“Are you ready?’ Justin and I collected our paperwork. I had defended Marines and sailors facing a lot more time or charged with much more serious crimes, yet I was more nervous than I had ever been before walking into court.
“Hope so.” I muttered. I did not have my usual confidence. It wasn’t because I didn’t believe I would give a good presentation, or that the law and facts weren’t on my side – which is the norm in criminal defense. It was because I knew that it wouldn’t matter. I had reached the inevitable conclusion that no matter what I did, the judge was not going to find the order to take the anthrax vaccine unlawful or, even a lower standard, allow us to overcome the government’s presumption of lawfulness and get in front of a jury. It simply wasn’t going to happen.
“Are you ready, Lance Corporal Stonewall?” I turned to Jason Stonewall, who sat in the chair, hands folded in his lap. He had a slight, beatific smile on his face. Jason Stonewall had four plus years of college and was a bright young man; he also had a sterling reputation as a machine-gunner. He believed in the Marine Corps, in its officers, and in its legal system.
“Yes, sir!” He stood up. Whenever Stonewall spoke, he reminded me of Cuba Gooding, Jr. He looked a bit like the actor except that Stonewall was broader in the face and chest. His voice even had the same raspy quality. I once told him this and he laughed.
“Captain S,” Stonewall began, “if anybody was ever ready for this argument, it’s you.” I wanted to say thank you, but I just smiled in return, the pinched kind, the one I knew I used to avoid having to say anything inadequate or lie. Lance Corporal Stonewall also believed in us – in Justin and me – so completely and that was what disturbed me the most. I felt like an actor in a badly written play.
“Let’s go.” We headed to the courtroom.
We took our seats, me on the inside, closest to the opposing counsel and the judge, Justin at the far end of the table, with Stonewall in between us. Just yesterday we had sat here with our expert witness, Doctor Michael Cohen, on the stand, explaining the microbiology of the anthrax vaccine in detail. While his testimony helped, it hadn’t won the day, which we knew anyway. Mike Cohen wasn’t an anthrax expert. In fact, when he first walked into my office, I pegged him as something else entirely. He had a briefcase and an inquisitive manner and he had read about my court case involving Petty Officer Ponder.
Reporter, I had thought, except something was a bit…eccentric about him. After a bit of conversation, I finally figured out he was a scientist and felt guilty. I could easily have been Mike Cohen had it not been for choices earlier in my life. I once wanted to be a research scientist and had spent the summer between my junior and senior years of high school studying astronomy at the University of Georgia under the Director of the Astronomy and Physics Department. Later, I submitted a paper based upon that research to the annual Westinghouse Science Talent Search. I came in the Top Forty in the Nation and was invited to Washington, D.C. to compete with 39 other students for some serious scholarship money. I learned two things at that week-long competition: first, that there were some incredibly smart high school scientists out there(!); second, I was not cut-out to be one of them.
Mike Cohen reminded me of some of those students. Incredibly intelligent, knowledgeable about his chosen subject matter, but not necessarily able to communicate it outside of the circle of academia to the layperson. Mike had come through when the court refused all of our experts from the states to come testify. A biology professor at the University of Maryland, he had his Ph.D. in microbiology and had offered his help in Petty Officer Ponder’s case because of his belief that the anthrax vaccine was not properly made, nor safe, and nor based upon scientifically valid data. He had Marines in his biology class who had adverse reactions form the vaccine and as a scientist, he had to investigate. I was grateful for his help, but he was just another actor in the U.S. military’s comedy of errors.
“All rise,” Captain Kolomjec intoned as the Judge came in.
After getting through the preliminaries, Judge Stone got down to business.
“Okay. Let’s talk about who should begin first. It is, after all, the government’s motion in limine, but the defense has the burden of rebutting a presumption in the government’s favor. I think we could probably cut to the chase and let the defense go first, given that presumption, unless either party objects.”
There were no objections. Major Stone turned to me.
“Sir, you have the floor.”
I stood up and moved out away from our table and out into the well, the middle of the courtroom.
