n the fall of 2013, U.S. Army three-star general Dana Chipman faced a disorienting dilemma: He was 55 years old, and his career was over. Chipman, JD ’86, had served in the Army for 33 years, a journey that began as a cadet at West Point in the 1970s and culminated in his appointment as the judge advocate general (TJAG), the Army’s highest-ranking legal officer. During the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he had advised the Army’s top commanders and overseen some of the military’s most sensitive criminal cases. He had attained the rank of lieutenant general, a designation held by fewer than 60 other Army officers. And now, having finished his four-year tenure as TJAG, he was done.
Chipman received plenty of job offers — according to his wife, Karen, “people were calling once a week” — but he struggled to find the right one. “I knew there wasn’t anything from which I’d derive the kind of reward I had from my service in the Army,” he says. “But I still wanted to serve in some capacity. I just didn’t have the right sense of what that would be.” Months went by before Chipman received a call from Maj. Gen. Charles Dunlap, a former deputy judge advocate general. Dunlap, who retired from the military in 2010, had been contacted by a newly formed congressional committee investigating the September 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi, Libya, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The Republican-led committee was looking for a prominent lawyer to serve as its chief counsel. Was Chipman interested? Until then, Chipman had paid only passing attention to the roiling furor over Benghazi, which has largely faded from the headlines but remains an obsession for many conservatives. The prospect of heading up an investigation with foreign-policy implications intrigued Chipman, as did the chance to work on Capitol Hill for the first time. Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican named last May to chair the Benghazi Select Committee, called Chipman to discuss the role. The two men spoke twice more before meeting in person in Gowdy’s Washington office. “You can anticipate his biggest concern: ‘I’ve had this long, distinguished career of service and it’s going to be undercut by 18 months of political theater,’ ” says Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor. Gowdy assured Chipman the inquiry would be “fact-centered — you have no friends to reward and no foes to punish.” Chipman accepted Gowdy’s offer and started work last July.
The sharp-tongued Gowdy and decorous Chipman may seem like an unlikely match, but the two have developed a close partnership. Gowdy says they speak several times a day. “[Chipman’s] very humble, which is a quality that’s not often found in Washington. He lets everyone else in the room speak first — and just when you think there’s someone in the room who knows more than him, he makes his voice heard. He’d be a lousy politician, because he doesn’t brag and try to make everyone see how smart he is in the first 30 seconds you meet him.”
he Benghazi Select Committee is the eighth congressional panel to examine the events in Libya and the U.S. response to them, but the first created for the sole purpose of doing so. Conservative Republicans view Benghazi as a grave intelligence failure and a vast government cover-up orchestrated at the highest levels of the Obama administration. Democrats, in turn, accuse Republicans of deliberately prolonging investigations into the tragedy to embarrass Obama and damage former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes. Just seven Democrats voted for the legislation creating the select committee, and Democrats serving on the panel continue to question its purpose. “What can this committee bring to the table that hasn’t already been thoroughly explored? The answer is still out,” says Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), ’82, who sits on both the Benghazi committee and the House Select Committee on Intelligence, which produced its own report on Benghazi last year. “I don’t think there are many unanswered questions about what took place.”
Plunging into the partisan fight over Benghazi may seem unexpected for someone as studiously apolitical as Chipman.
hipman is not an ideologue. His professional role model is George C. Marshall, the general and statesman who was so adamant about concealing his political views that he refrained from voting. Friends who’ve known Chipman for decades say they’re unaware of his party affiliation; even his wife isn’t sure. One administration official who worked with Chipman in his previous post at the Pentagon says he was “shocked” to discover the general was working for Gowdy’s committee because Chipman had never come across as partisan. No one is more vexed than Chipman’s 80-year-old mother, a lifelong Democrat. “She hopes this won’t last too long,” Chipman jokes. “She’d like to tell her friends about my next job more than my current one.”
Plunging into the partisan fight over Benghazi may seem unexpected for someone as studiously apolitical as Chipman, but it also reflects the values that shaped his career. He is deeply loyal to the military, but equally committed to the idea that those who represent the nation — in and out of uniform, regardless of rank or title — should be accountable to the law. And as a trained prosecutor who also dealt with the full range of legal questions related to the war on terrorism, Chipman thrives in gray areas, where consensus about the truth is elusive. “There are a lot of people who wouldn’t want to do this because it’s controversial,” says Dunlap. “Dana doesn’t shy away from controversy.”
