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~ Kaffee

Lieutenant (JG) Daniel Alistair Kaffee, USN, JAG Corps is the protagonist of the play A Few Good Men and the 1992 movie based upon the play.

Kaffee was the son of a US attorney. Using the navy to help finance his education, Kaffee was biding his time until he fulfilled his service obligations and could go into lucrative private practice. Assigned to defend soldiers facing charges for minor offenses, he largely resorted to plea bargains, and was able to successfully bargain 44 cases, often getting his clients' potential misdemeanor charges reduced to summary punishments that would leave no permanent stain on their careers.

When Lance Corporal Harold W. Dawson and Private Louden Downey were arrested for the murder of Private William Santiago, Lt. Commander JoAnne Galloway suspected this was a code red gone horribly wrong. She requested to be assigned as defense counsel, however the JAG decided Kaffee should be defense counsel instead.

At first Kaffee wanted to plea bargain the case, even working out a deal with the prosecutor United States Marines Captain Jack Ross. However his clients refused the bargain even though it could get them home in six months. Galloway was named counsel for Downey at the request of his Aunt Jennie. Galloway convinced Kaffee to take the case to court martial.

Taking the case to court the defense team were able to establish the existence of code reds at the Marine Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Kaffee and his colleagues were also able to establish that Dawson was denied a promotion when he helped out a Marine who had gotten in trouble. They suffered a setback when it came out that Downey wasn't actually there when Dawson was given an order by Jonathan Kendrick to perform a code red.

When former Guantanamo Bay executive officer Matthew Markinson showed up Kaffee hoped that his testimony would bring the truth to light, but Markinson decided to commit suicide, despondent over the fact that he failed to protect Santiago which resulted in the death of the young man.

Learning of the suicide, Kaffee thought the case was lost. Getting drunk he got in to an argument with Galloway over whether or not to put base commander Colonel Nathan R. Jessup on the stand. Kaffee came to the conclusion that the only way to win was to put Jessup on the stand, even though he risked a court martial for smearing a high ranking officer without good cause.

The next day Kaffee questioned Jessup on the stand. At first Jessup is able to talk his way through Kaffee's questions, but becomes unnerved when Kaffee picks up on an inconsistency - when Jessup said he transferred Santiago off the base for his own safety Kaffee said that if Jessup ordered his people to leave Santiago alone he should not have been in any danger at all. Kaffee then took a risk and asked Jessup if he ordered a code red while Ross protested and the judge advocate yelled that he was in contempt and advised Jessup that he didn't have to answer the question.

You want answers?
I think I'm entitled.
You want answers?!
~ Jessup and Kaffee's famous exchange

Jessup, for his part decided to answer Kaffee's questions, going on an extended rant about national security and how he had to take strong measures to keep the country safe. Kaffee asked him again and Jessup finally admitted that he ordered a code red. The jurors were excused while Jessup was placed under arrest. The courtroom guards were forced to hold Jessup back to keep him from assaulting Kaffee. In the original play, Kaffee gave this response to Jessup's rant;

You trashed the law! But hey, we understand, you’re permitted. You have a greater responsibility than we can possibly fathom. You provide us with a blanket of freedom. We live in a world that has walls and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns, and nothing is going to stand in your way of doing it. Not Willie Santiago, not Dawson and Downey, not Markinson, not 1,000 armies, not the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and not the Constitution of the United States! That’s the truth isn’t it, Colonel? I can handle it.
~ Kaffee's response to Jessup's rant in the original play.

Jessup was led out of the courtroom by the courtroom guards, still feeling that he was right and all Kaffee did was weaken a nation.

At the conclusion of the court martial the jurors decided that Dawson and Downey were not guilty of the more serious charges, including murder. The two men were found guilty of conduct unbecoming. They were both sentenced to time served and ordered dishonorably discharged from the Marine Corps. Dawson finally accepted the truth, that he and Downey failed in their duty to defend those like Santiago who couldn't defend themselves.

Ross is left to arrest Jessup's cohort Lt. Kendrick for his role in Santiago´s murder. As he left Kaffee asked Ross to tell Kendrick hello, which Ross said he would do. After everyone cleared out of the courtroom, Kaffee remarked that this was what a courtroom looked like.


  • The story for A Few Good Men was based on an actual case where a group of Marines had nearly killed another Marine in a hazing incident. The character of Kaffee was loosely based on the lawyers who defended some of the Marines in the ensuing court martial. Various attorneys were identified as the basis for the Kaffee character, including Don Marcari, former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, Chris Johnson, and Walter Bansley III. However in 2011, writer Aaron Sorkin stated that the character was not based on any one specific individual.
  • In the actual U.S. Military, the charge "Conduct Unbecoming" is not applicable to enlisted men - the charge is, Article 133: "Conduct Unbecoming of an Officer and a Gentleman," and applies only to commissioned officers. Dawson and Downey likely would have been convicted of Article 93: "Cruelty and Maltreatment," or else Article 134: "General Article," a catch-all article for acts prejudicial to discipline and good order not otherwise specified in the UCMJ.
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