“Thank you, sir. First, I would like to point out where we are and where we are going. The government has a presumption in its favor, a rebuttable presumption, which is not impossible to overcome. The defense need only put on enough evidence to overcome that presumption in order for the accused, Lance Corporal Stonewall,” I turned and gestured to Jason, who looked studious with his glasses on, “to get his day in court.”
“What’s the quantum? I mean, clearly you can rebut, but what is the quantum of evidence required?” Thankfully, I had looked into this. My law school civil and criminal procedure professor had prepared me well.
“Sir, the case law isn’t clear that it’s a preponderance, but it would certainly seem contrary to notions of fairness if it were beyond a reasonable doubt. Having analyzed this–”
“Well, is it just some evidence? A scintilla, as it were?”
“Sir, it is the defense’s opinion that procedurally this is like a motion for summary judgment in the civilian legal system. The government has essentially asked you to find that there are no genuine issues of material fact with respect to the lawfulness of the order and that the accused therefore has no right to get into court at all, sir. Thus, we find ourselves procedurally, in a similar situation to a motion for summary judgment.” I waited for the Judge’s reaction.
“In reverse, you mean.” He caught right on. That’s what I liked most about Judge Eric Stone.
“Exactly, sir – in reverse. Therefore, if the accused can show there is or are genuine issues of material fact, then the case should be allowed to go forward. Support for that, sir, comes form the case of Unger versus Ziemniak, which we think is a propos of our current circumstances.” I paused a moment to see if he was following, and as I gathered myself for the crux of this first part, Justin quietly slipped a copy of the Unger case onto the podium for me. Thank you, I mouthed silently, as I tuned to pick it up from the lectern behind me.
This was the most clever play I had, something I had labored over, discussed with other lawyers, researched, and thought was the one chance we had to win this case. I would never be able to convince the judge straight up to say the order was illegal. It would throw the entire Anthrax Vaccine Program into disarray. A military judge in some obscure outpost on the edges of the Empire – Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan – was not going to invalidate the entire DoD Anthrax program. I thought I was good, but I wasn’t that in love with my arguments. No, instead, I was simply trying to get the judge to give me one, small thing: let me put what evidence I had before a jury. I might not trust “the system” to get it right, but I did trust military juries. Even though I had only a few months as a lawyer, I had interned as a prosecutor, been a legal officer in my squadron, and been an officer for almost ten years. That experience convinced me of one ineluctable fact: Marines, especially on juries, want to do the right thing and will do so regardless of what it means to broader equities, if they’re allowed to see the evidence.
I just needed to convince the judge that we were entitled to an opportunity to at least put on some evidence to a jury.
“In Unger, sir, a female Navy Lieutenant refused a mandatory urinalysis test. Appellate case law by then had made clear the validity of the order to submit to a urinalysis in the military. There was no question about the validity of that order. Such orders had already been challenged on Fourth Amendment and a number of other grounds and failed.
Lieutenant Unger specifically challenged the validity of the provision in the military’s urinalysis program – in the written order – that required direct observation of the act of urinating into the cup. She filed a motion that the order was unlawful as a matter of law. The trial judge ruled against her and she took an extraordinary writ, an appeal of the judge’s decision, all the way to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.” Judge Stone was leaning forward, squinting, and appeared genuinely interested… or so I hoped.
“Interestingly, sir, CAAF decided against Lieutenant Unger on the lawfulness of the order. The Court said, as we would all expect, that the order was lawful. However, the Court did not dismiss her claim. Instead the Court found, essentially, that there still existed ‘genuine issues of fact’ about the circumstances under which she would be required to take the test that a jury might find violated her statutory and Constitutional rights. The Court pointed out, for example, while direct observation might be lawful, if the direct observation were required by a male, that might be an “unreasonable” seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Or, if the order in question had a procedure or was being conducted such that the observer was required to watch from within 18 inches, their face, um, right there, as it were,” I held up my hands as if I were a Hollywood director framing a shot, or at least like I had seen other people mimic, “then the Court noted that a factfinder might conclude that was unreasonable.” I had gotten through that entire exposition with no disagreements, no argument from the Bench, which could mean one of two things – either he agreed or didn’t care.
