To Delay is to Deny
How murder investigations in the military are sidelined.
by Cilla McCain
One of the most frustrating aspects of writing about military true crime is the constant delays in obtaining answers to even the most basic of questions. For example, the forensic evidence assembled over the past 13 years for the murder of Col. Michael Stahlman is now in the hands of the Deputy Inspector General at the Department of Defense for review. The goal is to get the military to reopen the investigation into his killing. There’s no question as to the cause of Col. Stahlman’s death. He was shot in the head. But the manner is a different issue.
After pouring over thousands of pages of investigative reports from both sides (the Stahlman family and the military) it is quite clear that NCIS did not do a proper investigation. They did not interview key witnesses; they attributed written statements to the wrong witnesses; the evidence was destroyed within 36 hours and still, other evidence went missing altogether.
Col. Stahlman’s journals of his time in Ramadi paint a clear picture of the corruption he was dealing with as the Rule of Law Coordinator. He repeatedly warned at least one officer not to use unapproved contractors in the so-called reconstruction of Iraq. That’s a vital point to examine. The military had a list of approved contractors. The contractors on the approved list had been vetted, so the money paid for their services would not make its way to terrorists. Yet, again, there was at least one officer who ignored the list. This officer is a person of interest to the Stahlman team. But not to the military.
At this moment the official ruling of “suicide” is the manner of his death the Department of Defense clings to. But the independent evidence proves murder. Every few months, Kimberly Stahlman is told by Inspector General “the evidence is under review and should be finished in a few months.” These few months have turned into years. The problem is there is no unbiased legal forum in which to present this evidence. So, there are constant delays as it’s passed from one place to another.
To delay justice is to deny justice, and this seems to have always been the goal.
In the 1990s a group of families in a situation like the Stahlman family went to Washington DC seeking Congressional help in dealing with non-combat deaths in the military - specifically for those cases where the ‘Manner of Death’ ruling was questionable. Forty (40) members of Congress responded and Section 1185 of PL 103-160 (1994 DoD Authorization Bill) was passed in two sections:
1) Section (a) called for the Department of Defense (DoD) to review the Policies & Procedures for non-combat Death Investigations.
2) Section (b) called for the DoD to review the military’s concluded ‘manner of death’ ruling in non-combat death cases where material deficiencies had been proven to exist, by the decedent’s families, who were requesting an “Independent Investigation” of their case.
However, on Jan. 19, 1994, Secretary of Defense William J. Perry decided not to comply with the law passed by Congress. Instead of establishing a Board of Special Inquiry, he sent a memo to all branches in which he stated:
“I have decided not to establish a Board of Special Inquiry.”
He then explained that the military will handle the responsibility of dealing with questionable deaths by giving the job to the Inspector General at the Department of Defense. This effectively rendered the provisions in Section 1185 useless.
Not that long ago, I wrote to Perry, who is now a professor at Stanford University. I explained that the system he set up in the 90s was not working. I went into detail about the Stahlman case and the work being done by Military Families for Justice for these families left dangling in part by his actions. I sent him a copy of his old memo and a link to the Bill of Rights for Bereaved Military Families in which we are asking at least one brave representative to sponsor as a bill. And I closed the letter with this question:
I’d like to ask if you would tell me what your thought processes were in not establishing a Board of Special Inquiry in 1994? And how, after all of these years, knowing the I.G. system of review is not working as you likely intended for it to do, would you feel about the current Secretary of Defense working with Congress to move forward with a Bill of Rights for Bereaved Military Families as outlined in our petition to Congress?
I never expected a response. But to my surprise, he managed a few words:
“I regret not setting up a board of inquiry and support setting up one now.”
At this writing, 813,308 letters have been sent to every representative in Washington DC. Not a single representative has responded with anything more than a form letter stating how much they care about military veterans and their families. To which my response is even shorter than William J. Perry’s: