Secret Sanction


By Brian Haig

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Word of Honor meets A Few Good Men in a stunning thriller that pits the Green Berets, C.I.A., and White House against a top Army lawyer in an Investigation that could put the U.S. military on trial.

A battalion of Serbs has been senselessly murdered in Kosovo and the Green Berets stand accused. Now, Major Sean Drummond, a top Army lawyer, is assigned to investigate this unspeakable atrocity. But of course, no one saw anything. Drummond gets consistently suspicious depositions from all of the Green Berets: Supposedly pursued by Serb soldiers, they left the engagement with wounded Serbs firing at them, and no one can explain the number of deaths. Teamed with a straight-laced prosecutor and a sexy defense attorney, Drummond probes further but forces continue to hide the truth. Soon a reporter is found dead, Drummond suspects there’s a traitor on his team, and everyone from the CIA to the president may be involved in a cover-up that could threaten the stability of the most powerful nation in theworld.


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Table of Contents

A Preview of Mortal Allies


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Chapter 1

FORT BRAGG in August is so hellish, you can smell the sulfur in the air. Actually, though, it's not sulfur, it's 98 percent humidity, mixed with North Carolina dust, mixed with the raunchy bouquet of about thirty thousand men and women who spend half their lives scurrying about in the woods. Without showers.

The moment I stepped off the plane, I had this fierce urge to call my bosses back in the Pentagon and beg them to reconsider. Wouldn't work though. "Sympathy," the Army likes to say, is found in the dictionary between "shit" and "syphilis," and regarded accordingly.

So I hefted up my duffel bag and oversize legal briefcase and headed for the taxi stand. Of course, this was Pope Air Force Base, which adjoins Fort Bragg, which makes it all one big, happy military installation. No taxi stand, and shame on me for not knowing that. I therefore marched straight to a payphone and called the duty sergeant at the headquarters of the 82nd Airborne Division. These are the same men and women who make their living flinging themselves out of airplanes and praying their government-issued parachutes open before their fragile bodies go splat. Mostly their prayers work. Sometimes not.

"Headquarters of the 82nd Airborne Division, Sergeant Mercor," a stern voice answered.

"Major Sean Drummond, here," I barked, doing my finest impersonation of a bitchy, obnoxious bully, which, by the by, I always do pretty well.

"How can I help you, sir?"

"How can you help me?" I demanded.

"Sorry, sir, I don't get it."

"That's pretty damned obvious, isn't it? Why wasn't the duty jeep waiting for me at the airport? Why am I standing here with my thumb up my ass?"

"We don't send jeeps out to the airport to pick up personnel. Not even officers, sir."

"Hey, Sergeant, think I'm stupid?"

I let that question linger a moment, and you could almost hear him grinding his teeth to keep from answering.

Then, much friendlier, I said, "Look, I don't know if you weren't properly instructed, or just plain forgot. All I know is, the general who works upstairs in that building of yours promised a jeep would be waiting when I arrived. Now if it were to get here inside twenty minutes, then we'll just write this off as an inconvenience. Otherwise…"

There was this fairly long pause on the other end. The thing with Army sergeants is that they have incredible survival instincts. They have to. They spend their careers working under officers, some of whom happen to be pretty good, but plenty of whom aren't, and a man must be pretty damned artful to treat both with perfect equanimity.

"Sir, I… well, uh, this is really irregular. No one told me to have a jeep there to meet you. I swear."

Of course nobody told him. I knew that. And he knew that. But there was a world of daylight between those two facts.

"Listen, Sergeant.… Sergeant Mercor, right? It's ten-thirty at night and my patience wanes with each passing minute. What will it be?"

"All right, Major. The duty driver will be there in about twenty minutes. Don't be screwing me around, though. I'm gonna put this in the duty log. The colonel will see it in the morning," he said, making that last statement sound profoundly ominous.

"Twenty minutes," I said before hanging up.

I sat on my duffel bag and waited. I should've felt bad about fibbing, but my conscience just wasn't up to it. I was tired, for one thing, and royally pissed off for another. Besides, I had a set of orders in my pocket that assigned me to perform a special investigation. In my book, at least, that entitled me to a special privilege or two.

Private Rodriguez and the duty jeep showed up exactly twenty minutes later. I was pretty damned sure Sergeant Mercor had instructed Rodriguez to get lost, or drive around in circles, or do about any damned thing except arrive one second earlier than twenty minutes. That's another thing about Army sergeants. They're woefully vengeful little creatures.

I threw my duffel into the back of the humvee and climbed in the front.

"Where to?" Private Rodriguez asked, staring straight ahead.

"Visiting Officers' Quarters. Know where they are?"