Chipman works out of a windowless office on the first floor of the Longworth House Office Building, across the street from the Capitol. The space is furnished with a desk, two chairs and a bookshelf that holds pictures of Dana, Karen and their three children, Meredith, Claire and Kyle, as well as Chipman’s framed Army retirement certificate, signed by President Obama. A sign above his computer reads, “Eat, Drink and Beat Navy.”
As the majority’s chief counsel on the Benghazi Select Committee, Chipman oversees a team of nine investigators that has spent the past eight months reviewing some 100,000 pages of materials produced by the committees that have already looked into Benghazi. “We’re trying to figure out, where are the gaps? Where are the seams? Where can we supplement the material that’s already been generated?”
Based on Chipman’s recommendations, the committee is re-examining classified documents, conducting additional closed-door interviews and holding public hearings with government officials. To the dismay of Democrats, there’s no deadline for producing a final report, which means the investigation may drag on well into the 2016 presidential campaign. “I understand why many people would say, ‘We’ve learned what we’re already going to learn from Benghazi, can we just move on?’” Chipman says. “But there are other folks who say, ‘I don’t feel comfortable that you’ve fully exhausted what occurred here.’ So we’ve got a charter to do this and we’ll execute that charter.”
Chipman is skeptical of the more sensational claims made by Benghazi “theorists” — such as the charge that U.S. military assets were prepared to deploy to the consulate after it came under attack, but were ordered to “stand down” by political superiors. “The idea of a conspiracy isn’t one I’d default toward for anything,” Chipman says. “I worked in the executive branch for 33 years. The people I worked with, on any given day, wake up and say, ‘I’m going to work and I’m going to do the right thing.’ If there are claims that a conspiracy was done, I want to be sure we’ve fully addressed them and run them to the ground as best we can.”
hipman was born in Inglewood, Calif. The son of a salesman, he had an itinerant childhood, living in four different states between seventh and 12th grade. He received an appointment to West Point in 1976, as a high school senior. He knew little about the Army but chose to attend “because it was the best education I could achieve with the resources my family had.”
After three years in Fort Carson, Colo., Chipman applied to the Army’s legal-education program, which paid for law school tuition and books at any school that accepted him. He chose Stanford.
BROTHERS IN ARMS: Chipman, center, with fellow cadets Mike Griffin and Hank Holly at West Point in 1980.
As one of just three members of his 177-person class with military experience, Chipman was something of a novelty at the Law School. “For me, it was an opportunity to do a little outreach and say, ‘Not all people in the Army have two heads. Some of us actually do tend to think a little bit.’”
Andy Freeman, ’80, MS ’86, who shared a house in Mountain View with Chipman and three others, recalls that Chipman was “tall, in good shape and with a trim Army haircut. He looked like a military man but one with a big smile on his face.” Brent Bullock, JD ’86, remembers Chipman as “a very moral, ethical individual.”
“He’s a smart guy, and when he tells you he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it.”
Chipman was a mainstay on The Jury, his Law School class’s intramural football team, which won the university-wide championship in his third year. In the spring of 1985, on a night out at the downtown Palo Alto pub 42nd Street, he met Karen Stanley, a Los Altos native who was studying for a master’s degree at San Jose State. They were married a few months after Chipman’s graduation and soon relocated to Schweinfurt, Germany, where Chipman spent three years as trial counsel with the Third Infantry Division, prosecuting cases of soldier misconduct. One case involved a triple murder committed by a soldier stationed at Schweinfurt. Years later, when Chipman was a student at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., he encountered the murderer, who was working at the bakery on the base, as inmates were allowed to do at the time. “I came home,” Chipman says, “and told Karen we would not be frequenting the bakery that year.”
Following his tour in Germany, Chipman was assigned to the Army’s litigation division in Washington, D.C., a job that had him defending the Army in federal court. In the mid-1990s, he moved back into operations, becoming a judge advocate with the Army’s elite Delta Force.
On Easter Sunday in 2001, while serving as legal adviser to the Joint Special Operations Command, Chipman was part of the team that captured Dragan Obrenovic, a former Bosnian Serb Army commander and accused war criminal. Obrenovic had been visiting his father-in-law in Kozluk, Bosnia, when U.S. and NATO commandos seized him. He was taken to a NATO base an hour away and put in a bunker-like room that Chipman describes as “a Quonset hut with an interior cage area.”
Chipman’s responsibility was to outline Obrenovic’s rights as a prisoner of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, before Obrenovic was transported to The Hague. In a plea deal with prosecutors, Obrenovic later admitted his role in the massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, Bosnia, and was sentenced to 17 years in prison.
