Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Ann Tyson was published in the Washington Post, October 8, 2009
Army officers gathered at a convention in Washington this week said senior White House officials should not have rebuked Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, for saying publicly that a scaled-back war effort would not succeed.
The hallways at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center buzzed with sympathy for McChrystal, who has said the U.S.-led effort in Afghanistan risks failure without a rapid infusion of additional forces. Obama and his advisers are now debating strategy in Afghanistan, with some officials arguing against additional deployments.
"It was definitely a hand slap," one Army officer said of the statement last weekend by national security adviser James L. Jones, a retired Marine general, that military officials should pass advice to President Obama through their chain of command. The Army officer, like others attending the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the politically sensitive issue.
A number of senior Army officers compared McChrystal to Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff who warned before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 that it would take several hundred thousand troops to secure the country -- advice that was dismissed as "wildly off the mark" by then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz.
"You know what happened to Shinseki," said one Army general, referring to what many officers believe was the Bush administration's punitive treatment of the general, now Obama's secretary of veteran affairs. Shinseki's assessment was vindicated when President George W. Bush increased U.S. troop levels in Iraq.
"We take the kids to war and ask them to take a bullet. So you won't stop Stan from saying what he thinks is best for the mission and the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines," said the general, who is an acquaintance of McChrystal's.
Other officers faulted the Obama and Bush administrations for failing to define the mission in Afghanistan, leaving a series of commanders to do so on their own. "McChrystal was sent to fix Afghanistan -- is that to get rid of the Taliban or al-Qaeda?" said a one-star Army general. "Without the mission being defined well, you've left it to them to decide what to do."
Several officers said such tensions arose because the military is serving a civilian leadership. "You kind of get used to it after years of service," the Army general said. "We tend to live with it."
Some officers observed that political leaders must commit the resources needed to fulfill their goals. If not, they said, the goals must change. "Gen. McChrystal has given an assessment of what the military strategy should be to achieve the political objective," said an Army officer who served in Afghanistan under McChrystal and his predecessor, Gen. David D. McKiernan, who was abruptly relieved in May by the Pentagon leadership.
"It comes down to: How much am I willing to commit, and if I can't contribute what the commander needs, do I have to change my objective? It happens time and time again with senior military commanders and civilian leaders." Policy in Afghanistan
For years, U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have said they need thousands of additional troops to combat a growing Taliban insurgency and to train the Afghan army and police forces. As the violence began to increase in the country in 2006 and 2007, the Bush administration made it clear to commanders that no significant troop increase in Afghanistan was possible given the priority placed on quelling the violence in Iraq, according to officers familiar with decisions at that time. McKiernan made a very public appeal for tens of thousands of additional forces, and that led to initial troop increases first under Bush and then Obama.
When McChrystal was selected by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to replace McKiernan, the belief in military circles was that he would be given the resources to conduct a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan -- finally providing what officers had long believed was necessary to try to stem increasing violence.
The Pentagon has also pressed NATO and other international allies to supply more forces, but Army officers at the convention voiced concern that signs of division within the Obama administration over Afghanistan strategy could sap the commitment of governments struggling to maintain public support for a sustained campaign.
Several officers simply shrugged off the civilian admonishments to the military -- most recently issued by Gates, who on Monday pointedly told hundreds of Army personnel attending an opening ceremony of the convention that military advice should be candid but private.
"The public admonishments -- fine. If you made general, you've been chewed out a few times," said one senior Army general.
Officers said there was no question that McChrystal and other commanders would carry out whatever decisions Obama makes. "We will tell you what we think, but we are also soldiers, so if the president gives an order, we will execute it," the senior officer said.
This article, by Gareth Porter, was published by IPS, February 9, 2009
WASHINGTON, Feb 9 (IPS) - The political maneuvering between President Barack Obama and his top field commanders over withdrawal from Iraq has taken a sudden new turn with the leak by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus - and a firm denial by a White House official - of an account of the Jan. 21 White House meeting suggesting that Obama had requested three different combat troop withdrawal plans with their respective associated risks, including one of 23 months.
The Petraeus account, reported by McClatchy newspapers Feb. 5 and then by the Associated Press the following day, appears to indicate that Obama is moving away from the 16-month plan he had vowed during the campaign to implement if elected. But on closer examination, it doesn't necessarily refer to any action by Obama or to anything that happened at the Jan. 21 meeting.
The real story of the leak by Petraeus is that the most powerful figure in the U.S. military has tried to shape the media coverage of Obama and combat troop withdrawal from Iraq to advance his policy agenda - and, very likely, his personal political interests as well.
This writer became aware of Petraeus's effort to influence the coverage of Obama's unfolding policy on troop withdrawal when a military source close to the general, who insisted on anonymity, offered the Petraeus account on Feb. 4. The military officer was responding to the IPS story 'Generals Seek to Reverse Obama Withdrawal Decision' published two days earlier [link below].
