Five military commanders who took matters into their own hands.
[Update: On June 22, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan was summoned to the White House to explain remarks he made in a Rolling Stone profile in which disparaged and questioned the competence of senior Obama administration officials.]
Retired Thai General Khattiya Sawatdipho was dramatically shot in the head on May 17 while giving an interview to a reporter on the street in Bangkok. Khattiya was once one of the most prominent commanders in the Thai military, and claims to have worked closely with the CIA in the 1980s to root out communist rebels in the country's south. But after his friend, former Prime Minsiter Thaksin Shinawatra was deposed, he defected to join the country's anti-government "red-shirt" protesters. This case of a government losing control over a prominent military commander is hardly an isolated incident.
Governments may derive their power from the "legitimate use of physical force," as sociologist Max Weber argued, but there's a natural tension between the leaders who directly command that force -- the generals -- and the political leaders to whom they report in civilian governments. Even the United States is not immune from civil military tensions -- consider Alexander Hamilton's feud with John Adams over the fate of the Continental Army, or the highly public feud between President Harry Truman and Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War, for instance -- but the problem is far more serious in countries where political institutions are weaker. Here are five cases in which military commanders have, for better or worse, threatened the stability of the very governments they pledged to serve.
Country: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Current status: Under house arrest in Rwanda, on trial
Rebellion: Few military commanders can say they've fought in as many wars, armies, sides, and countries as the warlord Laurent Nkunda. An ethnic Tutsi from Eastern Congo, Nkunda studied psychology at university before heading off to Rwanda to fight with the Tutsi rebels who eventually overthrew the country's Hutu-dominated government during the 1993 genocide.
Afterwards, Nkunda returned home and fought with Rwandan-backed Tutsi rebel armies in the first and second Congo civil wars. After his group, the Rally for Congolese Democracy, joined the government in 2003, Nkunda joined the national army as a colonel and was soon promoted to general. But Nkunda chafed under Kinshasha's leadership and formed his own militia to hunt down Hutu rebels in Eastern Congo.
Nkunda's forces now stand accused of killing thousands, displacing hundreds of thousands, conscripting child soldiers, and using rape as a weapon of war during what has become known as the Kivu Conflict in Eastern Congo. Despite this, the current Tutsi government in Rwanda is believed to have supported Nkunda as protection against the return of the Hutu militias who perpetrated the genocide. In late 2008, however, Kigali shifted positions, agreeing to hunt down the Hutus in cooperation with the Congolese government. This made Nkunda, who categorically rejected cooperation with Kinshasha -- a liability, and he was arrested in a joint Rwandan-Congolese operation in January 2009.
Country: Sri Lanka
Current Status: In military custody. On trial for inciting violence, dabbling in politics while in uniform, and corruption
Rebellion: Fonseka spent nearly four decades fighting the Tamil Tiger insurgency as an officer in the Sri Lankan army and was one of the conflict's most distinguished and recognized military leaders. In May 2009, as Sri Lanka's top military commander, Fonseka led the brutal final assault that crushed the final remnants of the rebel group and killed its notorious leader Velupillai Prabakharan.
Rather than basking in the glory of his victory, Fonseka resigned from the government over a dispute with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom he accused of trying to sideline him within the military and hog the spotlight for the victory. Fonseka ran against Rajapaksa in this January's presidential election and, in a bizarre twist, won the support of the country's Tamil minority.
Fonseka was crushed in the election, then complained of fraud and accused the government of trying to assassinate him. He also threatened to testify in an international war crimes tribunal against the president. Fonseka was arrested in February on charges of having tried to overthrow the government as a military commander.
Current status: At large in Pakistan. Designated a terrorist by India and the United States
Rebellion: Gul is emblematic of the murky historical ties that link U.S. and Pakistani intelligence services and South Asia's most dangerous militant groups. A protégé of former military leader Zia ul-Haq, Gul was director of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in the late 1980s and worked closely with the CIA and Saudi intelligence to support the mujahideen uprising against the Soviet Union. After the end of the Afghan war, Gul became staunchly anti-American when the United States condemned Pakistan's clandestine nuclear program.
As ISI chief, Gul was the godfather of Pakistan's strategy of waging proxy war against India by supporting militant groups in Kashmir and Punjab. Among the groups he reportedly nurtured is Lashkar-e-Taiba, the jihadist outfit blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Since leaving the ISI, Gul has emerged a prominent pundit and provocateur, offering vocal (and according to India, material) support for al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other militant groups. He has publicly admitted membership in Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, a group of former ISI members designated a terrorist group by the United States and linked to Osama bin Laden's quest for nuclear weapons. Gul has repeatedly expressed his belief that the 9/11 attacks were an "inside job" perpetrated by the U.S. government.
Gul has also been a dangerous irritation for several Pakistani governments. Former President Benazir Bhutto accused him of trying to assassinate her (when she was eventually assassinated in 2007, he predictably blamed it on the United States), participated in demonstrations against Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and was briefly arrested for his efforts. Gul has been described as a "political ideologue of terror" by current President Asif Ali Zardari.
Current status: Jailed
Rebellion: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who was himself a rogue colonel who attempted to overthrow the government in a failed military coup in 1992 and was elected president in 1999, has his own troublesome military commander in former defense secretary Raul Baduel. Baduel was once one a core supporter of Chávez's Bolivarian Revolution and came to his aid when the president was briefly overthrown in a coup attempt in 2002.
Baduel rose to become Chávez's defense minister, but broke with the president in 2007, accusing him of abuse of power over his attempts to change the constitution to keep himself in office. Baduel's forceful opposition was one of the main factors cited for Chávez's loss in a referendum on the constitutional changes that year.
In 2008, Baduel was arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison on corruption charges that his supporters claim are trumped up and barred from ever holding political office again. Undeterred, Baduel continues to assail Chávez from prison using Twitter.
Current status: Hospitalized for high blood pressure, awaiting trial
Rebellion: The Turkish military has traditionally considered itself the guardian of the country's stability and secular traditions and has stepped in to overthrow civilian governments four times since the founding of the modern republic in 1920. The so-called "sledgehammer plot" of 2003 was, depending on whom you ask, either the latest of these interventions, or a trumped-up charge by the country's Islamist civilian government to intimidate its secularist opponents.
According to documents published by the Turkish media that were reportedly written by Dogan, a now-retired four-star general, during a training conference in 2003, the Turkish military was planning a series of covert actions to provoke a crisis and set the stage for a military coup. These included downing a Turkish fighter jet and making it look like Greece had shot it down and faking attacks by Islamist groups in mosques, military posts, and other sites in Istanbul. In the documents, the plotters lay out their supposed aim to "remove once and for all, all causes that prevent the functioning of the secular democratic state."
Dogan and around 50 other generals were arrested in February in connection with the plot. He was released by a judge on April 2, then rearrested a few weeks later. He's currently in the hospital being treated for high blood pressure. Dogan says the plot is a fiction and that "the sledgehammer will fall on the heads of those who prepared it." His supporters believe the staunch anti-Islamist is being framed by religious extremists or those seeking to damage the military's credibility.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images; STR/AFP/Getty Images; AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images; JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images