Following the seizure of the USS Pueblo, Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, USN, Chief of Naval Operations and President of the Naval Institute, gave these remarks in an address to the American Bar Foundation on January 25, 1969. This address was published in the March 1969 issue of Proceedings magazine.
“You, as lawyers, will understand why I, as Chief of Naval Operations, and thus in the reviewing chain of command, cannot make comments on the substantive aspects of testimony given during the Inquiry. I will be ready to do this at the appropriate time.
I can, however, put the nature of the Inquiry in proper perspective and, hopefully, reassure the American people that the Court of Inquiry is being conducted in a straightforward, legal and objective manner.
First: What is a Court of Inquiry? It is a fact-finding body—that and nothing more. It is not a court-martial. Witnesses at a Court of Inquiry are not on trial. A Court of Inquiry cannot even prefer charges. It simply records the facts and makes recommendations to the convening authority—in this case the Commander-in-Chief of The Pacific Fleet. These recommendations may cover such things as operational procedures, material improvements, communications, training of personnel, international law—and many other subjects—and, if warranted, the recommendation for further legal proceedings.
Next: Why are we having a Court of Inquiry? A ship has been lost. We always have a Court of Inquiry when this happens—whatever the cause.
Particular emphasis is being placed on protecting the rights of the individuals, and on lessons learned. These lessons will be of great assistance in the future.
When the Inquiry opened its initial session, the first witness was Commander Bucher. He was given the legally required advice concerning his rights as a party to the Inquiry. Counsel for the court made it clear that Commander Bucher was not at that time suspected of having committed any offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Later, when Commander Bucher, in his testimony, indicated that the North Koreans had boarded his ship, the counsel for the court—as required by the law you know so well—told Commander Bucher it was possible that he had violated U. S. Navy Regulations, Article 0730 which reads: ‘The commanding officer shall not permit his command to be searched by any person representing a foreign state nor permit any of the personnel under his command to be removed from the command by such persons, so long as he has the power to resist.’ He explained to Commander Bucher his right to testify no further and gave him the routine, required warning that, if he did so, the information could be used against him later.
Since this simple act of legal procedure—basic to our legal system—caused so much controversy, was so misinterpreted and has caused so many to prejudge the outcome of this Inquiry, let me emphasize three points:
First: Such a warning was not unexpected by Commander Bucher or his counsel—here are the words of Commander Bucher’s counsel addressed to the counsel for the court: ‘We have discussed this matter with Commander Bucher in some detail. As you know, we had some preliminary conversations with you before this Court of Inquiry convened as to the procedures that would be followed and the manner by which Commander Bucher’s story and the story of the USS Pueblo could be presented to this Court. We obviously anticipated the situation that we find ourselves in at the present moment. We have discussed this in detail with Commander Bucher. In view of your warning, Commander Bucher persists in his desire to fully and completely tell this Court of Inquiry the details of the 23rd of January and the events subsequent thereto. Based on that, Commander Bucher, with the Court’s permission, requests that he be permitted to testify, and complete this phase of the story. Commander Bucher, am I correctly reciting your wishes in this matter? And do I correctly recite that you have been adequately and fully apprised of all your legal rights which include the right to remain silent on this portion?’ Commander Bucher answered in the affirmative.
Second: I would like to emphasize that a Court of Inquiry must begin with a blank record. Newspaper accounts, rumors, second-hand reports or prejudgments cannot be considered. The official record of the Pueblo‘s capture and the treatment of her crew must come from testimony and evidence presented to this Court of Inquiry. For the Court, what has appeared and will appear in public accounts simply does not exist.
Third: Whether the Navy—or anyone in the Navy—was pleased or displeased with Commander Bucher’s testimony could have nothing whatever to do with that warning. I realize I am ‘preaching to the choir’ when I tell you that. However, the requirement to warn Commander Bucher is obviously not so well understood by some.
Ladies and Gentlemen—I am deeply troubled—that what was a routine and totally correct legal procedure has been widely misinterpreted.
As Chief of Naval Operations—I intend to ensure—and the Court itself will ensure—that Commander Bucher’s rights—as well as all others appearing before the Court—are fully protected. Possibly there will be similar warnings concerning self-incrimination as additional witnesses testify. The point to keep in mind is that the Navy is searching for facts—not scapegoats. We are doing so—within limits imposed by national security—in open hearings, because I believe that this is the way the American people would want it done. And we are taking well-tested and legally prescribed steps to protect the rights of all concerned.
I earnestly request you, who are so well-qualified, to assist me in explaining the legal aspects of the Pueblo Inquiry to the American people. And, I earnestly request the American people to be patient, not to prejudge, and to have full trust and confidence that the procedures used in developing the facts surrounding the piracy against the Pueblo are being carried out by experienced men of great integrity who have only the welfare of our country at heart.”