The story reported that Obama had rejected Petraeus's argument against a 16-month withdrawal option at the meeting and asked for a withdrawal plan within that time frame, and that Petraeus had been unhappy with the outcome of the meeting.
It also reported that Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and retired Army general Jack Keane, a close ally of Petraeus, had both made public statements indicating a determination to get Obama to abandon the 16-month plan.
The officer told IPS that, contrary to the story, Petraeus had been "very pleased" with the direction of the discussions. He said that there had been no decision by Obama at the meeting and no indication that Obama had a preference for one option over another.
The military source provided the following carefully worded statement: "We were specifically asked to provide projections, assumptions and risks for the accomplishment of objectives associated with 16-, 19- and 23-month drawdown options." That was exactly the sentence published by McClatchy the following day, except that "specifically" was left out.
The source also said Petraeus, Odierno and Ambassador Ryan Crocker had already reached a "unified assessment" on the three drawdown options and had forwarded them to the chain of command.
But a White House official told IPS Monday that the Petraeus account was untrue. "The assessments of the three drawdown dates were not requested by the president," said the official, who insisted on not being identified because he had not been authorised to comment on the matter. "He never said, 'Give me three drawdown plans'."
McClatchy's Nancy Youssef reported a similar account from aides to Obama. "Obama told his advisors shortly after taking office that he remained committed to the 16-month timeframe," Youssef wrote, "but asked them to present him with the pros and cons of that and other options, without specifying dates."
That suggests that the only specific plan for which Obama requested an assessment of risks was the 16-month plan, but that he agreed to look at other plans as well.
The sentence given to this writer as well as to McClatchy bore one obvious clue that the request for the assessments of three drawdown plans did not come from Obama: the sentence used the passive voice. It also failed to explicitly state that the request in question was made during the meeting with Obama.
Petraeus did not respond to a request through the intermediary to say who requested the studies and whether they had been proposed by the military commanders themselves. McClatchy's Youssef also noted that it is "unclear who came up with the idea..." of the 19- and 23-month withdrawal plans.
By implying that Obama had requested the three plans without saying so explicitly, the sentence leaked by Petraeus seems to have been calculated to create a misleading story.
One of Petraeus's objectives appears to have been to counter any perception that he is seeking to undermine Obama on Iraq policy. Petraeus wishes to remain out of the spotlight in regard to any conflict regarding withdrawal over the Iraq issue. "He has been very careful to keep a very low profile," said the military officer close to Petraeus, "because this is a new administration."
But the Petraeus leak also serves to promote the idea that Obama is moving away from his campaign pledge on a 16-month combat troop withdrawal, which has already been the dominant theme in news media coverage of the issue. That idea would also justify continued sniping by military officers at the Obama 16-month plan as too risky.
In a new book, 'The Gamble', to be published Tuesday, Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks confirms an earlier report that in his initial encounter with Petraeus in Baghdad last July, Obama had made no effort to hide his sharp disagreement with the general's views. Obama interrupted a lecture by Petraeus, according to Ricks, and made it clear that, as president, he would need to take a broader strategic view of the issue than that of the commander in Iraq.
Ricks, who interviewed Petraeus about the meeting, writes that Obama's remarks "likely insulted Petraeus, who justly prides himself on his ability to do just that..." That strongly implies that Petraeus expressed some irritation at Obama over the incident to Ricks.
On top of the interest of Petraeus and other senior officers in keeping U.S. troops in Iraq for as long as possible, Petraeus has personal political interests at stake in the struggle over Iraq policy. He has been widely regarded as a possible Republican Presidential candidate in 2012.
Petraeus evidently believed the White House was promoting a story that made him look like the loser at the Jan. 21 meeting. "I imagine the White House is not too happy that this information is out there," said the military source, referring to the Petraeus account he had provided to IPS.
Obama is obviously treading warily in handling Petraeus. His concern about Petraeus's political ambitions may have been a factor in the decision to bring four-star Marine Corps Gen. James Jones in as his national security adviser.
"I've been told by a couple of people that one of the reasons for Jones being chosen was to have him there as a four-star to counter Petraeus," says one Congressional source.
This article, by Julie Sell, was published by The Bellingham herald, February 15, 2009
A U.S. military lawyer blitzed London last week, calling for the immediate release of her client, who allegedly was trained in an al-Qaida terrorist camp, from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Claiming that Binyam Mohamed, a former British resident who's on a hunger strike at Guantanamo, will leave prison "insane" or "in a coffin" if he's not released soon, Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley has made herself a thorn in the side of her military superiors, her commander in chief and other officials on both sides of the Atlantic.
