CAMP LEJEUNE, NC - The Department of Defense has been rocked by the firing and court-martial of a high-ranking Marine officer for allegedly violating every single article of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
Col. Mitch Grant, once a promising VMI graduate and the commanding officer of the Eighth Marine Regiment, is now charged with adultery, forgery, arson, improper use of a countersign, espionage, stalking, burglary, making a check with insufficient funds, murder, depositing obscene matters in the mail, and conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman, among other charges.
Grant is only the latest in a string of commanders fired over the past few years for alleged violations of the UCMJ, or civil and criminal laws, including sexual harassment, falsifying records, misusing official funds, bigamy, making sexually explicit videos and showing them to troops, initiating an adulterous relationship and then terminating it by faking their death, negligent handling of nuclear weapons and launch codes, and shoplifting.
These are in addition to numerous other firings motivated by "loss of confidence" that did not necessarily result in charges, but which were sufficiently embarrassing that the Pentagon and armed services wanted to keep their specifics quiet.
Col. Grant laughed throughout the reading of the charges, from chuckling at minor offenses to shaking with uproarious laughter during the reading of more outrageous charges, restrained only by his straitjacket and the wire caged mask over his mouth to prevent him from biting those present in the courtroom.
Officials have declined to disclose the specifics of how the investigation was initiated, but multiple sources have confirmed that it began when Grant was observed with his hands in his pockets before a staff meeting at Camp Leatherneck by Gen. Andrew Blake, who instructed his chief of staff, Col. Patton Callahan, to have Col. Grant report to his office to privately receive a verbal warning.
"Let's just say it was dumb luck that we uncovered any of his crimes at all, and leave it at that," said Col. Callahan. The command initially intended to quietly NJP [non-judicial punishment] Grant so as not to cause any embarrassment, but Grant refused it, insisting on a court-martial instead.
"Refusing NJP was [Grant's] last ditch effort to keep his record clean by staring down the command over the difficulties of convening a court-martial for an O-6," says military legal analyst Joseph Baines.
"I'll be blunt with you. It almost worked. I suspect there were probably many other NJPs Grant avoided in this exact same way. But once the decision was made to go to trial no matter what, and follow the investigation wherever it went, that's when it really exploded."
A Career of Criminal Acts
Though the specifics of the charges have been kept as quiet as possible, so many base residents have been interviewed that some of the incidents have been leaked. Each one seems to involve multiple violations, such as one in which Grant was talking on a cellphone while driving drunk on base, then maimed a pedestrian and fled the scene of the accident. In another, Grant allegedly exposed himself in public while making disloyal statements. After only a few days of charges piling up, the local NCIS office requested augmentation by additional personnel to help catalog them all.
"I think once he knew it was going to trial, at some point it just became a game about trying to violate more of the punitive articles," says Grant's guard, Sergeant Ethan Maynard. "And I think some of us might have unwittingly played along."
"For instance, when the true extent of his crimes was being realized, the bosses elected to transport him back by ship to buy some time to prepare for the trial. That was how he managed to get charged with violating Article 134-10 for escaping custody, not to mention 134-30 for jumping from a military vessel into the water. Oh, and also those two extra murder charges for killing his guards."
"Eventually, seeing all those charges stack up in one case became kind of a running gag," says Daniel Sauls of NCIS. "I don't remember who it was that suggested, as a joke, that we compare his fingerprints with prints on the washers we kept getting reports of in base vending machines. But wow, after that actually panned out, the pieces just started coming together."
"The next day we used voice recognition technology to prove that he was responsible for an epidemic of obscene, racist, and threatening phone calls throughout the area. It was while we were trying to see if he might be involved with the disappearances of some dogs and cats in a neighborhood just off base that we found the cockfighting ring, which was being run by Grant's second wife, a minor he illegally brought into the country as a sex slave and then used to claim fraudulent dependent benefits."
"But the charges that really took us by surprise came when a procedural error during the vending machine investigation caused Col Grant's fingerprints to be checked against Central Command's biometric database. That's how we discovered 5% of the improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan displayed partial or complete prints. As we reexamined some of the reports related to those IEDs, we noticed they all involved substantial numbers of destroyed weapons. When those weapon serial numbers started showing up in caches of insurgent weapons, the case took on a whole new dimension."
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the case is not the magnitude of Grant's crimes, but the absence of any documented misbehavior prior to the case. Not only does Grant's service record demonstrate an unbroken chain of outstanding fitness reports, but his trial has already been briefly interrupted by notification of Grant's selection to the rank of brigadier general.
This soon resulted in additional charges of bribery and extortion, as Grant first offered to use general officer rank to benefit his prosecutor if he engineered an acquittal, then attempted to blackmail the court, then the Marine Corps, and finally the Department of Defense, by claiming he would leak the story of his selection to the media if they did not drop all charges. Plans detailing a similar attempt to secure a presidential pardon from Barack Obama were discovered in Grant's cell, along with several vials of heroin Grant was apparently dealing to other prisoners, and a toothbrush sharpened into a stabbing weapon and hidden in a hollowed out copy of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
"Well, selection isn't exactly the same thing as promotion, strictly speaking," said a visibly shaken Secretary Leon Panetta during the media firestorm after the story first broke.
Several additional charges of bribery and extortion were originally entered against Col Grant following revelations of similar appeals and threats Grant made to his former co-conspirators in numerous foreign governments, criminal groups, and terrorist organizations, but Grant's defense attorney successfully argued to have these instances treated solely as charges of espionage and aiding the enemy.
The Problem Of 'Zero Defects'
While the DoD has attempted to paint Grant's apprehension and trial in a positive light, indicating a professionalizing drawdown period after the chaotic expansion necessary for the surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, Baines isn't so positive.
"I think we need to accept the possibility that Grant is only the tip of the iceberg. All the services adopted a zero defects mentality long ago. At first that seems like a great way to ensure the best get promoted. The truth has been very different. But while we've talked for years about the dangers of this producing a culture of mediocre careerists -- you know, Captain Queeg types -- we never realized it could also produce something like Mitch Grant. Say what you want about Grant, but he was a decisive risk-taker who mastered the careerists' system, and this made him much more likely to progress up the ranks than a timid mediocrity."
"You know, when you catch a fish this big, part of you has to wonder what else is swimming around down there," he added.
"Death is only the beginning!," roars Grant, frothing at the mouth as he is wheeled out of the courtroom after challenging various officers of the court to duel him, resulting in six more charges of attempts to violate Article 114, which prohibits dueling, and three more violations of articles 88 and 89.
As a commissioned officer, Grant cannot be given a bad conduct or dishonorable discharge if convicted. However, he faces the most serious sentence available to commissioned officers: dismissal. If dismissed, Grant will most likely move on to accept one of dozens of job offers already extended to him by private companies, think tanks, and foreign governments.
In related news, Grant's enlisted driver, Sergeant Adrian Green, has been charged as an accessory following the court's rejection of pleas that he was ignorant of his commander's crimes. Green faces reduction in rank to private, the loss of all benefits to his family, and could be executed as early as next month if Grant is convicted.