Chipman was part of the team that captured a former Bosnian Serb Army commander and accused war criminal.
Chipman was in the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, Hungary, planning for a counterterrorism exercise in Eastern Europe, when he received word of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Chipman’s comrades scrapped the Hungary mission and flew to Bosnia, where they began preparations for the invasion of Afghanistan. While there, Chipman learned that Maj. Kip Taylor, a close friend who worked at the Pentagon, had been killed in the attacks. Taylor, whose wife was expecting their child, had attended Chipman’s promotion party a week earlier in Ft. Bragg. “It weighed heavily on my thoughts about possibly leaving the military,” Chipman says. “I had 21 years in the Army and could have retired and done something else. But this was a crucible moment — I decided that I’m going to stay on active duty as long as I can, because this was now my time to pay back.”
A few weeks after 9/11, Chipman deployed with a group of 75 special-operations personnel to Masirah Island, Oman. The group was tasked with planning raids to find and capture high-ranking members of al-Qaida and the Taliban. Chipman was the unit’s sole forward-deployed lawyer, trying to come up with legal guidelines for a new and unfamiliar mission. “Let’s say we capture Osama bin Laden or [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar. Where do we bring them? Guantanamo wasn’t open for business. Everyone recognized the problem and was working it hard, but there wasn’t a consensus as to the right way to proceed.”
During deployments to Oman and Afghanistan in 2002, Chipman’s communications with his family were minimal. “There was no Internet set up over there. He couldn’t talk to us or email us,” Karen Chipman says. “He would say, ‘If you want to know where I am, turn on CNN.’”
Then the Bush administration began a push to oust Saddam Hussein, and Chipman’s focus quickly turned from Afghanistan to Iraq. “I thought, you’ve got to be kidding me,” he says. “I spoke to peers of mine and many of us felt this was something that could wait.”
All the while, Chipman’s star continued to rise: He was promoted to general and served as the chief legal adviser to the head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, Gen. Bryan D. Brown. In the summer of 2006, he took over duties as the staff judge advocate at U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility over all armed forces in the Middle East. On his first weekend in that job, he was briefed on the details of one of the worst crimes committed by U.S. troops during the Iraq war: the 2005 massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines in the town of Haditha. Chipman advised Centcom chief Gen. John Abizaid on the allegations and how they would affect ongoing U.S. operations in Iraq, while ensuring the Marines “had the ability to figure out how they were going to prosecute the case.”
The Haditha case illustrated both the complexities and flaws of military justice. The criminal investigation into the killings began more than three months after they took place, making it nearly impossible to collect physical evidence. Seven Marines were court-martialed for taking part in the massacre, but charges were dropped against six of them; the seventh, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, accepted a plea deal that allowed him to avoid prison time. Legal experts criticized the Marine Corps prosecutors for numerous mistakes “including giving immunity to squad mates whose credibility as witnesses came into question,” according to the New York Times. Because the Marines had responsibility for prosecuting the case, “Centcom didn’t necessarily retain the lead role,” Chipman says. “Seeing how it played out was frustrating, because we felt like the case was not handled well and certainly didn’t do justice to the victims or anyone involved in the process.”
Charles Dunlap points out that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan presented controversies almost daily — ranging from misconduct by troops in the field, to sorting out rules of engagement, to reconciling the military’s relationship with contractors. “It’s not an easy thing to do, to adjudicate complicated legal matters that have national and strategic importance at a time when commanders are in the midst of fighting a war,” he says. “Dana had to make all the right things happen in a very difficult environment, and he did a masterful job.”
SOLDIER FATHER: Chipman threw out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game in 2013, left. Below, with daughters Meredith and Claire, his wife, Karen, and son, Kyle.
n 2008, Chipman was appointed the commander and commandant of the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, Va., which trains new Army lawyers. He soon emerged as a leading candidate to become the judge advocate general, the Army’s top legal job. “You need someone who’s well-rounded, well-versed, able to speak on their feet at the highest levels of government, who can deal with Congress and four-star generals, as well as political appointees — and still be able to connect with ordinary soldiers and make sure legal procedures are understood at the lowest level,” says retired Maj. Gen. Dan Wright, a former deputy judge advocate general. “Dana fits all those requirements. He’s a guy who can help other folks understand very complex and difficult situations.”