All the charges against Mohamed have been dropped, and in a private meeting on Wednesday, Foreign Secretary David Miliband told Bradley - and subsequently the news media - that the Obama administration had agreed to make reviewing Mohamed's case a "priority." A British delegation plans to visit Mohamed in prison "as soon as possible," and it will include a doctor who can assess his ability to travel, Miliband said.
Part of Bradley's reception in London stems from her "novelty," said Clive Stafford Smith, a member of Mohamed's legal team and the director of the human rights group Reprieve. She's an African-American woman and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve who doesn't flinch when she describes her client's treatment or criticizes her country's policies.
"I think this comes as quite a shock to a lot of people in England that a serving military officer would say the things she says," Stafford Smith said. "It illustrates the very best about America."
Bradley, 45, who calls herself "a lawyer and a soldier" and a "lifelong Republican," told McClatchy Newspapers in an interview that she blames the Bush administration for Mohamed's arrest and for his treatment in captivity. Asked if she thinks her client is innocent, Bradley replied that he "was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"If 9/11 never happened, this whole series of events would never have happened," Bradley said. "This was an experiment that failed. It is a shame and a legacy that will follow (the United States) in its history."
Bradley, who grew up near Philadelphia, got her law degree at Notre Dame two decades ago and began practicing law in the Air Force. She joined the military, she said, because it would expose her to different types of law and give her a chance to travel. She spent six years on active duty, including a stint on a U.S. airbase in Saudi Arabia.
She then took a job in a federal public defender's office representing convicts on death row, where her most notorious client may have been Harrison "Marty" Graham, a convicted serial killer in Philadelphia. "I was glad there was a piece of glass between Marty and I," Bradley recalled.
She continued to serve in the Air Force Reserve, which normally involves a commitment of one weekend a month and two weeks a year, and after about six years in the federal public defender's office, she set up a solo law practice in the leafy Philadelphia suburb of Swarthmore.
In 2005, Bradley, then a major, got a call from Col. Dwight Sullivan, the chief defense counsel for Guantanamo Bay inmates at the time.
"He said he had the perfect case for me," she recalled. Partly because of her work with inmates on death row, she said, Sullivan wanted to partner her with Stafford Smith, who also had defended death row inmates and was already working on Mohamed's case.
Stafford Smith, who has dual British and American citizenship, recalled that he initially was wary about working with a Republican military lawyer.
Now obviously fond of Bradley, who spent this weekend at his home in southern England, Stafford Smith added: "That just goes to show you how wrong we were - almost every stereotype you can think of turns out to be wrong."
Her views have changed dramatically since she joined Mohamed's legal team in 2005. She said that when she was assigned to his case, she was "a true believer" in America's campaign against terrorism.
Bradley recalled that after she got a call to defend Mohamed at Guantanamo Bay in 2005, she was ready to shut down her law practice in suburban Philadelphia. "I knew these were war crimes," she said of the charges against her client.
Then she received orders that her assignment would last 90 days. "That should have been my first warning that something was wrong," she said. "I can't try a small possession of marijuana (case) in 90 days, let alone a major war crime."
When Bradley first visited Mohamed at Guantanamo Bay, she recalled, she was "scared," although as a federal public defender she'd represented a serial killer and other murderers on death row. "I believed my government when they told me he was a terrorist," she said.
She flew to Cuba and met with Stafford Smith. She let him do most of the talking and wore civilian clothes rather than a military uniform to avoid frightening her client. She remembers meeting a "baby-faced" young man who seemed quiet and shy.
"I was thinking, 'This guy's supposed to be the worst of the worst; we're going to try him as one of the first 10 cases? What the hell are we doing down here in Guantanamo?' "
She left Mohamed's cell feeling "upset and confused," she said.
A review of Mohamed's charge sheet raised more questions. "I was waiting for the blood on his hands, the trigger finger, links to the dirty-bomb plot," she said. Instead, over time, she came to believe that "his story was all spun out by the CIA" after Mohamed was held in several countries, including Afghanistan and Morocco - and, he alleges, tortured.
Bradley's defense of Mohamed has ruffled feathers and nearly landed her in trouble.
Stafford Smith and Joseph Margulies, a law professor at Northwestern University who also was on Mohamed's defense team when Bradley joined it, recall an incident early in the case when she was nearly held in contempt of court.
Under the rules that governed military commissions at the time, a client's defense was "reduced to a script relegating counsel to being a potted plant, but Yvonne was not going to put up with that," Margulies said.
Bradley had a "heated exchange" with the judge, Margulies recalled. "He ordered her, and she wouldn't back down." As a superior military officer, the judge could've held Bradley in contempt. "We thought she was going to be taken into custody right then and there," Margulies said.
At the next break in the proceedings, Margulies said, he and Stafford Smith huddled with Bradley. "She was completely unruffled," he recalled.
To avoid trouble with the judge, though, they urged her to plead the Fifth Amendment.
