A Few Good Men - Plot hole I've missed until today

Why on earth would Caffey put Private Downey on the stand instead of Lance Cpl. Dawson?

He was not very intelligent, he could add nothing to the case to help the accused, and yet he was the one they chose. Why put anyone on the stand? To get to the Code Red order. Why not put Dawson on the stand? Because they were afraid of a cross that would mention the fence line shooting? The fence line shooting was discussed by the first witness, the naval investigator.

Seems to me that this is an unforgivable FUBAR on Caffey’s part. He wasn’t such a good lawyer after all.

I’m very fuzzy on the details, because it’s been years since I’ve seen the movie all the way through, so my answer may not be right.

Didn’t Demi Moore’s character have herself named the defense attorney for Private Downey by going to Downey’s aunt or something like that? Seems like it was her move to put Downey on the stand, although I bet Caffey had to sign off on it.

I strenuously object.

Ok, I don’t really… just wanted to say that. Carry on.

That’s actually a pretty good point, OP. I’ve never thought about it either until you mentioned it.

After a few minutes of fanwanking, this is what I came up with:

The relationship between Caffey and Dawson was antagonistic right up until the end, when he gets his “There’s an officer on deck” salute. Maybe Caffey made the decision not to put Dawson on the stand because the court members would sense that antagonism and it would hurt the case.

On a related note, even though there were some Marines on the jury, I’m guessing not many of them were G’itmo Marines (and some were plain old Navy.) Hence, Dawson’s “Unit, Corps, God, Country” thing wouldn’t have gone over very well.

Like Kevin Pollak’s character says at one point, Downey can play the small-town farmboy stuff for a while and be the more sympathetic of the two.

Maybe he was just the first one to go? All the prep for Dawson may have been less interesting in terms of the movie and the ‘reveal’ that Downey didn’t hear the Kendrik order carries more weight if it comes during Downey’s testimony.
If as you prefer it, they put Dawson up and in cross-examine it comes up that Downey wasn’t in the room it wouldn’t have been as much as an ‘aha’ moment. And that’s more important than ‘what Caffey should have done’ to the movie.
Caffey: “Did Kendrik order you to give Santiago a code red right after telling everyone not to?”
Dawson: “Yeppers”
Ross: “Was Downey with you?”
Dawson: “Nope”
music swells…Dun Dun DUNNN

I still think Jessep was given a great big out, but his hubris gets in the way:
Caffey: "Kendrick ordered a Code Red, because you told him to! And when it went bad, you signed a phoney transfer and fixed the logs! You coerced the doctor! Colonel Jessep, did you order the Code Red?
Judge: You don’t have to answer that.
Jessep You want answers?
Caffey: I want the truth!
Jessep: You can’t handle the truth!

How it COULD have gone:
Caffey: "Kendrick ordered a Code Red, because you told him to! And when it went bad, you signed a phoney transfer and fixed the logs! You coerced the doctor! Colonel Jessep, did you order the Code Red?
Judge: You don’t have to answer that.
Jessep: Oh ok…we done?

Yes, that’s the point. He could have not answered the question, but Caffey asks because he believes Jessup wants to answer it - he’s proud of the way he runs his unit.

Because the theory of the prosecution was that Dawson carried out the Code Red on his own, and coerced Downey into helping him. Therefore, they need Downey to testify that he heard Kendrick give the order, because it strengthens the defense of both of them instead of only one.


Also, I’ve never been entirely convinced that Jessup was in the wrong to order the Code Red. Well, obviously he was legally, but his reasoning as to why Code Reds are a good thing, overall, always struck me as correct.

He eats breakfast 300 yards away from 4000 Cubans that are trained to kill him. And nobody’s going to tell him how to run his unit, least of all the Harvard mouth in his faggoty white uniform.

This is the main part of it. Dawson’s motive (according to the prosecution ) is to silence Santiago in regards to the fence line shooting. They need Downey to dispute this in open court.

Second, Downey is Galloway’s client - not Caffey’s. Galloway was free to do as she wished regarding this, though I agree she would have done as Caffey requested.

And finally I have to get this off my chest; A character making a mistake or having a flaw is NOT a plot hole. Many, many, many great characters through out movie history have been huge fuck ups or have made mistakes or have acted in a way that doesn’t seem ‘right’. For instance, the fact that John Doe from Se7en doesn’t commit seven murders for each sin is often regarded as a plot hole. It’s not, Doe was a flawed character. Caffey doesn’t have to be a great lawyer for the film to work.

By the time of that exchange, hasn’t Caffey already trapped him in the contradiction of his story (Santiago had to be transferred vs. ordering that he not be touched)?