“This is exactly where we find ourselves today, sir. The defense has, under four prongs I will address in a moment, put forth sufficient evidence to show that there exist genuine issues of material fact about the lawfulness of the order. Like Lieutenant Unger, the process under which the shot is given could be viewed by a finder of fact as unlawful because of matters that the defense has submitted. This does not mean that we will win at trial. It might be that a jury decides, after hearing the defense evidence, that it still was lawful and therefore we lose. But for the purposes of this motion and whether you should find that as a matter of law the order was lawful, there exist genuine issue of material fact about the lawfulness. I would like to turn to those matters now.” Still no disagreement, so I ploughed on.
“First of all sir, we turn to 10 USSC, section 1107.” I was warmed up now and somewhere I still believed that a military judge, this military judge, might do the right thing. Justin put the statute in front and sat back down.
“Sir, there is no straight-faced argument that the anthrax vaccine is not an investigational new drug or a drug unapproved for its applied use. Those are the words of the statute. If it is either an IND or a drug unapproved for its applied use, then there is a real question about the lawfulness of the order to take the shot. You have, sir – the defense has given you in previous submissions, the 1996 application by the manufacturer of the drug that requests an amendment to the existing license to get an indication for aerosolized anthrax. This is presumptive – conclusive evidence, I would say – that the drug is an IND.” I paused and Justin slid the affidavit of Mr. Sammie Young onto the podium, another gift from Lou Michels and several other persons who were involved in fighting this back in the states. Sammie Young had been Deputy Director of the FDA during the time that AVA had been licensed and the procedures for licensing a vaccine had been developed. He simply couldn’t believe that the FDA had given the DoD a pass on the whole issue.
“The idea being why would the manufacturer put it in an IND status if you yourself, if the manufacturer, didn’t think it was an IND,” the military judge supplied.
“Exactly, sir. Also, it’s an IND because, as you can see from the affidavit of Mr. Sammie Young, former Deputy Director of the FDA, that once a company submits an IND, the drug becomes an IND thirty days after the submission when used for the purposes listed in the IND. Thus, one of the listed reasons for the IND is an aerosolized indication, if it I being used for an aerosolized indication, it’s an IND. Period.”
“Okay,” the judge held up his hand, “suppose I agree with you.”
“Yes, sir.” Suddenly this seemed to be going too well and I was wary. I had never had a time, in any real or mock proceeding where a judge began with “suppose I agree . . .” or “suppose I grant your point . . .” that ended particularly well.
“…That it’s an investigational new drug in accordance with 1107. I mean, you can put on, it appears, a lot of evidence on that and it may in fact, be the case. What I’m really interested in is why should this accused be able to, in law, use 1107 in a military court-martial?” There was a strange moment after that question, of complete Zen-like clarity, where I saw exactly where this was all leading, but my mind simply refused to acknowledge it. I had only had two of those moments of satori, of seeing into the heart of things, in my life. The first was as a troubled teenager, not long after I had run away from home, but the second one was the only other time in my life where I could recall a moment, a specific, measurable instant, where my mind simply refused to accept what I could see was about to happen: that other time, I was in a hover at one-hundred and fifty feet when the second engine on my helicopter quit and we started to lose turns on our rotor head and fallout of the sky. I felt connected across time in that instant in the courtroom, and then my mind walled it off.
The judge must have caught that something was wrong.
“I don’t mean to cut you off, but –”
“No… No, sir.”
“Your evidence in support of the argument you have just made is extensive, and it is before me to consider. And I’m telling you that I understand the logic of your argument. But I’m interested in why this accused should be able to raise that federal law in this court-martial in the absence of a direct statutory conferral of rights.”
“Yes, sir, then I’m more than happy to move on to save the court’s time.” But this was a lie, I was not more than happy. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I knew then that the case was over. I should have responded the way I immediately wanted to – “Because it’s a fucking federal law, you honor. You mean we get to ignore federal law we don’t like in courts-martial now? I can’t point out the LAW in a military court, that’s what you’re saying?” I stopped, picked up a pen off of the lectern, and pretended to write something.