"That's not something I've had to do for a fellow lawyer before," said Stafford Smith. "I don't think Binyam (Mohamed) could ask for a more dogged advocate."
"She didn't win any Miss Congeniality awards that day," Margulies said, "but at that moment her client understood that he had a lawyer there."
Asked what her relationship is with Mohamed now, Bradley paused. "Uncertain trust," she said. "I trust him, but I'm not sure he trusts me." A turning point came about a year ago, when Mohamed wrote her a thank you note. "I thought 'Yes, Binyam.' He had finally realized."
Bradley told McClatchy that she was hopeful, based on what Foreign Secretary Miliband had told her, that Mohamed might be released soon. She's due to leave London on Monday, but was trying to extend her stay in case he's flown back to London.
Still, her optimism remains guarded.
"I've been lied to so many times, deceived so many times, until Mr. Mohamed is in the UK," she said, her voice trailing off. "It's not over until he's here."
(Sell is a McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent.)
ABOUT BINYAM MOHAMED
Binyam Mohamed was born in Ethiopia 30 years ago and moved as a young man to Britain, where he converted to Islam. He traveled to Pakistan in 2001, Bradley said, because he was "enthusiastic about his new religion" and wanted to escape "the drug culture" in London.
In 2002, Mohamed was arrested in Pakistan while he was trying to board a flight to London. U.S. officials said they suspected that he'd trained with al-Qaida and was involved in plotting to attack America with a radioactive "dirty" bomb.
He was arrested and subsequently sent to Morocco, where he claims he was tortured and interrogated with the involvement of the FBI, the CIA and MI5, Britain's international intelligence agency.
He was sent to Guantanamo in 2004, where he was interrogated further. All charges against him have since been dropped. He's been on a hunger strike since late December, and is one of many detainees who're being force-fed by prison authorities.
The following brief note was posted to Antiwar.com today:
Shortly after his inauguration, President Obama signed an executive order calling for a 120 day halt to all legal proceedings at Guantanamo Bay while they conduct a review… a first step in the long effort to close the detention facility. But the top military judge at Guantanamo Bay, Colonel James Pohl, says he found Obama’s arguments “unpersuasive” and is going to deny the request to delay the current arraignment. The argument from the administration was that the “interests of justice” would be served by the delay. On the contrary, Col. Pohl declared that “the public interest” in a speedy trial was more important. The White House is reportedly exploring its options, but Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says there are “no ifs, and or buts” about adhering to Obama’s executive order and that there would “be no proceedings continuing down at Gitmo with military commissions.
If Col. Pohl is typical of the quality of what few judges remain at GITMO to administer the Kangaroo court, he should familiarize himself with Articles 88 and 92 of the UCMJ.
If he had ever bothered to read them, he would realize he has one of two options, resign on the spot, or be court-martialled for insubordination. Personally, I hope he chooses the latter and is interred at GITMO for a few weeks pending his trial.
Our dear prosecutor should heed Geoff Morell's comment, at the end of the article "there are “no ifs, and or buts” about adhering to Obama’s executive order and that there would “be no proceedings continuing down at Gitmo with military commissions." and realize his time has passed and the Bush crime family is no longer in charge.
Hey Col. Pohl, please remember to exit the stage of military jurisprudence with as much dignity as possible.
I joined the United States Marine Corps Reserves through the delayed entry program in 1999 and shipped to Recruit Training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot on June 18, 2000. After graduating boot camp, I went to Marine Combat Training at Camp Pendleton and the Cannon Crewman Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I attended drills at November Battery, 5th Battalion, 14th Marines, out of Pico Rivera, California while attending Claremont McKenna College. Despite being against the war before the war, I volunteered to go to Iraq when I found out that my unit was not getting activated because I believed that what we were doing after the invasion was responsible foreign policy, cleaning up our mess, and trying to do good by the Iraqi people.
After spending seven months as a Sergeant on a Marine Corps Civil Affairs team in the Fallujah area, I learned otherwise. It was clear to me that the policy being carried out in Iraq had little to do with the rhetoric being used to justify it. I came home, finished my degree, and got out of the Marines in November of 2006 with only until the next June 18th to be done with my obligation as a member of the Individual Ready Reserves. In January, 2007, I moved to Washington, DC to pursue a Master's Degree in Political Management at George Washington University, and in February of 2007, I joined Iraq Veterans Against the War, and became an advocate of our three points of unity: an immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces from Iraq, full benefits for returning veterans, and reparations for the Iraqi people.
