Court-Martial of the Presidio 27
About the mutiny and court-martial of the prisoners at the Presidio against the military's unjust treatments during the Vietname era.
THE PRESIDIO 27
By 1968, the undeclared war in Vietnam had become the most unpopular war in the history of the U.S. Young men were running off to Canada, and other countries, to escape the draft. The use of marijuana, uppers, downers, and hard drugs, was on the rise. College students publicly burned their draft cards and participated in campus riots. Peace marches and open dissent were increasing. Singly and in groups, 18- and 19-year-olds, frightened, confused, and uncertain, became fugitives from a society they didn't understand or accept.
The stockade at San Francisco's old Presidio, built prior to W.W. I to house 56 men, was bursting with "emergency overcrowding" and held 115 prisoners. Sworn, published testimony of inmates has revealed that the once comfortable quarters were divided into small windowless cells, many with dimensions less than the army minimum of 6' by 8'. There were 5 toilets, 2 of them plugged up, and these contributed human waste to literally inches of polluted water standing on the floors of the showers. Black-painted cells were unlighted, making reading impossible. Food was both poor and in short supply. There were less than 50 drinking cups for all the prisoners.
Guards of the facility and marine guards from nearby Treasure Island allegedly dreamed up the harassing use of urine-loaded water pistols, senseless beatings, finger and testes twisting, and threats of death. On work details, these minimum-security prisoners were supervised by shotgun-armed, trigger-happy guards who often pointed their weapons at prisoners to threaten: "I'll blow your fucking heads off." This type of treatment inspired 60 suicide attempts, all denied by the Army; their word for it was "gestures."
In a work crew, Richard "Rusty" Bunch antagonized a guard by skipping away from him. "Rusty" was shot in the back for trying to escape. The date was October 11, 1968. On the morning of the 14th, 27 prisoners broke ranks to sit down on the grass, asking to speak to stockade commander Capt. Robert S. Lamont in order to express their grievances. They were arrested and charged with mutiny.
The Court-Martial. After 3 investigations, costing the Army a half-million dollars, the mutineers were tried at the Presidio, Fort Irwin, and Fort Ord, in California, and at Fort Lewis, in Washington, between January and June of 1969. Early trial sentences were for 16 years' imprisonment, but due to public outcry, later trial sentences were for 3 months. Capt. Dean Flippo, an army prosecutor, stated in the courtroom: "It is the attack on the system, not the method of the attack, that is important in determining whether there is mutiny."
Signifiance. More than 100,000 servicemen face trail by court-martial each year. They are confined without bail; they are not tried by a jury of their peers; they have no guarantee of impartial judges, and in 95% of the cases, the verdict is guilty. Those convicted lose all of their rights. They can and do suffer cruel and inhumane treatment during imprisonment. Some are driven insane and others resort to suicide, all in the name of discipline at all costs, for this is military justice.
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