I agree. I said that as a joke. The flaw is in calling Downey at all, not that he’s not a very good lawyer. I only wrote that because everyone was slobbering over Danny. “You should have seen yourself thunder into Ketrick today.”

Anyway, I’m not sure of the protocol in court martials, but I would assume that the accused have the right to not take the stand. Self-incrimination and all that. And although Galloway was Downey’s counsel, she didn’t question him on the stand and gave Caffey total control of the trial. She was basically along for the ride, especially after she saw that Caffey was a much better lawyer than she was.

I do believe there is a line in the movie somewhere that refers to “Dawson’s testimony”, but it was clear from the movie he never took the stand and he was never prepped. I don’t know if this was a book first, but perhaps if it was, that would lend some insights.

I’m not sure I follow the logic that the defense was worried about Dawson being accused of forcing Downey to assist in the Code Red. That motive (the fenceline shooting) was there regardless of whoever else might have been involved. And it was discussed immediately at the trial. So the only thing that COULD have happened is that Downey points the finger at Dawson and says “He made me do it!” Although this is technically true, I have no problem believing that Dawson filled Downey in on the conversation he had with Kettrick in the barracks when those two were alone. Also, Downey didn’t claim to be a victim of Dawson, so I really don’t see how having Downey testify at all would have been a good idea.

If Dawson was on the stand, Bacon’s character could have asked HIM whether or not Downey was in the room at the same time. So the information would have come out.

The biggest point to think about is how in the world would the prosecution even know who was in the room if Kendrick didn’t tell them? Where did that information come from? It had to be Kendrick, who told Bacon that Dawson was the only person in the room. Of course he’d never admit that on the stand, so again, it really didn’t matter. Downey’s testimony should have never happened.

And Jo Galloway should have strenuously objected to the questioning.

Yes, but Jessup could have easily gotten himself out of that whole trap by a) not answering that question as instructed by the judge, or b) saying something as simple as “I re-visited the issue later on that day and decided to transfer him off the base. There was no need to change the order I had already given, so the two orders being out there simultaneously is no big deal.”

It wasn’t. Sorkin originally wrote it as a play. Reiner picked it up while it was still in galley form.

Yes, but this only seems obvious because you’ve seen the movie and know he wasn’t in the room.

It had to have happened. Both Jo and Caffey thought they were both in the room when the order was given. That means (in their eyes) that it wouldn’t be the word of just one person (Dawson) against Kendrick, it would be the word of two (Dawson and Downey). Suppose for a second that Downey had been in the room when the Code Red was given. Do you still think Downey’s testimony should not have been given? They were on “trial for there lives”, they were the only ones who could give direct testimony that the Code Red was given. They had to testify, there was not enough doubt in the jury’s mind otherwise.

Again, it seems like a mistake to put Downey on the stand only in retrospect. At the time neither Caffey or Galloway knew he was not in the room at the time the order was given. You can bet Jessep told Kendrick to give the order to Dawson in private. Remember Jessep had knowledge of both the fence line shooting and the Santiago letters* before* the Code Red was ordered.

IIRC, Dawson accurately testified as to the time he got the order from Kendrick at Point B, and Downey later accurately testifies as to what he was doing at Point A shortly before that time, and Kevin Bacon acts like a brilliant prosecutor ably deducing that there’s no way Downey could have made it from Point A to Point B in so short a time.

Agree that Caffey and Jo had no idea that Downey wasn’t there when Kendrick ordered the Code Red. And remember, Downey was kind of dumb. Like borderline mentally-handicapped dumb. He asked Jo at one point “Do you know when we’ll be able to get back to our outfit?” - clearly had no idea that he was facing decades in prison. And that makes him a good witness, if he’s telling the absolute truth - the jury/court won’t believe he’s able to lie convincingly. As was shown, when his testimony got tripped up a few minutes later.

I’ve thought long & hard about this, especially given Sorkin’s obvious contempt for every combat officer in the movie. I kind of agree that internal discipline like that can be useful & necessary. But Jessup’s horrible crime was in covering it up - protecting his career and Kendrick’s, and letting the guys who were only carrying out his orders take the blame. Loyalty, discipline, & honor go both ways - a Marine must follow every order given, but an officer must stand behind every order he gives.

I don’t think that Sorkin has obvious contempt for every officer in the movie. Ross & Weinburg (the Bacon & Pollak characters) come off quite well. Anyway, I wrote that I thought Jessup was right to order the Code Red, not to cover it up.

You thought that Jessup was right to order them to [del]torture[/del] discipline a marine for collapsing from [del]a serious coronary issue[/del] heat exhaustion?

I said combat officer. Sure, the lawyers looked good.

Why do you hate them so much?

Someone in Bill Simmons’ last mailbag asked a great question: why did Kaffee think he needed around 150 pens to handle the case?