To mark the start of the fifth year of the war, on March 19th, 2007, I participated in Operation First Casualty, so named because it has long been said that the first casualty of war is truth. In the case of Iraq, the truth was a casualty before the first shot was even fired. It was a mock combat patrol around the city of Washington, DC intended to give Americans a sense of what it was like to live under the American occupation in Iraq. We dressed in full combat fatigues and held our hands in such a way as to simulate holding rifles as is sometimes done in a military training environment. Our predecessors, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, had conducted similar demonstrations with plastic rifles, but in this fear-driven city with snipers on nearly every rooftop, we decided to use just our hands. We had civilians who volunteered to let us treat them the way that some Iraqis are treated by American patrols every day. They were accosted on the street, frisked, zip-cuffed, and had sand-bags placed over their heads. We also had volunteers orbiting the patrol passing out fliers describing what we were doing. In the spirit of the event, and to further make it clear that we representing ourselves, and not the military in any way, I had removed the name tapes and rank insignia from my uniform. It was abundantly clear that what we were doing was street theater. There had been a precedent set for this in the Supreme Court case, Schacht vs the United States, establishing street theater as protected free speech, and we were well within our rights to portray the reality of the occupation in this way.
I was contacted by email soon thereafter by Major Whyte, of the Marine Corps Mobilization Command in Kansas City, Missouri. (MOBCOM) He said that I may be in violation of certain regulations that I knew to be inapplicable, and that, “the law restricts your wearing of the uniform at certain events. Please call me or reply to this e-mail acknowledging your understanding of your obligations and responsibilities.” I soon found out that Cloy Richards, a fellow former Marine in the IRR had been receiving threats that were similar for some time. At the time, he was relying on a disability from the VA, GI Bill tuition assistance, and VA health care. For his PTSD, speaking out, and using his old uniform as a way to identify himself as a veteran, was the only effective treatment. In addition to emails and letters, he had received phone calls threatening to take away all of these benefits if he did not stop speaking out the way that he had been. This was enough to silence him for a time and send him into regression with his PTSD.
Knowing that the email I received was meant primarily for political harassment and contained no legitimate legal restrictions on my freedom of speech, I responded by speaking from the heart. After chastising the Major for wasting his active duty time investigating the political activities of an inactive reservist when we have Marines dying in Iraq every day, I told him that, “no, I am not replying to your email in order to acknowledge my understanding of my obligations and responsibilities, but rather to ask you to please, kindly, go fuck yourself.”
MOBCOM did not take too kindly to that, and the Deputy Commander sent me a letter that began, “You are hereby notified that I intend to recommend to the Commanding General, Marine Corps Mobilization Command, that you, the respondent, be discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves,” and said that he would be recommending that I receive an “Other Than Honorable” discharge, which would disqualify me from receiving the benefits that I had earned through my active service. The letter went on to cite articles 89 and 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which does not apply to members of the inactive reserves. Here, the UCMJ was illegally applied to accuse me of “misconduct,” and “commission of a serious offense.”
I consulted Mike Lebowitz, an attorney who specializes in military free speech cases, and we decided that I would exercise my right to challenge the discharge at a hearing before an “Administrative Separation Board” of three officers at MOBCOM. I was assigned a JAG attorney who was a Navy officer with little experience. The prosecutor was Captain Jeremy Sibert, a reserve Marine officer whose civilian employment was as an assistant US Attorney. He was activated just for this case. Due to the significant media attention the case had by then, the convening authority, Brigadier General Moore, attempted to kill the story by offering a plea bargain of a General Discharge. Standing on principle, I rejected it outright.
On June 4, 2007, I had my separation hearing at MOBCOM. After a whole day of hearing the arguments, the board recommended that I be separated with a General Discharge. The glaring flaw in their decision, was that it cited the UCMJ to assert that I had violated articles 89 and 92, but sided with the defense in the assertion that the UCMJ does not apply to the IRR. As is often the case with such matters, I believe that the outcome of this case was predetermined. The Pentagon probably decided that they could not lose face by dismissing this absurd case that exposed them to charges of fraud, waste, and abuse, but could not come down too harshly and strip me of all my benefits because of the implications for recruiting. Without an honorable discharge, I would no longer be eligible for any educational benefits, and by some legal opinions, would be forced to pay back the assistance that I received through the GI Bill as an undergrad. They were able to make this muddled decision that sent only one clear message, “If you are in the IRR, we can still punish you for speaking out.”
There was also at least a third IRR Marine going through the same harassment at the time. Liam Madden was charged with illegally wearing his uniform and making “disloyal statements” having said that the Iraq war was a war crime by Nuremberg standards. After the negative press generated by my case, the Marines tried to bury Madden's case with a plea bargain as well. They offered to drop the charges against him if he orally agreed to stop protesting wearing parts of his uniform. He replied in an email that was made available to the public online, and said that he would, “agree to not wear my military uniforms while engaged in any political protest . . . upon receiving a signed, written statement on official USMC letterhead acknowledging that my statements in question were neither disloyal nor inaccurate.” Of course, he never received such a statement, but that did not stop the Marines Corps from lying about him in a press release, claiming that he had agreed to stop protesting in uniform.
