As 8-year-old Lawrence Rockwood looked over the ruins of Dachau, his father told him about another Nazi concentration camp, one he’d helped liberate during World War II.
It was a defining moment for the boy who would follow in his father’s footsteps to become a career military intelligence officer.
“My father told me that these camps are not the creation of a few evil, brutal men. They’re really the creation of cynicism and blind obedience to authority,” Rockwood said.
Now, the Army captain faces court-martial for leaving his post to investigate reports of human rights abuses at a Haitian prison.
“I had information that people were being tortured and executed and bodies were being taken to the dump,” Rockwood has said.
“I felt I had to do it,” the 36-yearold Rockwood said at his Watertown home, about 65 miles north of Syracuse.
The Army says discipline is the issue, not human rights. At his court-martial Monday, he faces charges including dereliction of duty, disobeying orders and conduct unbecoming an officer. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
An Air Force brat, Rockwood grew up on bases around the country and in Turkey, France and Germany. He graduated from high school in Florida, and retains a soft Southern accent.
He considered both the priesthood and the military, but began to question his faith after spending a year of high school at a Catholic seminary. He became a licensed practical nurse and joined the Army at 19.
Rockwood has since become a Buddhist and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in history.
“He didn’t always fit into the mainstream of the military,” said Cheryl Shannon, a retired intelligence officer who worked with Rockwood for nearly four years. “He always pretty much got the short end of the stick because he didn’t play the political game. I think he always had higher goals he wanted to achieve.”
Deployed with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division during the U.S.-led intervention in Haiti, Rockwood had been there for only two weeks when he made the decision he knew could end his career.
As a counterintelligence officer on the staff of Maj. Gen. David Meade, commander of the multinational force, Rockwood said he’d received report after report of killings, torture and other human rights abuses at the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince.
When his superior officers shrugged it off, he filed a complaint. That meant he’d never be promoted again.
Since his career was effectively over and delay might cost lives, Rockwood went to the prison himself.
Later investigations by Danish police monitors and a U.S. congressman confirmed that conditions were subhuman.
Rockwood isn’t afraid of leaving the Army; he’s considered teaching history or working for a human rights organization. His concern is how he will help support his 6-year-old daughter, Angelique, if he goes to prison.
“He’s a wonderful father and a wonderful human being, and to have this happen to him is like a Catch-22 for him. His whole life has been like that,” said his ex-wife, Katherine Dinneen.
“He’s given up his life with his daughter for the Army, and now they’re planning to put him away because of his dedication to the Army,” said Dinneen.
Rockwood has taken his daughter to Dachau, and he hopes to take his grandchildren there some day.
“If I just didn’t go further and followed orders, I wouldn’t be able to take a grandchild there and say the same words my father said to me,” Rockwood said.