"Good. Drive."

A moment passed before Rodriguez sort of coughed, then said, "You assigned here, sir?"


"Reporting in?"


"Passing through?"

"You're getting warmer."

"You're a lawyer, right?" he asked, glancing at the brass on my uniform that identified me as a member of the Judge Advocate General's Corps, or JAG for short.

"Rodriguez, it's late and I'm tired. I appreciate your need to make conversation, but I'm not in the mood. Just drive."

"Hey, no problem, sir."

Rodriguez whistled for two minutes, then, "Ever been to Bragg before, sir?"

"Yes, I've been to Bragg before. I've been to every Army post you can name. I'm still not in the mood to talk."

"Hey, sure. No problem, really." Then, only a few moments later, "Y'know, personally, I really like it here."

Poor Private Rodriguez either had short-term amnesia or he'd been ordered by Sergeant Mercor to find out everything he could about me and report back. That's another thing about Army sergeants. When they're curious, they get fiendishly clever.

"So why do you like it here?" I wearily asked, not wanting his ass to get gnawed into little pieces on my account.

"My family comes from Mexico, right? And we settled in Texas, so I like the warm weather. Only they got trees up here, and it rains more. And I love jumpin' outta airplanes. You know that feeling, right? I see you got wings."

"Wrong. I went to jump school and did the five mandatory jumps required to graduate. But I'm not Airborne. I hated it. I was scared as hell and couldn't wait for it to be over. I'll never jump again. Never."

"You're a Ranger. Not many lawyers are Rangers."

"I'm the most reluctant Ranger you ever saw. I cried and whimpered the whole way through the course. They gave me the tab only because they feared that if they failed me, I might have come back and tried again. They hated me."

"You got a Combat Infantryman's Badge," he said.

Private Rodriguez, annoyingly clever fellow that he was, kept adjusting the rearview mirror to study the various items on my uniform. In civilian life, nobody wears nametags or badges or patches, or any other kind of silly accoutrement that advertises anything about you. In the Army, the longer you're in, the more your uniform resembles a diary. It's a wonder the old-timers can even walk under all that weight.

"I used to be infantry," I admitted.

"And you went to combat."

"Only because they shipped me off before I could figure out how to go AWOL. I spent the whole time huddled in deep foxholes, praying nobody noticed me."

"No offense, sir, but why would a guy wanta stop being an infantry officer just to become a lawyer?"

That's another thing with the Army. What's important on the inside can be quite a bit different from what's important on the outside.

"Someone gave me a test and, wouldn't you know it, turned out my IQ was over twenty. Bastards said I was too smart to be an infantry officer anymore."

"No shit?" he asked, quite sincerely, too, which tells you miles about infantry officers.

"Yeah. Not a lot above twenty, just a little. You know the Army, though. Rules are rules."

"You go to law school and all that?"

"Yeah, I went to law school and all that. You done asking questions?"

"No, sir, only a few more. Why you here?"

"Passing through, Private. I thought we already covered that."

"Passing through to where?"

"To Europe."

"Would that be… uh, Bosnia?"

"That's where it would be."

"Then what you doing here?"

"I'm supposed to catch a C-130 that leaves Pope Field at seven o'clock in the morning, and military air bases don't exactly run like civilian airports, with connecting flights and all that stuff. As a result, I have to sleep here."

A more truthful reply would have included the fact that I had an appointment in the morning with a general named Partridge, and only after he was through with me was I allowed to head for Bosnia. But Private Rodriguez, and thereby Sergeant Mercor, did not need to know all that. In fact, nobody but the general, myself, and a few very select people back in Washington needed to know all that.

"VOQ just ahead," Private Rodriguez announced, pointing out the windshield at a bunch of long blockhouses.

"Thanks," I said as we pulled into the parking lot, and I retrieved my duffel from the rear.

"No problem. Hey, one thing, sir. That Sergeant Mercor you spoke with, well, he really is a prick. If I were you, and I didn't really have permission from the general, I'd get my butt on that airplane as early as I could."

"Thanks for the ride," I muttered.

That's how business is done in the Army. I scratched his ass, so he scratched mine. Sounds simple, but it can be very protean in practice. I left him there and walked into the VOQ, checked in, and found my room. In less than a minute I was undressed, in bed, and asleep.

It didn't seem like a full five hours later when the phone beside my bed rang and the desk clerk informed me that General Partridge's military sedan was waiting in the parking lot. I showered and shaved with dazzling speed, then rummaged through my duffel for my battle dress and combat boots. This was the only appropriate attire when meeting with Clive Partridge, who truly was one of the meanest sons of bitches in an institution not known for producing shrinking violets.

