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Sue Bush
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City Roots A Blessing For Military Tribunal Lead Prosecutor

By Susan Bush
05:30PM / Wednesday, April 11, 2007

U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Kevin Chenail, his wife Mysty and son Cormac. Chenail was the lead prosecutor during last month's Guantanamo Bay military tribunal that led to a conviction and sentencing of Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks. [photo courtesy of Kevin Chenail]
"My roots back in North Adams have been the greatest blessing. Coming from the dairy farm, having a work ethic and coming from North Adams where people have a work ethic; it's helped a lot."

Kevin Chenail, Drury Class of '84

The words belong to Drury High School Class of 1984 alum Kevin Chenail, who was recently captured in a media spotlight as U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Kevin Chenail. Chenail was lead prosecutor during the government's case against David Hicks, the 31-year-old Australian who became the first Guantanamo Bay detainee convicted during military tribunals being held at the military base known as "Gitmo."

Hicks pleaded guilty to providing material support to a terrorist group, specifically, Al-Qaeda, during the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan. The plea was part of a pre-trial agreement that resulted in a seven-year sentence for Hicks, with nine months of the sentence to be served in an Australian prison and the remainder suspended.

Described in published media reports as a kangaroo skinner and an "outback cowboy," Hicks was also known to Chenail and other prosecutors by an alias, "Muhammad Dawood." Hicks was sentenced on March 30.

During an April 10 telephone interview, Chenail said that he preferred not to offer an opinion on the specifics of the plea agreement.

"You Want To See Some Justice"

He was able to articulate some personal thoughts and beliefs, he said.

"You want to do the right thing," Chenail said. "You want to see some justice.You want to do your best for your country."

He emphasized that the Australian government was of great assistance during the U.S. investigation of Hicks and he praised Australian law enforcement efforts and leadership.

"They took the moral courage to see this thing through," he said.

Terrorism is an elusive enemy and is not an easy adversary to thwart, Chenail said. Even those who appear insignificant, trivial persons with minor involvement often function as the cogs that keep the wheels of terrorism turning, he noted.

A Diabolical Enemy

"I think our country has responded appropriately [to terrorism], and I think that in the time since 9-11 [Sept. 11, 2001], some people believe the threat has weakened," Chenail said. "But [terrorists] still believe in their cause and have the resolve to destroy our way of life. It's difficult to fight this type of enemy. You don't want to destroy the freedoms while you are going after the enemy. This is a diabolical enemy that is using our freedoms against us."

Which is why stopping persons such as Hicks is so vitally important, he said.

"Some might say he was a small fish in Al Qaeda but it's the foot soldier that provides Al Qaeda with the information needed to carry out attacks," Chenail said. "I believe there was a bigger plan for Hicks but luckily, he was captured."

Hicks had been held in U.S. military custody for about five years before the sentencing, and Chenail was the last in a series of judge advocates to tackle the case, he said.

Looked At Law From Both Sides Now

"I had the case for a couple of years before it came to a trial, and others had done a lot of work on it previously," he said, and explained that, as is common within the military, his predecessors were moved to other assignments. He is currently involved with other investigations but does not know whether he will have a lead prosecutorial role during any additional military tribunals.

Chenail has served as a defense counsel and prosecutor.

"In the Marine Corps, you are given time in both defense and prosecution," he said. "Doing it that way makes a better lawyer all around.'

Chenail spent about six years working the defense side of things and about four as a prosecutor. The years of experience proved invaluable during the Hicks case but he was not immune to feeling a little anxious from time to time, Chenail said.

"There've been times when I've taken a couple deep breaths while I was working this," he said.

Chenail and his wife Mysty are the parents of a son, Cormac. Chenail is the son of David and Elaine Chenail of Massachusetts Avenue, North Adams. The family operated the Chenail dairy farm.

"My wife is a huge source of support and I deeply appreciate that," he said.

School Seemed The Better Choice

Chenail was a popular high school baseball player and his talents subsequently attracted the attention of the Cleveland Indians baseball organization.

"I put that in perspective," he said of the team interest. "It was low enough in the [draft] rounds that I thought going to school was a better option."

Chenail earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Notre Dame in 1988 and a law degree from his alma mater in 1991. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps immediately after earning his law degree. Previously, Chenail had completed a 10-week Officer Candidate program at Quantico.

"I Think About North Adams A Lot"

It's hindsight that puts his life path into a focus, Chenail said.

"One of the things I take away is that sometimes you don't see the chain of events that lead you somewhere," he said. "It's only in hindsight you see events as linked, how baseball opened doors, how by going to Notre Dame I met people in the Marine Corps, how I went to to certain things because they seemed interesting. Even at my last duty station in New Orleans, through people that I met, I was able to go to another school and go into international law. It's circumstances when you find yourself at that next point, that job that really, anyone could do. It's having bosses that let you get away from the desk and do things. I've been able to do a lot of things."

"I see myself as a person who is doing a job and doing it the best that I can," he said, and added that his family and his life as a Northern Berkshires resident are to be credited for his sense of values. "I love New England and I think about North Adams a lot. A lot of things have happened along the way. There are a lot of people to thank."
Your Comments
Post Comment
Glad to hear things are going good for you. It looks like you are very happy with wife and child. Things in Burlington, Vt are great--it's Mike Williams here. Contact me if you get the
from: Michael Williamson: 04-27 00:00:00-2007

There are a lot of people that I grew up with who have done extraordinary things. I'm not surprised that Kevin is one of them. It was obvious at a young age that this guy knew himself, his abilities and had the self-confidence to be accepting of different people. His success comes from being who he is and I'm better for knowing him.

Congrats, Kevin!
from: Jim Tafton: 04-27 00:00:00-2007

It is great to find out how well you are doing and that one of my fellow students made it out of our home town and went far with their lives.I'd say you made it to the top! Congratulations Kevin BIG KUDOS to You!! I am So Proud of you!! In school I always knew you would make something with your life.I was very happy to see this article in here.To see your family picture as well is an added joy BEAUTIFUL! BEST of luck to all of you you'll all be in my prayers.Few of us hold such love of this home town as you.Thanks for giving it such honor back.You truly are a HERO as well as a great person You always showed that to us all too.
from: Donna Michalskion: 04-26 00:00:00-2007

Kevin, we knew what a smart guy you were when we taught you to gamble at 7tyrs old. I have kept up with you through you mother and Terry. I have had you in my prayers and am glad that everything is going well. Your baby is adorable. Love, Mary Bryson
from: mary brysonon: 04-14 00:00:00-2007

It is wonderful to read about someone local who attended our public schools doing so well for himself and his country. The best to Lt. Col. Chenail and his family.
from: Janon: 04-12 00:00:00-2007

thank God for giving us intelligent men like you who love our country.You did what was best at all times for all concerned, may God bless you.
from: joeon: 04-12 00:00:00-2007

Hey, Kevin, great to read about your success!
from: Chrison: 04-12 00:00:00-2007

Nice to see someone from the area in such a strong position
from: Johnon: 04-11 00:00:00-2007

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