An Article 32 Hearing is a procedure under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) that is similar to a "preliminary hearing" in a civilian court. No charge can be referred to a general court-martial for trial until a thorough and impartial investigation has been made.
Let's listen in on an imaginary Article 32 Hearing being conducted by a senior officer appointed to do so:
Investigating Officer: "For the record, sir. Please state your last name."
"CINC. Sounds like: sink."
"Thank you, Mr. Cinc. What is your current address?"
"Sixteen Hundred Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C."
"Mr. Cinc. Where were you at 5 p.m.. on Sept. 11, 2012?"
"I was at home. Actually, I have this home office. You're not with the IRS are you?"
"No, Mr. Cinc. I am not the IRS. I am conducting an Article 32 Hearing. So, what were you doing at 5 p.m.?"
"I was having a meeting with Mr. Pinata, the secretary of Defense."
"Don't you mean Mr. Panetta?"
"Sorry. Oval Office joke. He takes such a beating."
"What were you discussing?"
"Important stuff. You know. Gays in the military. Girls in ground combat units. Mothballing ships. Grounding aircraft. Procuring more white flags. That sort of thing."
"For the record, the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi was attacked at 3:42 Washington time. At 5 p.m., did you and Mr. Panetta discuss those on-going attacks?"
"Now, that you mention it. Yes, we did."
"Did you do anything about it?"
"Actually, that is sort of below my pay grade. I told Panetta to take care of it."
"Mr. Cinc. Are you aware that your ambassador to Libya, one of his assistants, and two former Navy SEALs were killed during a firefight that lasted for another six hours after you spoke to Mr. Panetta.
"Technically, those foreign service types work for the secretary of State. If I mess in her stuff, she can be ... well, rather difficult. The former Navy guys were probably defense contractors, not very popular these days."
"Mr. Cinc. After you spoke with Mr. Panetta at 5 p.m., did you ever check back with him?"
"Nah. I had some other stuff I wanted to do."
"What kind of other stuff?"
"Don't recall exactly. Just stuff. Packing for a Las Vegas fund-raiser."
"Mr. Cinc. As I read Clause 1, Article II, of the U.S. Constitution and Article 92 (3) of the UCMJ, it appears that you could be charged with Dereliction of Duty."
""I had no idea. Is that something serious? You see, I never had any military service."
"In addition to imprisonment and a fine, it could mean that you can no longer hold a federal office."
"Wow! Hmmn. OK. Let's make a deal. Maybe you could charge me with a lesser offense? You know, so I could still keep my federal job."
"Well, Mr. Cinc, you did wander off somewhere during the firefight in Benghazi. You left it to others to perform your prescribed duties. You might plead down to Article 86."
"Article 86. What's that?"
"Absent Without Leave. In the military, we call it: AWOL."
"OK, I'll plead to AWOL. May I go now?"
"Mr. Cinc. My only job is to conduct this investigation and report my findings. It will be up to your employers to decide your future."
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.