The drive out to the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, which is, among other things, the headquarters for the United States Army Special Forces Command, took slightly shy of thirty minutes. General Partridge's driver, unlike Private Rodriguez the night before, said not a word. I chalked that up to his being grumped up about having to chauffeur a lowly major, instead of the four-star general he worked for. Headquarters guys get real fussy airs that way.

A sour-faced major named Jackson met me outside Partridge's office and coldly told me to sit and wait. I reminded him that I had to be on a seven o'clock flight to Bosnia, and he reminded me that four-star generals outrank majors. I gave him a fishy-eyed look and instantly decided that maybe General Partridge deliberately surrounded himself with nasty people.

Twenty minutes later, Major Jackson stood up and led me to the hand-carved door that served as the final line of defense into General Partridge's office. The door opened, I passed through, and marched briskly to the general's desk. I stopped, saluted crisply, and introduced myself in that strange way Army guys do.

"Major Drummond reporting as ordered, sir."

The general looked up from some papers, nodded slightly, popped a cigarette between his lips, and calmly lit it. My right hand was still foolishly stuck to my forehead.

"Put down that hand," he grunted, and I did. He sucked in a roomful of smoke, then leaned back into his chair. "You happy about this assignment?"

"No, sir."

"You studied the case already?"

"A bit, sir."

"Any preliminary thoughts?"

"None I would care to expose at this point."

He sucked hard on the cigarette again, so hard that nearly half of it turned into ash. He had thin lips, a thin face, and a thin body, all of which looked nicely weathered, very taut, and almost impossibly devoid of both body fat and compassion.

"Drummond, every now and again there's a military court case that captures the attention of the great American public. Back when I was a lieutenant, the big one was the My Lai court-martial, named after that village in Vietnam where Lieutenant Calley and his guys butchered a few hundred defenseless civilians. Then came Tailhook, which the Navy botched past the point of redemption. Then the Air Force had that Kelly Flynn thing they dicked up in spades."

The general surely knew that all military lawyers had these cases tattooed on their brains. He obviously was taking no small delight in bringing them up.

"It's your turn, Drummond. You screw this one up, and generations of future JAG officers are gonna be sitting around in classrooms, scratching their heads and wondering just how this guy Drummond managed to mangle things so bad. You thought of that?"

"It has crossed my mind, General."

"I imagine it has," he said with a nasty grin. "You decide there's not enough grounds for a court-martial and you'll be accused of shoving the Army's dirt under a rug. You decide there is sufficient grounds, then we'll have us a nice little brawl in a courtroom with the whole world watching."

He stopped and studied my face, and I was not the least bit sure which of those two options he wanted. I had a pretty good idea, I just wasn't sure. He had that kind of face.

"You got any idea why we picked you?"

"Only a few vague suspicions," I cautiously admitted.

This, actually, was my sly way of saying that I wanted to hear his opinion, since his was based on the fact that he helped select me. Mine, on the other hand, was the bitter rumination of a guy who thought he was being tossed into an alligator pond.

He lifted three fingers and began ticking off points. "First, we figured that since you used to be an infantry officer and you actually saw a few shots fired, you might have a little better understanding of what these men went through than your ordinary, run-of-the-mill, snot-nosed attorney in uniform. Second, your boss assured me that you come equipped with a brilliant legal mind and are independent by nature. Finally, because I knew your father, served under him, hated his guts, but he just happened to be the best I ever saw. If you got even a fraction of his gene pool, then there's an outside chance of your being pretty damned good, too."

"That's very kind, sir. Thank you very much, and the next time I see my father, I'll be sure to pass on the general's regards."

"Don't blow smoke up my ass, Drummond. It's not a good idea."

"No, sir," I said, watching him suck another mighty drag through those thin, bloodless lips.

"I'm treading on quicksand here. I'm the commander of the Special Operations Command, and am therefore responsible for those men, and for what they did."

"That's right, sir."

"And when you're done with your investigation, your recommendation on whether to proceed with a court-martial will come to me. Then I'll have to decide which way to go."

"That is the correct protocol, sir."

"And you and I both know that if I say anything to you, even a whisper, that indicates anything but a neutral predisposition on my part, I can be accused of exerting command influence into a legal proceeding. That, we both know, would get all our butts in a wringer."

"That is a proper reading of military law, sir."

"I know that, Drummond. And I'd be damned appreciative if you'd withhold the commentary," he barked.

"Of course, sir."

"So the reason I had you fly down here," he said, pointing toward a tiny tape recorder on the corner of his desk, "is to ask you two questions."

"Fire away, sir."

