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 Dahr Jamail, was posted to Truthout, July 21, 2009.
US Army Specialist Victor Agosto, who publicly refused to deploy with his unit to Afghanistan, was to receive the harshest court-martial possible for his decision - one that would land him in jail for up to one year, followed by a dishonorable discharge. However, within hours of the publication of a Truthout report about his story, Agosto received word from the military that his court-martial had been reduced.
The military had at first agreed to a less punitive court-martial for Agosto, but then, in a move that surprised both he and his lawyer, opted to push for a more stringent court-martial.
Agosto’s lawyer, James Branum, who is also the legal adviser to the GI Rights Hotline and co-chair of the Military Law Task Force, was in negotiations with the Army in efforts to seek a lower-level court-martial, so that Agosto would suffer the minimum penalties possible.
“We were working with the Army’s Trial Defense Services (TDS), and Victor has a military lawyer on his side as well, which I recommended he have,” Branum told Truthout during a July 10 phone interview.
“TDS had communicated to the prosecution for me that we were willing to accept an Article 15 and do a month of extra duty, then if he [Agosto] got a summary court-martial we’d take it - which would mean Victor would serve a maximum of 30 days in jail, and receive an Other Than Honorable discharge,” Branum explained, “So TDS said they took this offer to the CG [Commanding General] who was to sign off on it, but they said he made a mistake and wrote ’special’ rather than ’summary’ on the court-martial and sent it back down.”
Branum explained that “a summary court martial is little more than an Article 15. Supposedly there was an ‘honest’ mistake made by them handing down this special court martial, but I think they are playing games with us.”
Branum, angered by the turn of events, explained the difference between the types of court martial, “They [the Army] are not acting in good faith here. What this still means is the cap went from 30 days [of possible jail time for Agosto with a summary court martial] to a year [with a special court martial], so a pretty big jump I would say, and a leap from an Other Than Honorable discharge [summary court martial] to a bad conduct discharge [special court martial], which means once he is convicted his pay would stop.”
Due to the perceived breach of good faith by the Army during the negotiating process, Branum felt he had no choice but to up the stakes in Agosto’s upcoming court-martial. “Now we’re going to put the war on trial with their special court-martial,” Branum said, “They had their chance to keep this quiet and move on, but now we’re going to pull out all the stops and put the war on trial, and show how the whole thing is illegal.”
Truthout published Agosto’s story on July 14. Agosto, speaking to Truthout on July 18, explained what happened: “A couple of hours after the article was published, I got a phone call from my team chief, and he told me I needed to go to TDS because my attorney needed to speak to me. She [Capt. Jocelyn Stuart] told me the government wants the original deal, and that basically General Lynch was going to recommend the summary plea deal, so a few days later that was confirmed and I signed off on the last piece of paperwork that I needed to sign off on Friday [July 17].”
When asked what he thought about the military’s decision, Agosto told Truthout, “I think it’s great. It shows what a determined group of people can do. The power of the alternative media is evident. In a way I have mixed feelings about it - it would have been nice to put the war on trial.”
When Agosto refused to deploy to Afghanistan, the Army issued him a Counseling Statement (a punitive US Army memo) on May 1, which outlined actions taken by the Army to discipline Agosto for his refusal to obey a direct order from his company commander, Michael J. Pederson. Agosto wrote on the form, “There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan. The occupation is immoral and unjust. It does not make the American people any safer. It has the opposite effect,” and posted it on his FaceBook page.
On another Counseling Statement dated May 18, Agosto wrote, “I will not obey any order I deem to be immoral or illegal.”
On May 27, rejecting an Article 15 - a nonjudicial punishment imposed by a commanding officer who believes a member of his command has committed an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice - Agosto demanded to be court-martialed instead.
Agosto’s lawyer, Branum, told Truthout during a phone interview on July 10 that, contrary to mainstream opinion that believes Afghanistan to be a “justified” war, the invasion and ongoing occupation are actually in violation of the US Constitution and international law.