Although we were able to wrestle my case to a tie, the negative implications are far reaching. Given the nature of my illegal prosecution, it was a clear cut case of political harassment. The fact that none of the officers were held accountable for their abuse of military funding and resources to stifle political dissent bolstered the acceptability of this practice. Following my case, I received numerous emails of support from active duty Marines and veterans, some of whom said that I was speaking for them, and that they were glad that I had stood up to the command. Many of them expressed fear of getting in trouble for simply sending me an email. I can only imagine how many more of them would be speaking out if we had a military that respected the rights of service members to exercise their freedom of speech.
I joined the NY Army National guard in 1998 at the age of 17 and served for 9 years including tours of duty at ground zero after 9-11 and for 13 months in OIF. Despite disagreeing with the Iraq war, I served my full tour from Oct 04 through Oct 05. After returning home in 2005, I began to speak out against the war in accordance with the UCMJ as it pertains to the National Guard.
On March 19, 2006 I gave a speech in New York City at a concert with Michael Stipe (of R.E.M.) called the "Bring Them Home Now concert". As I Had not been previously assigned a unit, I got a call for an assignment and went in a few days early to find out what would be expected of me. At that unit, there was a picture from the speech with myself and Mr Stipe, only there was a target over my face. I laughed it off as a joke among GIs until the duty Sergeant told me that I would be sent t a rifle range that weekend. I truly believe that had I gone to the range that day I would not have made it home. I also believe that I was targeted for speaking out against the war not for my performance as a soldier.
I joined the United States Army in June 2002 as a military policeman, and after training, I was sent to Fort Hood, TX with the 401st Military Police Company, 720th Military Police Battalion, and in March 2003, I deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I spent the majority of my year in Iraq in Tikrit and Samarra, providing convoy security and various operations inside these cities and others.
I returned from Iraq in March of 2004, and made the decision to apply for Conscientious Objector Status. When I informed my squad leader of this decision, I was told to wait until June when I would be promoted to Specialist. I did as I was told and waited. During this time, I spoke out against the war, speaking about it with my friends in my unit, and also with my family, much as I had while I was in Iraq. In June, I was approached by a Staff Sergeant in my company, and was handed a copy of Army Regulation 600-43, which outlines the standards of the Conscientious Objector application. I was told then by her that I had two weeks to turn in my application or it would not be considered. Facing a time crunch, I hurriedly prepared and turned in my application. Over the next 5 months, I attempted to convey my real feelings about war and violence, and prove to the military that I truly was a Conscientious Objector. This proved difficult to do, and the process was made harder due to the intimidation and harassment I received from members of my chain-of-command. It was in the space of these 5 months that my battalion was informed that we would be deploying again to Iraq in January 2005.
During my application, I faced interviews with a Chaplin, a civilian psychologist, and a military investigator. Some of the harassment I faced came from the psychologist, who called me a coward for not wanting to participate in war. As a Vietnam veteran, he claimed that he could not believe that a soldier wouldn't be willing to fight and kill for his country. During my interview with the Chaplin, I was asked if I attended church, and when I told him I did not, he asked how I could know that war is wrong if I don't consult the Bible and God for advice. This sentiment was echoed by my 1SG during several conversations I had with him concerning my C.O. status. When I pointed out that one of the Ten Commandments was "Thou Shall Not Kill", the Chaplin laughed and claimed that the correct translation was "Thou Shall not Murder" and what we were doing in Iraq was justified by God. It was no surprise to me when these gentlemen wrote opinions against my C.O. Claim.
Also during this time, the buildup to the presidential election was under way, and, as it was my right, I placed two bumper stickers on my truck. One read "War is Not the Answer" and the other said "Kerry Edwards 04." The very next day, I was pulled over by Fort Hood police for no reason other than diligent questioning about my bumper stickers. They told me that they thought the vehicle was stolen, because surely "no real soldier would vote Democrat," and they wanted to make sure that the truck was indeed mine. After my bumper sticker was seen by my 1SG, a formation was called, and when plugging voter registration, my 1SG told everyone that we had two choices in the election: "There is either George Bush or the traitor."
Perhaps the most damaging of all the harassment I faced came from a SSG in my company. When escorting me to a meeting with the Chaplin, this SSG told me he was passing on a message to me from "high above", claiming that if I embarrassed the unit or made them look foolish, I "might not find myself returning from Iraq a second time." This made me fear for my life, not from the enemy, but from my own chain-of-command. The fear instilled in me from that statement helped play a role in my decision to go AWOL from the military when my Conscientious Objector status was denied, rather than deploy to Iraq with my Battalion.
