that members of the court martial panel should ignore the morality arguments of Kendall-Smith and his attorney.

A tip of the hat to that British military judge and the RAF officers who sat in judgment of Dr. Kendall-Smith--they certainly reached the correct verdict. The RAF flight surgeon is no moral titan--a gutless coward with a medical degree would seem to be a far more approprite description. In southern Iraq, Kendall-Smith would actually face far fewer hazards than his American colleagues in central Iraq; the Air Force-run hospital at Balad Air Base is within range of enemy mortars, yet the medical staff continues to provide world-class medical care for wounded Americans and Iraqis alike. The hospital was recently featured in an excellent Los Angeles Times series on the care of combat casualties in Iraq. Reading those articles, it was clear that the doctors and other medical specialists at Balad honor their professional oaths by put patient care ahead of politics--a priority that Kendall-Smith can't seem to grasp.

Kendall-Smith also pales in comparison to Lt Cmdr Rich Jadick, a Navy doctor who led a medical team during the Battle for Fallujah in 2004. Braving intense enemy fire, Dr. Jadick and his corpsmen helped save the lives of more than wounded 50 Marines. For his efforts, Jadick became the first military doctor with win a Bronze Star with a "V" Device (for Valor) during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Read the article on Dr. Jadick, and decide which doctor truly is a man of courage.

Dr. Kendall-Smith is a disgrace to both his profession and his uniform. When he gets out of jail, perhaps he'll move on to a more fitting position, such as staff medic at Cindy Sheehan's "Camp Casey," where he can tend to the other whack jobs who deliberately confuse morality with partisan politics.

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