"Do you believe that I, or anyone in your chain of command, has a predisposition, or have any of us, in any way, tried to influence you, prior to the start of your investigation?"

"No and no, sir."

"Do you believe you are being given adequate resources to perform your duties?"

"I have ample resources, sir."

"Then this interview is hereby terminated," he said, reaching down and turning off the tape recorder.

My right hand was just coming back up to my forehead when those thin lips bristled with another nasty little smile.

"Now, Drummond, since we have all that recorded for posterity, it's time for some real guidance."

"I am all ears, sir."

"This case is an embarrassment for the Army, and it will only get worse. But there are several types of embarrassment. There's the kind where some soldiers did a bad thing and the public wonders just what this barbaric Army did to these fine young boys to transform them into such awful monsters. Then there's the kind where the Army gets accused of covering up, and that is the worst kind, since it brings in lots of hungry politicians who are eager to help us sort fact from fiction. Finally, there's the kind where everyone believes that the Army is just too damned ignorant and heavy-handed to handle such delicate situations."

"Sounds accurate to me, sir. From my limited experience, of course."

His eyes fixed my eyes with an uncompromising stare. "This time it's gonna be up to you to decide which of those embarrassments we have on our hands. Don't be naive and think there's any way you can win. Got my drift?"

I certainly did get his drift, although I was just naive and arrogant enough to believe I could pull this out and walk off into the sunset looking good. That wasn't something I was going to admit to him, but that's what was on my mind. Shows how stupid some guys can be. Him, that is, not me.

"I believe I have a firm grasp of the situation, General."

"Well, you're wrong, Drummond. You think you do, but you really don't."

"Begging the general's pardon, but is there a point to this?"

The general's eyes blinked a few times, and I was instantly reminded of a lizard contemplating a fly and considering whether to lash out with his long tongue and have himself a happy meal with wings. Then he smiled, and I'd be lying if I said it was a friendly smile.

"All right, Drummond, you're on your own."

Now, the general might've thought he was making some kind of theatrical point here, but the truth is, he was the fifth high-ranking official in three days to use one of those damned tape recorders as he offered me a little on- and off-the-record guidance. I was actually getting pretty used to watching these guys cover their asses and prod me along my way.

In the old Army, a man who was about to be executed was marched down a line of his peers and a slow drumroll was sounded to accompany him to the gallows. The modern version of this death march, I was learning, was to stand in front of a bunch of powerful desks listening to lots of windy lectures, all timed to the beat of tape recorders being flicked on and off.

Chapter 2

AS A burly Air Force tech sergeant ushered me through the aircraft doorway, I immediately spotted Captain James Delbert and Captain Lisa Morrow waiting for me in the cavernous rear of the lumbering C-130. The first thing I noticed, though, was that the C-130, which is a cargo plane, was indeed packed to the gills with cargo. So much for my putative sense of importance. It was worse than that, though. The aircraft was stuffed with feminine hygiene products in OD green boxes.

A thousand wicked wisecracks crossed my mind, and maybe if Captain Morrow had been a he, instead of a she, I might have let loose. But fifteen years of ingrained sensitivity training stilled my tongue. It's dicey to tell a risqué joke in front of any female soldier. It's often suicidal in the presence of a female lawyer.

The second thing I noticed was that both Delbert and Morrow had sour faces. Whether that was because of me or the accommodations, or the fact that, without warning, they'd both been ordered to drop everything and meet me on this airplane was as yet unclear.

Neither had been told why they had to be here, but both were ridiculously clever and probably had some strong suspicions. For three days, headlines and talk shows around the world had focused on nothing but this case. It wasn't hard to deduce that a gathering of the Army's top lawyers on an airplane headed to Europe had something to do with the massacre. They both stood as I worked my way past four massive cartons marked TAMPON, 1 EACH.

"Delbert, Morrow, good to meet you," I said, thrusting my hand forward and awarding them my most winsome smile.

"Good to meet you, too," said Delbert, a fine-looking soldier, who smiled even more winsomely as he pumped hands with holy fury.

"No it's not," complained Morrow, whose sourpuss gained a few more creases.

"You're not happy to be here?" I asked.

"Not in the least. I was right in the middle of an armed theft trial that has now had to be declared a mistrial."

"Were you going to win?"


"Bullshit," I told her.

"What do you know about it?" she asked, becoming instantly suspicious.

"I know your client was charged with two counts of breaking and entering and one count of armed theft. The breaking and enterings you might've managed, but the armed theft? Seven witnesses identified him, the MPs had the weapon he used, his fingerprints were all over it, and he confessed right after he was picked up. Your client should've stuck to second-story jobs. He was a complete klutz as a holdup guy."