Suddenly, an idea popped into my head that I hadn’t thought of before. I had been reading a ton of constitutional law and perhaps…
“I would point out, sir, that when we’re talking about substantive rights, it is the history of our country that rights are not stated in the affirmative, as in ‘you have a right to X’, but rather are listed as limitations upon the acts of others, particularly the government. For example, the Fourth Amendment doesn’t say you have a right to privacy, but instead says that you have a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The Bill of Rights, sir, is almost entirely comprised of limitations on government, not as positive statements of rights. But let’s move on to the more concrete, to 1107.” My thoughts started to coalesce.
“Okay.” He paused and wrote something down.
“First of all, the DoD has always held the position, and still does today, that ‘soldiers are citizens first’ and have the same Constitutional rights as other citizens –’”
“But that’s a non-lawyer speaking about ethics.”
“True, sir, but the rule – the law – since Nuremberg has been that informed consent is a prerequisite to experimenting on human subjects. And that was adopted into federal law, sir, at 50 U.S.C. section 1520a. It prohibits military medical experimentation.”
“But it’s not your position that the force protection argument by the government is somehow a cover for an experiment?”
“Sir, the motives may be well-intentioned –”
“– but you’re saying it could be an experiment de facto or something?”
“No, sir, I am saying it is an experiment. By definition. When you are giving someone a vaccine and you have parts of it that are, by Dr. Cohen’s testimony and the DoD’s own words ‘not well-defined’, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You have a hypothesis that this should provide some protection, but the DoD doesn’t know that. You might have a hypothesis that it doesn’t cause long-term reactions, but you don’t know that because we know there have been no long-term studies. And we also know this: we know that there is a lot of research in the peer-reviewed literature that suggests a connection to Gulf War Illness, that the vaccine causes bad things to happen to the human body, like the reaction to the amount of aluminum in the vaccine that Doctor Cohen talked about, or the high antigen load that he discussed and its possible adverse effect on the immune system.”
“So, yes, it is an experiment, sir, and unfortunately, the results aren’t in yet. And 2.4 million service members are going to be the guinea pigs.” I should have left the point there, but I couldn’t.
“We tend, sir, to put ourselves above this – we say Nuremberg was passed because of the Nazis, and we tend to forget that many of their experiments were non-lethal and some of them produced important knowledge for medicine today. But the harm is not just what was done as a result of the experiment; it’s not just the experiment, it’s that informed consent was not obtained from the human beings on the other end of the needle. That itself is the harm.” The judge’s face told me all I needed to know; he thought I was loony. We had had this same argument in Ponder’s case since he was the same judge for all three anthrax refusal cases. His view was that the Nuremberg Code applied to Nazis, not “good guys” in the U.S. military. I decided to move on.
“Now, sir, why does 1107 apply is the real question?”
“Well, not necessarily ‘why.’ Let’s assume that Congress wanted consent to be derived in this class of drugs.”
“And that does seem reasonable. I’m with you that Congress wanted to have an informed consent procedure in place.”
“It’s an individual right, sir. It doesn’t belong to the Secretary of Defense.” He held up his hand.
“Why should this court not assume that they were putting constraints on the Secretary of Defense? Why should I assume that they weren’t – I mean, what is the intended mechanism of enforcement? It’s silent on it. You’re asking this court to believe – or to infer – that the mechanism to enforce or uphold this right – is to judicially confer rights upon the accused. That is, recognizing the matter on paper and allowing a defendant to use this law to defend himself against such an inoculation.” I was confused. To this day I still am.
“To read it otherwise, sir, is to put a strained interpretation on it. Because what else can be done? What else can this person do when they are told to take a drug that is clearly investigational, or experimental? If it is interpreted to mean that it confers nothing to service members, the SecDef could order them injected with anything – arsenic – as long as he thinks it’s a good force protection measure. What do they do in the meantime? Go to jail while they wait for Congress to hold the SecDef in contempt of Congress?”