In addition to the harassment I have talked about, there were several mistruths told to me about timelines, deadlines, and military attorney availability which all figured into my lack of preparation during the Conscientious Objector process. I ended up turning myself back in at Fort Hood in August of 2006, and in February of 2007, I was sentenced to 7 months of military confinement at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I ended up serving five and was given a Bad Conduct Discharge. It seems to me that the process of proving conscientious objection is difficult in an all-volunteer army, especially for a 20 year-old. But the pressure that comes with attempting to prove this is made more difficult when faced with the harassment I received throughout the process.
In conclusion, I was a young man who decided to join the military with the best intentions at heart. But after being in a war, my heart told me something wasn't right, and when I expressed that, I was ostracized and shunned by those who I served with and trusted with my own life.
Upon entrance into the military and once again upon commissioning, I took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I never thought I would have to fulfill my obligations in the manner in which I did, but I can say without hesitation that I would do so again in defense of our democracy, our national honor, and the rule of law. In 2002 I left for basic training at the U.S. Air Force Academy the morning after my high school graduation. As a fourth-class cadet, or freshman, I watched the president on television in March 2003 as he presented a final ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to disarm. I was eager to be part of what I viewed then as an effort to liberate oppressed peoples and establish democracy in the place of dictatorship. As the next four years unfolded, however, my perspective began to change.
My first inkling that something was awry was the dubious prewar intelligence process, which I began to read about sometime between my third- and second-class years at the Academy. It caused me great consternation to learn that numerous claims made by administration officials between 2002 and 2003 regarding supposed intelligence on Iraq were known to be false or derived from previously discredited sources. It gradually became apparent to me that Congress, the American public, and the international community had been manipulated into an unnecessary war, the consequences of which we have yet to fathom.
By this time I was deeply despondent and spent many a sleepless night wrestling with the personal moral implications of these facts. After several months of tortured deliberation I decided that despite the dubious manner in which the administration had justified the invasion of Iraq, I could best serve our nation by following the orders of my commander-in-chief and encouraging Congress to exercise its power to hold the officials involved accountable. Despite my letters and those of hundreds of thousands of other Americans imploring action, Congress did and has done nothing.
At the end of my second-class year I received a pilot training slot, one of the most coveted opportunities in the military. I instead chose to cross-commission into the Army as a Military Intelligence Officer, for several reasons. First, I had majored in Political Science and Middle East Studies and minored in Arabic at the Academy. This, I considered, would make me a much more valuable asset to our ground forces, engaged as they are in day-to-day interaction with the people and with inadequate understanding of their language and culture. I also felt very passionately about our involvement in Iraq in particular, believing at the time that despite the so-called “intelligence failures” and gross negligence in planning for reconstruction and stability operations, we were there to help the Iraqi people and had a responsibility to do so. It was with these considerations in mind that I elected to become a Soldier.
By the end of my first-class year I had fallen into deep despair, having read about the Abu Ghuraib scandal and what increasingly appeared to be an official cover-up, involving efforts by administration officials and military commanders to place responsibility for it on a handful of deviant, low-ranking soldiers. I anguished in silence over the thought of being an instrument of an administration which had compromised our nation’s principles. Shortly after being commissioned as an Army officer, I decided I had had enough.
My emotional disposition quickly changed from despair to fury after I began reading about this government’s efforts to pressure the Iraqi government to cede de facto control of its energy resources to U.S. multinational corporations. It did not take long to comprehend the ultimate objective- to control the Iraqi economy and therefore its government through command of its resources –and the consequences- perpetual instability, and therefore an indefinite occupation necessary to keep a government widely viewed as collaborationist in power.
I began to voice my dissent. I wrote letters to legislators and forwarded them to my peers, encouraging them to do the same. I signed petitions. At every opportunity I conversed with classmates in my military training courses, sending them news articles to educate them. Eventually I was warned by my chain-of-command. Given the impression that the issue was that I was sending unsolicited correspondence to my peers, I restricted my opinions to friends and others who expressed an interest in listening to what I had to say. I quickly learned that the real issue was the substance of what I was saying rather than the manner in which I had been communicating it, as I had been led to believe earlier.
I came under investigation for alleged violations of Articles 88, 92, 133, and 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (contempt toward public officials, disobeying a lawful order, conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and disloyal statements, respectively). Though I was never charged with any crime, my chain-of-command called into question my loyalty and on October 5, 2007 I was involuntarily discharged from the Army. My security clearance was suspended, effectively blacklisting me from obtaining an intelligence position in the civilian world. I have since become an organizer with Iraq Veterans Against the War, considering that the best service I can give to my country at this time is to continue to voice my dissent, without apology or reservation.
When a commander-in-chief violates the law, deceives members of the branch of government responsible for sending Americans to war, uses the military for geopolitical gain, and threatens the Constitution of the United States, what is the duty of a Soldier and an Officer? I will tell you, without hesitation: to support and defend the Constitution against those who behave in a monarchical fashion, as if they are above it; to vocally oppose the expansion of empire abroad which is leading to the erosion of democracy at home. I have sought recourse through appeals to Congress to act, but no action has been forthcoming. Where is moral and political courage to be found? If not among our elected representatives, we must find it in ourselves- and act.
