On trial for his freedom and facing the possibility of a life sentence five years ago this month, Army Sgt. 1st Class Kelly A. Stewart refused to violate his Code of Conduct as a member of the Army’s elite Special Forces unit known as the Green Berets.
At one point during his two-day court-martial five years ago, the trial counsel asked Stewart questions about friendships he had established in Germany since his August 2008 arrival in the Stuttgart area. Soon after, the highly-decorated combat veteran‘s time on the witness stand turned into a somewhat-heated exchange during which it appeared the trial counsel was trying to paint Stewart as a master manipulator whose Special Forces training helped him know how to control a person like his accuser.
Stewart’s accuser was a then-28-year-old German woman. On Nov. 7, 2008, she accused him of having raped and kidnapped her two and a half months earlier during a one-night stand that ended in his hotel room in Sindelfingen, Germany. Nine months after he was charged, Stewart found himself convicted at court-martial on multiple charges — including kidnapping, forcible sodomy and aggravated sexual assault of a woman — based almost entirely on the testimony of his accuser.
Below is an excerpt from my first nonfiction book, Three Days In August, in which I chronicle the life story and wrongful prosecution/conviction of Stewart. In it, I highlight the exchange between Stewart and the trial counsel that shows how the accused soldier refused to violate his Code of Conduct [Note: CDC = Criminal Defense Counsel; TC = Trial Counsel; MJ = Military Judge; WIT = Witness; SERE = Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape Training]:
Q. And you were brought to Germany to be an instructor in the survival division?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. And you would consider yourself a–this is somewhat subjective, but a highly trained soldier being a Special Forces soldier?
A. Can you repeat the question, sir?
Q. Being a Special Forces soldier, you would consider yourself highly trained? You have more training than the average soldier in combat-type stuff?
A. Sir, I can’t talk about other soldiers, for instance, the panel is here, their experiences versus mine, I’m not qualified to talk about–
Q. I’m not asking–
A. –I can tell you that I have training in the United States Army.
Q. You don’t consider yourself highly trained?
A. I consider myself trained by the Army, sir.
Q. Okay, you’ve gone through the “Q” Course?
A. Yes, sir, I have.
Q. You’ve gone to the Target Interdiction Course?
A. Yes, I have.
Q. And that trained you how to be a sniper?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Have you gone through SERE training?
A. Yes, I have, sir.
Q. And not just SERE training, but the high-risk SERE training?
A. Yes, sir, I have.
Q. And that course–those courses are all fairly intense, right?
A. Yes, sir,
Q. Much more intense than your basic training, AIT, your average BNCOC/ANCOC-type courses, is that correct?
A. Any discussions on the details of my training–
Q. Just asking if they’re intense, Sergeant.
A. Sir, I’m trying to answer the question. Any details or my opinions about any of the training that I have attended in the United States Special Forces Qualification Course, I’m not authorized to discuss with you. Now, if in closed session, the judge would like to ask me those questions, I might be able to discuss it with him, but I myself have been instructed, and I have a PAO guy, any of my training I’m not at liberty to discuss with anybody.
Q. So you can’t say that those courses are mentally challenging?
A. I think any courses in the United States Army are mentally challenging, sir.
Q. You can’t say that they’re psychologically tough?
A. I think Basic Training was psychologically tough on me, sir.
Q. Now I pulled this off of the internet, this is open-source information I’m going to ask you about.
A. Okay, sir.
CDC: Objection, Your Honor, to that testimony by the government.
TC: I’m not getting answers to my questions, Your Honor, I’ve got to preface–if he’s going to refuse to answer my questions, I’ve got to tell him where I’m getting this stuff if he’s going to invoke his Special Forces training to prevent him from answering questions or policy, I’m sorry.
MJ: Objection overruled. Ask the question.
Q. At the SERE course you’re taught how to resist violent captors, is that correct?
A. Again, sir, unless I’m authorized by the (Special Operations Command Europe) Public Affairs Officer, I can’t discuss the training that I received at the SERE-level C School.
Q. You’re taught how to resist torture?
A. Again, sir–
Q. We’re going to go through this, so, that’s fine–
A. No, again, sir, I don’t know what I’m authorized to discuss with you because I’m not the releasing authority of my training.
Q. I got this off of Wikipedia.com.
CDC: Objection, Your Honor, that is not evidence before the court, that is merely an assertion by counsel.
TC: And the accused will not answer my questions.
MJ: Objection sustained. Ask the question, if the accused answers he answers.
Q. You were taught how to resist torture?
A. I was taught to resist and to return with honor.
Q. You were taught how to resist interrogation techniques?
A. Again, I was taught to resist and to return with honor.
Q. You were taught to resist exploitation, isn’t that correct?
A. I was taught to return with honor, sir.
Q. And you were taught how to combat psychological ploys of your captors, isn’t that correct?
A. Could you rephrase the question, sir?
Q. You were taught how to combat psychological ploys of your captor?
A. Again, any teachings, techniques, plans, or policies that that school has I’m not authorized to discuss with anybody in here, because this is an open forum.
WIT: And if the questions are going to continue down that road, Your Honor, I’d ask that it be at a closed session because currently we are in an open session with an open court and I am not the approving authority or the releasing authority of the information or training that I received there.
The above is only one snippet from his military trial. To read other posts about the book, click here. For the complete story of Sergeant Stewart’s battle for military justice, order a copy of Three Days In August.