Ethics question: Let’s say you are a military officer whose Oath of Office requires you to disobey an order that violates the Constitution of the United States.
You believe – for reasons that appear almost Talmudic to someone unversed in the details – that the order to be inoculated with an “unapproved anthrax vaccine” is illegal.
You go through the authorized procedures to make your case, including going to federal court. You lose your case, but not — you believe — on the merits.
Almost one thousand service men and women refuse to receive the inoculation and are punished. You think the punishment was wrong because the order they are accused of disobeying was illegal.
You go on with your life and career. But you learn that many more doses of the unapproved vaccine are now included in the Strategic National Stockpile. What do you do? Do you let it go and just keep your fingers crossed hoping the vaccine is never needed? Do you trod further down the Quixotic path to battle even more windmills? Do you stop trying to have the records expunged of those service members you believe were illegally punished?
A few days ago, Edward Jay Epstein published an article in the Wall Street Journal claiming the Anthrax Attack of 2001 is still an open case. Reading the article reminded me of the officer’s dilemma. And a confusing story — at least to me — gets even more confusing.
In a May 2009 article the officer wrote about the vaccine, he noted the
Justice Department alleged the anthrax vaccine program’s “failing” status served as the stated motive in the 2001 anthrax letter attacks. By sending anthrax through the U.S. mail system, the perpetrator was attempting to create a situation where the government might recognize a renewed need for the vaccine.
What does all this mean? As best as I can summarize:
- The particular anthrax vaccine was never proven effective.
- Allegedly, one of the U.S. scientists involved with developing the vaccine sent anthrax through the mails to create demand for more research.
- It was that vaccine service members were required to take.
- It is that vaccine that has been included in the Strategic National Stockpile, to be used on civilians if there is a need.
What is the ethically correct action for the officer who believes this to be the case?
The guest author for today’s post is Lieutenant Colonel Tom Rempfer. LtCol Rempfer is a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and an Air Force Command pilot, experienced in F-16s, F-117s, A-10s, and MQ-1s. His prior service included membership on the U.S. Air Force Cyberspace Task Force, as well as flight safety and operational risk management duties. He recently graduated with a homeland security master’s degree from the Naval Postgraduate School. His thesis — available at this link — is titled: ANTHRAX VACCINE AS A COMPONENT OF THE STRATEGIC NATIONAL STOCKPILE: A DILEMMA FOR HOMELAND SECURITY.
If you are one of the people interested in the 2001 anthrax attacks, or anything related to it, LtCol Rempfer’s thesis is worth a read.
“Check six.” Fighter pilots use this term to warn fellow aviators to look to their six o’clock position and avoid impending threats. This is the objective of Lieutenant Colonel Tom Rempfer’s Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security thesis.
The thesis details the history of the anthrax vaccine incorporated into the Strategic National Stockpile after the anthrax letter attacks of 2001. Prior to that time, the vaccine suffered from unapproved manufacturing changes, GAO documented potency increases, controversies over Gulf War Illness, quality control problems, threatened FDA notices of license revocation, Department of Defense (DoD) plans to replace the vaccine and recommendations by the George W. Bush administration to minimize its use in August 2001.
According to the FBI, the anthrax letter attacks in the fall of 2001 by a US Army scientist successfully rekindled demand and overcame the vaccine’s “failing” status. Since those attacks, DoD leaders leveraged the crimes to revive the anthrax vaccine program and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) endorsed the purchase of over $1 billion for the Strategic National Stockpile, all while federal courts declared the program illegal due to the vaccine’s lack of proper licensing.
The author’s involvement with the DoD anthrax vaccine controversy spanned the ten years preceding his Master’s degree. He challenged the program in accordance with his Oath of Office, which demanded military orders adhere to the law.
LtCol Rempfer testified to Congress and his legal efforts to seek accountability continue with a recently filed Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court and an ongoing case with the Board for Correction of Military Records. Well documented alliances in his pursuit of justice include Connecticut legislators such as Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Senator Christopher Dodd, former Representative Christopher Shays, and a tenacious Veteran advocate, Mr. H. Ross Perot.
The author’s ultimate goal to expunge the records for the almost one thousand Servicemembers wrongfully punished for refusing to comply with the illegal mandate serves as a backdrop, as well as his goal for proper care for those harmed by the vaccine.
The thesis describes unhealthy precedents where illegal policy, resuscitated through bioterrorism, could lead to dramatic expenditures and expanded use of the vaccine for the civilian population. The author recommends the government resurvey the use of the vaccine for the American people and suggests the new administration should “check six” by ensuring Homeland Security Presidential Directive reviews support vaccine stockpiling in light of the proven efficacy of antibiotics, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The thesis encourages a Presidential Study and Policy Directive process to review systemic problems associated with the anthrax vaccine from a historical lens. In doing so, DHS Secretary Napolitano protects the Obama Administration from being duped into adopting historically plagued, unnecessary and wasteful policy.
One clarification: the current “lost” case is under appeal, so it’s not over ’till it’s over.
Plus, there’s another case at the corrections board which is an effective win. The court agreed with my position, ordered the DoD to address records corrections, but the DoD has simply done nothing to correct the wrongs. That case is now headed back to court too, to compell the DoD to do the right thing.
These two latest cases were preceded by a complete win in a separate case. The government was found to have violated the law because the vaccine was never licensed by the FDA until 2005, six years after they ordered service members to take the vaccine and punished those who refused.