More Discipline for SEAL in Afghanistan than SWAT Officer in Fairfax?

You’ve probably heard that Linda Norgrove, the kidnapped British aid worker in Afghanistan who died in a rescue attempt, appears to have been killed by a grenade thrown by one of the Navy SEALs coming to her aid, not a suicide bomb vest as initially reported.

Two things come to mind here.

First, the fact that it was a grenade and not a suicide vest that killed her only came to light because of the video cameras capturing the event. The unit performing the rescue had cameras mounted on the helicopters and the helmets of the SEALs on the ground. As I said in this video and this blog post, cameras provide an honest witness in these dangerous situations.

Second, compare the accountability the SEAL will face with what would happen to a SWAT team member. It appears that the SEAL who threw the grenade will face disciplinary action. If I had to guess, this will be a memorandum of reprimand from a general officer. That would go into the SEAL’s permanent personnel file, and cause a “slow death” of his career. Unable to get promoted in an up-or-out personnel system, the SEAL could be forced out of the service before he is eligible for retirement.

This is an elite Navy SEAL performing a hostage rescue mission in an armed camp in the Korengal Valley, arguably one of the most dangerous places in the world. The SEALs didn’t know where the hostage was, and the last Taliban kidnapper alive on the objective was firing at other SEALs with an automatic weapon. Yet the SEAL who threw the grenade, in a situation that justifies the use of a dynamic raid, may face the end of his career.

Compare this with the discipline that Fairfax County Police Officer Deval J. Bullock faced for killing optometrist Sal Culosi. Culosi ran a sports betting operation, and an undercover officer had placed bets with him in the prelude to a prosecution. Fairfax officers served the arrest warrant with a SWAT team, and Officer Bullock had an accidental discharge with his handgun at point blank range into Culosi’s chest, killing him almost instantly. Bullock was suspended for three weeks and kicked off the SWAT team. Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Horan didn’t take Bullock’s case to a grand jury, declaring that when someone fires a gun without malice and accidentally kills someone, “they do not commit a crime.” Sorry, that’s negligent homicide. And, according to police union officials, the three-week suspension was still too stiff a punishment.

So, an elite military hostage-rescue team member may face more consequences for a judgment error – when a kidnapper is threatening the lives of everyone on the objective with an automatic weapon at the tail end of a 30-minute gunfight necessitated by the imminent threat that the hostage will be moved to a more hostile location across the Pakistan border – than a suburban police officer who negligently murders a non-violent offender in a situation that didn’t warrant the use of a SWAT team to begin with.

In some instances, to call this “police militarization” is to slander the military. Here are some parallel thoughts from Radley Balko, and a whole lot more on paramilitary police raids in Radley’s Overkill and at the Raidmap.