"You checked into my case?" she asked, and it was hard to tell if that made her angry or surprised.


"And you second-guessed me?"

"No. The trial judge, Colonel Tompson, he second-guessed you. He said you were doing a masterful job. He also said it was hopeless. His exact words were that you were 'doing a very stylish breaststroke in quicksand.'"

"So you knew you were pulling me away from my client?" she demanded, nodding her head to punctuate each word.

And in that instant it was easy to understand why this woman was such a successful attorney. She played for keeps. After eight years of trying cases, she still took it personally. She wasn't hardened or cynical, not one bit.

"That's exactly what I did," I told her. "I pulled you out of a trial that concerned one soldier and his pissant crimes to put you on the biggest, most important Army case in three or four decades."

Now this was the point where we could have launched into one of those libertarian debates that lawyers just love, about how unjust I'd been, about how the rights of one man were every bit as insistent as the needs of the Army. But what would be the point? She might score a nice philosophical victory, but it wasn't like she could climb off this plane and return to her client's side. Besides, I had just confirmed what she and Delbert had previously only suspected, and that's a little like getting hit by a bus. Took the air right out of her lungs.

The two-star general in charge of the Army's JAG Corps had told me I could have as many of the Army's top lawyers to serve on my investigating board as my heart desired. Being one myself, I know that the more lawyers you gather under one roof, the more the situation gets to be like a barroom donnybrook. The rate of progress is nearly always commensurate to the scarcity of lawyers. I therefore informed him that I only wanted two lawyers: one prosecutor and one defender.

I decided that because there are two ways to look at any case: from the standpoint of guilt, and from the standpoint of innocence. One, obviously, is through the eyes of the prosecutor who must gather the facts, then persuade a board of officers and soldiers that the man at the defense table is not only richly guilty, but deserves to be hung from the highest yardarm. Then there's the defense side, which understands that American law, even military law, is, at its core, highly procedural: that the rights of the accused always outweigh the needs of justice. Any good defense attorney pays as much attention to the way the culprit was caught, and how the catchers did their job, as to the facts of the case itself.

Prosecutors are the spoiled stepchildren of the law. They get to decide which cases they'll try: If the facts don't favor them, or they detect any infringements on the rights of the accused, they simply take a pass. Defense attorneys are eternally cursed. They get appointed only after a prosecutor has decided there's at least a 99 percent chance of a conviction. There are plenty of prosecutors who win almost all the time. There is only a small handful of defense attorneys who win even half the time.

Lisa Morrow was the exception. After eight years as a defense attorney, she had won 69 percent of her cases. She'd defended murderers, rapists, thieves, child molesters, and about every other assortment of bad guy imaginable. But, she had never defended anyone accused of violating a rule of the Geneva Convention. For that matter, neither had I. For that matter, neither had anyone; at least anyone who was still wearing a uniform.

James Delbert had a 97 percent conviction rate and even by the lopsided nature of the way the law is stacked in his favor, that's pretty damned striking. Even the best prosecutors sometimes get tripped up by things beyond their control, such as witnesses who fall apart on the stand or aren't terribly convincing, or a court-martial board that just acts in wild-assed ways that are contrary to all logic. Even the most brilliant prosecutor is still going to occasionally lose.

Before this moment, I had never met either of them. They were handpicked because I told Major General Clapper that I didn't want just any couple of attorneys. I wanted the prosecutor and defense counsel with the best win-loss records in the Army. He picked them, then gave me copies of their military files. And I must admit that I spent considerably more time with my nose stuffed inside Morrow's packet than Delbert's. There was this great picture of her in there, standing stiffly at attention in her dress greens, and that picture offered my only hope that this investigation might have a few good angles. Or curves. Or whatever.

Nor did it take more than a quick glance to see why so many juries and boards had fallen under her sway. I don't know that I'd describe her as beautiful, although she certainly was that. She just had the most sympathetic eyes I ever saw, which as I mentioned before is not a real popular emotion in the Army, unless, that is, it happens to be pasted on a gorgeous female face. Then exceptions get made.

Delbert, on the other hand, looked every bit the soldier. Trim, fit, handsome, with straight, dark hair that sat perfectly in place without a single stray strand. He had one of those razor-sharp faces, and eyes that looked ready to pounce. I could see where a jury or a board would look at him and think only of their duty.


On Sale
Jul 15, 2001
Page Count
416 pages

Brian Haig

About the Author

Brian Haig is the New York Times bestselling author of six novels featuring JAG attorney Sean Drummond. A former special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he has also been published in journals ranging from the New York Times to USA Today to Details. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and four children. For more information on the author you can visit his website at

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