Chipman assumed his new position on October 1, 2009. To avoid having to move their second daughter, Claire, to her third high school, he and Karen decided that Karen would remain in Charlottesville, with Dana driving home from D.C. on weekends.
As TJAG, he oversaw the work of 5,000 Army lawyers, on both active duty and reserve, and an equal number of paralegals. His tenure was eventful. Six weeks in, 13 people were killed and 32 wounded in a mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas. The gunman, Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan, claimed he carried out the attack to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would take more than three years to bring the case to trial; a military jury finally convicted Hassan and sentenced him to death in August 2013.
In the meantime, Chipman had to manage an even more visible and complicated case: the espionage prosecution of Pvt. Bradley Manning, who leaked a trove of classified material to Wikileaks while stationed as an Army intelligence officer in Iraq. Because of the sensitivity of the case, Chipman was involved on an unusually granular level, weighing in on names for the prosecution and defense teams, on who would serve as the presiding judge and where Manning would be confined. After reports surfaced of Manning’s abusive treatment at a Marine brig in Quantico, Va., Chipman decided to transfer Manning to Fort Leavenworth while he awaited trial. Manning was ultimately convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison.
As the Army’s top lawyer, Chipman also became its point person for countering a barrage of criticism from lawmakers and the public about the prevalence of sexual assault in the military. The most visible fight centered on reforms proposed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. Her bill included a highly contentious measure to strip the military’s chain of command of its authority to decide on the prosecution of sexual assault claims and give that power to military lawyers instead. In May 2013, Chipman appeared with the military’s highest-ranking officers, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin E. Dempsey, at a tense hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee where they outlined their objections to Gillibrand’s bill. “We knew we had a problem [adjudicating sexual assault matters], but there were things we were being directed to do that we pushed back against because we felt like they wouldn’t actually address the problem,” Chipman says. “Our argument was that if you want to effect meaningful change, it has to be driven by the commander. If you take that away, then he or she can say, ‘Sorry, that’s no longer my interest. I’ve got this other entity that’s handling allegations of misconduct. I don’t have to worry about it anymore.’ If you’re going to have change, you’ve got to have the commander leading that change.”
As the legislation made its way to a vote, Chipman facilitated a four-hour briefing to another Democrat, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, defending the military’s system for handling sexual assault cases. McCaskill became a key voice in defeating Gillibrand’s bill, though Congress did pass legislation that barred commanders from overturning sexual assault verdicts and expanded victims’ access to counsel. The sexual assault debate was the most consuming issue he faced as TJAG, Chipman says. “It just ate me up.”
Despite public perception, the Army’s record on rape and sexual assault is no worse than that of civilian institutions, including universities, Chipman says. But he acknowledges that Americans should expect higher standards of conduct for those in uniform. “I’ve got friends in the civilian world who say, ‘Dana, I could never give my daughter to the military; it’s just essentially one big cult of rape.’ That’s not the military I know,” he says. “I’d be very happy if my daughters wanted to join the military. I just can’t entice either one of them to do it.”
The sexual assault debate was the most consuming issue he faced.
‘It just ate me up.’
hipman is mindful that among partisans on both sides, the Benghazi investigation will be judged less on its legal merits than on how well it supports a preconceived agenda. He jokes that “I’m still relatively confident I’ll have the opportunity to work myself out of a job in both parties” by the time the matter wraps up. Chipman has thought about returning to teaching or joining a public-policy think tank — he cited the Hoover Institution’s new Washington office as a potential destination — and has discussed with friends the possibility of doing international consulting work. Gowdy says Chipman would be an ideal candidate for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, a panel of five civilian judges that acts as the final authority on cases involving military justice.
A month before Chipman’s retirement in 2013, the Army threw him a party, replete with a military parade, color guard and two marching bands. He recalls it as an emotional day. “You’re at the end of a 33 1/2 year run, surrounded by all the traditions that have guided you throughout. You see in that old guard of soldiers assembled there the ideal of selfless service. And there’s this connection to America, from my family who showed up from all over the place, and friends from every duty station along the way. It was just a neat way to end up.”
The ceremony was held at Fort Myer, Va., where Dana and Karen lived during his last Army post. Every morning for three years, Chipman says, they walked their dog in nearby Arlington National Cemetery. “We’ve got friends all around Arlington,” he says, looking down. His voice falters. “And one day, I’ll be there, hopefully. And I can’t imagine a better place.”
ROMESH RATNESAR, ’96, MA ’96, is deputy editor of Bloomberg Businessweek.