Archive for April, 2010

Just a bit more detail, please

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

In today’s News & Observer there is a profile of Lexington attorney Cal Cunningham, who’d like to be the next U.S. senator from North Carolina. From that profile I learned that Cunningham was elected to the state senate at a relatively tender age, and that he was an Army reservist who was activated a couple of years ago and sent to Iraq to work as a military lawyer. He subsequently was awarded the Bronze Star.

But for what? I can’t tell from the story.

I step gingerly into this issue — not because politicians are delicate flowers, but because I have high regard for the military and I don’t want to signal even a whiff of disdain for those who serve honorably. But as the profile reports, Cunningham

… likes to say he’d be the Senate’s first Iraq veteran. One TV ad shows him in fatigues. He wears a Bronze Star lapel pin awarded in Iraq. His service clearly attracted national Democrats.

In short, Democrats are delighted to have a war hero running for national office. But the article doesn’t clearly explain what display of valor or meritorious service — the two things for which the Bronze Star is bestowed — earned Cunningham the award. Here’s all the article had to say on the matter:

Cunningham lived behind sandbags at Baghdad’s Camp Victory. Sleep was interrupted by occasional 107 mm mortar attacks and loudspeakers carrying Muslim calls to prayer.

As a senior prosecutor, he shared jurisdiction over thousands of coalition troops and 180,000 civilian contractors. In February 2008, a contractor named Alaa Mohammed Ali stabbed another in Anbar province. The case tested military law, and Cunningham.

“In a lawyer’s career, there will be a small handful of defining cases,” he blogged in April. “I’m the lead prosecutor on one of those … cases right now.”

No civilian contractor had been charged under military law since 1968. A 2006 law made it easier to prosecute such cases, but it hadn’t been tested.

Cunningham spent Easter morning questioning witnesses. He filed nine briefs and was top liaison with the U.S. Justice Department. A military court found Ali guilty.

“He blazed that trail,” says fellow Reserves lawyer Andrew Culbreath. “He’s just a good decision maker.”

Cunningham was at an airbase north of Baghdad that summer when he was summoned to the capital to help prepare for Obama’s visit. “They had to go all the way to Balad to find a Democrat,” Cunningham wrote in his blog.

My guess — my hope, actually — is that the Bronze Star was awarded for what the article describes as a “landmark prosecution.” (Not the sort of thing I ever thought would make somebody a war hero, but there you go.) The only other explanation is that it came because Cunningham (again, as the article states) “helped prepare briefings for VIPs, including Obama, then a candidate.”

Either way, I think I’ve learned something about the Bronze Star.