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Boston assistant district attorney once worked for Generals McChrystal, Petraeus

Last week, the Boston Globe reported that former Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Christina Corda lost her sex discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, the county DA. Corda, 34, had alleged that District Attorney Dan Conley fired her because she repeatedly raised the issue of unequal pay among prosecutors. Her male colleagues in the office’s Gang Unit, she said, earned more money than Corda despite the fact that she’d been on the job for a longer period of time. According to Corda, a Black male colleague was also paid less than his white male peers. DA Conley dismissed Corda’s claims, saying that he fired her because she got drunk at an office function and swore at a superior. 

The Globe’s story contains an interesting revelation that sheds further light on the militarization of law enforcement, a national subject of contention and debate over the past few years. During the trial, the Globe reported,

Corda testified, tearfully at times as Conley watched from the courtroom gallery, that she began to air concerns with [Conley’s first district attorney Patrick] Haggan and others in March 2014 after seeing eight male counterparts with similar experience receive higher pay raises than she had. By that time, she was making $53,550 as a gang unit prosecutor, while her male counterparts made between $55,000 and $62,000, according to evidence introduced in the trial.

She testified that a black prosecutor with similar experience also made less than their colleagues.

“I had expressed concerns about my salary and was terminated for voicing those concerns,” she told jurors.

Lawyers for the Suffolk district attorney’s office argued, however, that Corda failed to account for other reasons why her colleagues received greater pay raises, such as the complexity of their cases and their specialties. One prosecutor cited by Corda had worked in the appeals unit, had argued cases before the Supreme Judicial Court, and sat in on murder trials; another had served in the war in Afghanistan and acted as a legal adviser to General Stanley A. McChrystal, then to General David Petraeus. [emphasis mine]

The prosecutor who worked for McChrystal and Petraeus isn’t named, but according to the Globe, he worked with Corda in the office’s Gang Unit, prosecuting violent crime and drug offenses. 

Allegations of torture, war crimes, and global killing operations

General Stanley McChrystal is famous for his less than dignified exit from the Army back in 2010. President Obama reportedly pushed the general out of service after muckraker Michael Hastings reported that McChrystal and his team regularly insulted the president, even in front of a journalist. But a failure to respect his Commander in Chief is among the more minor offenses McChrystal has been accused of. The Yale Daily News reports:

From 2003 to 2008, McChrystal ran the Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq, a covert unit tasked with killing or capturing hundreds of men labeled terrorists or insurgents. McChrystal oversaw [the Joint Special Operations Command’s]  growth into an “almost industrial scale counterterrorism killing machine,” according to retired Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl. McChrystal later expanded JSOC’s mission in Afghanistan, dramatically increasing night raids on the homes of suspected Taliban fighters and leading to scores of civilian deaths, including the killing of two pregnant women in Gardez in 2010, which the military attempted to hide. JSOC now operates in dozens of countries outside any legally declared battlefield.

Under McChrystal’s reign, JSOC also ran a secret prison in Baghdad called Camp NAMA, where detainees, dubiously defined as “unlawful combatants,” were subject to “beatings, exposure to extreme cold, threats of death, humiliation and various forms of psychological abuse or torture,” according to Human Rights Watch. One prisoner “said he was made to strip, was punched repeatedly in the spine until he fainted, was doused with cold water and forced to stand in front of the air-conditioner and kicked in the stomach until he vomited,” writes investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill. Others reported being sodomized, subjected to extreme dietary manipulation and struck in the face with rifle butts.

David Petraeus is no less a controversial figure. The former CIA director and military general has been widely credited with implementing a successful “surge” in Iraq during the height of US combat operations in that country. But critics say Petraeus, far be it from putting a dent in the violence, ratcheted up a sectarian war by funding and training Shia death squads. For a few years his “COIN” counterinsurgency model was hailed as a great success, despite the unceasing bloodshed in Iraq. (Now, years into the ISIS takeover of large parts of Iraq and Syria, it has become difficult to sustain this claim.) The famous general has also been linked to the Iraq torture and detention scandals. Despite all of that, Petraeus is probably best known for disclosing classified government information to his mistress and biographer, a crime for which he served no jail time (in stark contrast to whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who is currently locked up in a military prison).

In short, McChrystal and Petraeus are infamous military figures who have been accused of overseeing war crimes including torture. Both men made their names and careers working in unconventional methods of battle, what author Jeremy Scahill calls “dirty wars.” For Americans, this isn’t only relevant for moral reasons or because of how other countries or people may react to our actions abroad. The counterinsurgency model trumpeted by both men, like other tactics and tools of US foreign wars, has in various ways come home to affect policing in US cities. The Massachusetts State Police, for example, runs a program based directly off of the COIN model. It was started by former US soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and operates under the assumption that gangs in Massachusetts and terrorist groups in Iraq are similar in fundamental ways and can be isolated and defeated using similar tactics and strategies. 

Over the past few years we have engaged in important, national debates about police militarization, but those conversations rarely extend to another, less visible but equally powerful realm of the law enforcement world—namely, the prosecutors who obtain court orders and no-knock warrants, push mandatory minimum sentencing, lean on defendants to accept plea deals, and occasionally go to trial to argue for convictions. Unexpectedly, former ADA Christina Corda’s sex discrimination lawsuit has revealed to the people of Boston that one of the prosecutors who apparently works on drug and gang issues in our city used to be a legal advisor to two highly controversial figures accused of involvement in global killing campaigns, torture, and other war crimes. In their arguments to the jury in Corda’s federal discrimination lawsuit, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office said that the reason this assistant DA was paid more than Corda is because of his experience providing legal advice to McChrystal and Petraeus. 

Given what is alleged about the conduct of those two men, what does that say about how the District Attorney measures the value of his employees, or the culture of his office? After all, Conley’s spokesperson said he fired Christina Corda because “Ms. Corda’s actions did not meet [the appropriately high] standards” he sets for his office. What was her offense? Getting drunk and cursing. 

Whatever you think about the approaches that McChrystal and Petraeus took to war-fighting, or this prosecutor’s possible role in executing those policies, the recent revelations beg the question: How do these experiences justify higher wages for domestic prosecutors?

© 2018 ACLU of Massachusetts.