There were a lot better, more eloquent arguments. As I sit here today, I can think of several. But I was spent. I could hear my own incredulity. I could not believe that the judge was saying that if a military order that violates a federal law, even if you can prove it violates federal law, unless that law says specifically that the law is meant or allowed to be used in courts-martial, he simply wouldn’t look at it.
I felt like a drowning man who knows he is too far from shore to make it, but swims on anyway because of the organism’s instinct for survival. I argued on, but it was fruitless. We took a recess. Back in my office, I fell into my chair.
“Dale, I think that was one of the best arguments I’ve seen.” Justin patted me on the back. I appreciated the compliments, but I had a feeling he was trying to prop me up.
“Thanks, man.” Lance Corporal Stonewall sat watching me. I couldn’t look him in the eyes.
“Lance Corporal Stonewall, can you give us a minute. I want to discuss some other stuff with Captain Constantine?” Stonewall replied yes, stood up, came to attention, and then stepped out. When he was gone I swore.
“I just couldn’t sit here with him looking at me, knowing that we’re going in the tank.” Justin didn’t say anything for a minute.
“Think he’s going to rule against us?”
“It’s a bet. I had a talk with him and Kolomjec in his office, might have been regarding Ponder’s case, but I kept arguing with him about this conferral of rights crap that he says you need. I threw out the hypothetical in our brief, that what if a Lance Corporal is a driver and the General orders him to speed, to do fifty-five in a school zone and the driver refuses and then he’s later court-martialed. Under Stone’s theory, the Lance Coolie can’t plead the speed limit as a defense to the lawfulness of the order; it doesn’t confer any rights! The state legislature never intended it to be used as a defense in a court-martial! Fuck.”
“Then he started lecturing me about paradigms and how the military is different than the civilian world. ‘It’s a different paradigm, he said.’ Fuck. Fuck.” I was rambling and Justin knew me well enough to let me blow off some steam.
“Well, what do we do now?” he asked. A pragmatic question.
“Let me think.” I rubbed my forehead. “Well, he’ll announce his findings and then we’ll probably take pleas. Then, maybe, we’ll set a date for the court next week or something. Once he rules, I don’t think he’s going to give us a lot of time before the court. What’s today, the 25th?” I no longer could keep track of days. I wasn’t sleeping much at all, and when I did sleep it was usually because I had dozed off at the desk in my base housing quarters, with my office in a section of the living room, where my wife would find me in front of the computer if she happened to get up in the middle of the night.
Justin looked at his watch. “Twenty-six July.”
“Oh. Okay. Well, let’s get back into court.” I stood up.
“Dale?” I looked back at Justin and raised my eyebrows. “We gave it our best shot, man. You… we couldn’t have done any more than we did.” I nodded my head, but it didn’t make me feel any better. I walked out the door feeling like a man on his way to his execution.
“The defense contends that the order to submit to anthrax vaccination violates a Presidential Executive Order and Federal and International Laws and is therefore an illegal order, so the accused could lawfully refuse to obey. As the court sees it, there are four issues presented. We’ll discuss them in order.” I sat watching as Major Stone read from a sheet he had prepared. He hadn’t written it in the recess since our last session, so I knew that he had been drafting it before I had finished my argument. He’d already decided before oral argument and I’d done nothing to change his mind. I already knew the outcome.
“The first one, does Executive Order 13139 confer legal rights upon the accused enforceable at courts‑martial?” Just the way he framed the question bothered me. The question wasn’t who got what conferred, it was whether the order was lawful or not. That question had been lost a long time ago and it wasn’t going to get answered in this courtroom.
“Answer: no. The Executive Order in question is a policy decision of the President taken in his capacity as Commander‑in‑Chief of the Armed Forces. Also, violations of an Executive Order are not judicially enforceable unless the Constitution or Federal Law otherwise requires enforcement.