Prior to becoming an attorney and Army JAG officer, I was already recognized as an award-winning international journalist. After graduating from Case Western Reserve University School of Law, I served as a legal consultant in East Africa and the Middle East where I focused on media law and judicial reform. In November 2004, I enlisted in the U.S. Army. In 2005-2006, I served in Iraq as a paratrooper with the elite Pathfinder Company of the 101st Airborne Division. I was recognized and decorated by the command for my direct role in capturing high-value individuals throughout Iraq that included foreign fighters, insurgents, terrorist masterminds and financiers. Upon my return from Iraq, I served in the 101st Aviation Brigade JAG office where I aided in prosecution activities. Currently, I am a JAG captain with the Virginia Army National Guard. In that capacity, I am a defense counsel for the 29th Infantry Division where I provide legal assistance to those enlisted soldiers and officers subject to adverse action. I also help advise the command, negotiate agreements and provide confidential legal assistance to any service member. My civilian practice is dedicated to my work at the DC-based law firm of Greenberg & Lieberman. While at the firm, I have engaged in numerous military defense cases and continues to offer civilian counsel and assistance to service members and their families on military-related issues. I also am recognized as an authority on the subject of military expression, and have been quoted in numerous media outlets including the Washington Post, CNN and USA Today.
Since becoming associated with the military and its culture, I have been involved as an attorney in a number of cases that fall under the rubric of the Military Whistleblower Act. But it was a violation of the Act by the command against me that first thrust me into this area of the law. In 2006, I was offered a direct commission in the active-duty Army. My command emphatically supported this as I had a sterling reputation and received many accolades for my service in Iraq. Soon after, I also was offered a direct commission in the National Guard. I opted to accept the National Guard commission instead of staying on active duty. The command opposed this as they expressed a negative view of the Guard. The command indicated they would only sign off on the active duty commission. I contested this decision which ultimately led to a letter to my US Congressman, Rep. Jim Moran. Upon being forced to respond to the Congressman’s inquiry, the command ranging from battalion commander down to sergeant major and company commander voiced their anger at the letter to Rep. Moran. I was called into the office of the battalion commander where I was threatened with retaliation that included doing whatever it took to cancel the commission offer and ensure that I spent the rest of my time in the Army as an E-4. A specific threat was to make phone calls claiming that I “was not officer material.” The company commander added that he should “flag your ass” to keep me from leaving because I went behind their backs and contacted the Congressman (I actually did extend the courtesy beforehand). Until I left, the treatment and verbal abuse was quite profound based solely on the congressional letter. This type of behavior is specifically forbidden by the Military Whistleblower Act. The Act states that a letter to a member of Congress is protected and does not have to claim wrongdoing. Threats in retaliation also are specifically forbidden in this case.
While the violation that occurred in my case is minor compared to other cases, I have since represented and advised service members on their Whistleblower issues. For example, I advised an Army Specialist who handled supply for his infantry unit while deployed to Iraq in late 2006. This 29-year old soldier had no history of wrongdoing and appeared very dedicated to his job. He claimed that the company executive officer (XO) was wrongfully fixing the supply books to make up for lost equipment. The Specialist also claimed that the XO was manipulating his position so that certain soldiers would be financially charged or otherwise held responsible for losing equipment that they in fact never signed for. The Specialist confronted the company commander with this claim and stated that he would report it to the IG if the situation was not rectified. The command responded with a threat and proceeded to change their attitude toward him that included humiliation such as “smoking him” with constant “disciplinary” push-ups and other physical exertion that caused him to receive a back injury. The Specialist suddenly was called back home on emergency leave because his father was very sick. The command made wild claims that he was AWOL and other blatantly wrong accusations to effectively even the score to intimidate the Specialist from reporting his claims. Upon return from Iraq, the Specialist continued to be treated poorly with tacit mention of his claims and potential to going to the IG. After working with the Soldier, he secured a transfer to a different unit and was quickly laterally promoted to Corporal for his good work. While I cannot know whether his claims were valid, the point is that the command did whatever it could to keep this Soldier from initiating an outside investigation.
From my experience, many service members do not know their rights when it comes to reporting potential malfeasance. Particularly for lower enlisted service members, there is a great deal of intimidation involved from their superiors. Moreover, their superiors also may not be aware of the rights of their subordinates. This is based on numerous phone calls and emails I receive from current and former service members wanting to know what they should do after being intimidated for such issues. In the end, Soldiers inevitably see the treatment of personnel such as the aforementioned Specialist and realize life would be much easier if they turned a blind eye.