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Retired Marine Corps General Withstood Intense Political Pressure to Uphold Spirit of International Law

No California Western graduate has been closer to a controversial issue than Brig. Gen. Kevin M. Sandkuhler ’81 (Ret.), former U.S. Marine Corps Staff Advocate to the Commandant. His 2003 memo expressing concerns about the U.S. interrogation methods used with terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay thrust him under the glare of national and international attention.

Sandkuhler, whose Pentagon office was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, objected to the aggressive interrogation because he said it could put captured U.S. military personnel at risk of retribution, might result in criminal and civil liability for participants, and would cause a loss of respect in the international community.

“At first I and the other top military lawyers were seen as goats when we declined to discuss any of the issues before Congress in 2005,” Sandkuhler recalls. “A few months later we were suddenly heroes when Senator Lindsay Graham had our memos declassified and everyone learned we had all been concerned about the interrogations.”

Now retired from the Marines and working as president and CEO of Pinkerton Government Services, Sandkuhler declines to say he’s proud of his memo because he says he was just doing his job. Yet looking back he knows he “got it right.”

“The U.S. wasn’t acting within the spirit of the law of war and the accompanying obligation to humanely treat all captives,” he says. “And I was right that America did lose a lot of respect around the world. To me it proved that the rule of law is still vital, that the President and the military cannot have unlimited power during times of war, and that limited government and checks and balances are still critical to our democracy. We’ve learned through history that we ignore these fundamentals at our own peril.”