“Two: Does 10 U.S.C. 1107 confer legal rights upon the accused enforceable at courts‑martial? No. 10 U.S.C. 1107 imposes obligations on the Secretary of Defense to obtain the informed consent of service members in the event that the Secretary desires to employ an investigational new drug or to use a drug in a manner inconsistent with its FDA approved usage. The text of the law does not directly state that the Secretary’s obligations are also legal rights of service members enforceable at courts‑martial, nor does the statute provide a fair basis for conferral of rights by implication because the statue does not employ wording typically associated with such a legislative conferral of rights. Other federal statutes, in particular, criminal statutes expressly provide for the conferral of rights upon service members. Given that Congress has in the past specifically provided for the rights of service members in other‑statutes and could have done so in 10 U.S.C. 1107, it would be judicial speculation to presume that Congress would desire to do so in this case. In fact, it may well be that Congress does not desire to grant individual rights to two million or so service members, but rather chose to make one officer, the Secretary of Defense, accountable for obtaining the informed consent of service members.”
I looked down and noticed I was scribbling notes. Habit. None of it made any sense.
“Finally, along the same lines, any inquiry as to whether or not the Secretary of Defense, a civilian political appointee, has complied with 10 U.S.C. 1107 is a non-justiciable political issue between Congress and the Secretary, that is, it is beyond the reach of decision by military courts‑martial.” There it was. I had known that was coming. There was no way he was going to rule that the Secretary of Defense had violated the law, no matter how clear it was.
“Issue 3: Does the Nuremberg Code as codified at 50 U.S.C. 1520(a) confer rights on the accused enforceable at courts‑martial?” Now this was the real coup. The Nuremberg Code, despite its clear language, did not apply to one class of persons: second class citizens, known as U.S. service members.
“Answer of this court: No. 50 U.S.C. 1520(a) prevents experimentation on service members without their informed consent. The defense claims that the anthrax vaccination program is essentially a large‑scale medical experiment and, therefore, 50 U.S.C. 1520(a) applies. More specifically, the defense argues that because there have been no long‑term studies of the effects of the anthrax vaccination, the DoD inoculation program is a de facto medical experiment. This court declines to adopt that view.
“The DoD vaccination program on its face appears to be a reasonable and time‑tested force protection measure. That is, inoculation against disease designed to counter a real‑world threat of biological attack.” I looked over at Lance Corporal Stonewall. He looked back at me and gently put his hand on my arm, grimacing a little, but other than that, no reaction. It was all I could do not to cry. Some lawyers would say that I had become too personally involved in my case, something I had thought about a lot in my brief time as a defense attorney: my reply would be “so what?”
“Four: Is an order for a service member to submit to the anthrax vaccination so inherently unsafe and dangerous in light of its proper justification as to make it arbitrary or capricious and, therefore, illegal? Answer: No. The defense has provided no evidence of any death or serious bodily injury that has resulted from administration of the anthrax vaccine to over 1.7 million service members. The government, on the other hand, has presented evidence that anthrax is 100 percent fatal if inhaled, that several actual military adversaries presently have the capability to attack U.S. Armed Forces with aerosolized anthrax, and that animal modeling studies suggest that inoculation may provide a significant measure of protection against aerosolized anthrax attack.” I had heard a Navy doctor explain that he read the DoD website, but we hadn’t been allowed to bring an expert to show the falsity of those statements and conclusions.
“In sum, then, I find the order to submit to the anthrax inoculation was a legal order as a matter of law and will so instruct the members if that is the forum selected in this case. Accordingly then, based on the reasoning above, as for the two defense requests for experts in this case, those requests are denied.” The cart had come before the horse. We were denied experts to rebut the government’s doctor and that had led to a ruling that our requests were denied. The ol’ Catch-22.
“Does the defense have any other motions to present?” I stood up slowly.
“No, sir.” At that point, I finally believed what Lou Michels, our helpful Reserve Air Force attorney and partner in big-time law firm, had said to me on the phone one day: no military judge was going to find the order to take the anthrax vaccine illegal. It wouldn’t matter how twisted the reasoning it took to get there.
“Then this court is in recess.”