“Victor is approaching this from the standpoint of law and ethics,” Branum explained, “It’s his own personal ethics and principles of the Nuremberg principles, that the war in Afghanistan does not meet the criteria for lawful war under the UN Charter, which says that member nations who joined the UN, as did the US, should give up war forever, aside from two exceptions: that the war is in self-defense, and that the use of force was authorized by the UN Security Council. The nation of Afghanistan did not attack the United States. The Taliban may have, but the nation and people of Afghanistan did not. And under US Law, the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution, any treaty enacted by the US is now the ’supreme law of the land.’ So when the United States signed the UN Charter, we made that our law as well.”
The Supremacy Clause is a clause in the United States Constitution, Article VI, Paragraph 2. The clause establishes the Constitution, Federal Statutes and US treaties as “the supreme law of the land.” The text establishes these as the highest form of law in the American legal system, mandating that state judges uphold them, even if state laws or constitutions conflict.
Branum is now pleased with the Army’s decision. He told Truthout on July 20, “I think the Army did the right thing. I’d have preferred Victor get no jail time at all, but it could have been far worse. I would have loved a not-guilty plea, but as far as the potential punishment, I am pleased with how this has turned out. It was clear the Army screwed up. Since they decided to do a special court-martial, we were going to put the war on trial. They saying they made a mistake - there is no way of knowing whether that is true or not. When we went public and said it was their mistake and we’re going to put the war on trial, at that point they realized they made a really big mistake and agreed to re-submit a summary court martial.”
Agosto told Truthout that his TDS lawyer told him she had “never heard of General Lynch signing off on a summary court-martial before” and “I think it was in response to your article.”
Agosto believes he will be put through a summary court-martial this week, then expects to be placed in a rear-detachment company after he serves his sentence, which will be a maximum of 30 days in a County Detention Center in Killeen, Texas, near Fort Hood where he is currently stationed.
“I thank everyone who has supported me through this, particularly the folks at the Under the Hood GI resistance cafe,” Agosto said, “If it wasn’t for their support for my resistance, the consequences would have been much greater.”
Branum explained that the defense “is allowed to present other matters within a short time after the trial to the general. Then the general has the power to approve the sentence as it is, or lower it. So we’re going to ask him to lower it, and present the 1,000 plus signatures from Victor’s petition, and letters from experts about the illegality of the war … this is our chance to continue to make it clear that we think it should be no days in jail, and this is our chance to have this information on the record.”
Branum told Truthout that he feels Agosto’s victory sends a clear message to other soldiers who are considering resistance.
“It sends a message to be bold,” he said. “There is a high likelihood that by being bold, it helps your own case. Be smart, of course, but the Army screws people over by keeping it ‘in house.’ My challenge is to be bold, shine the light. When the military is confronted with it, they are sometimes stunned by their own injustice. Appeal to their humanity and conscience, and if that doesn’t work, scare them.”
The "War Crimes Times," was officially launched Saturday, January 17, at an action in Washington, DC. At 11:30 AM, Saturday, January 17th, at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, activists surprised and delighted tourists as they distributed the Inaugural Issue and displayed a huge banner saying:
“ARREST BUSH AND CHENEY CORPORATE MEDIA: PARTNERS IN CRIME? READ WarCrimesTimes.org”
Tarak Kauff, former army paratrooper and coordinator of the action, told reporters,“The Newseum, the showpiece home of the corporate media, was chosen as the initial distribution point of the War Crimes Times to highlight the mass media's negligence. The WCT is a newspaper created to fill the void left by the corporate media’s failure to report the Bush Administration’s numerous and severe war crimes. The pre-inauguration timing and Washington DC location were also chosen to demand that the Obama Administration vigorously and unconditionally prosecute Bush and all members of his administration responsible for these crimes.”
The following statement was distributed by Amnesty International, June 6, 2008
Amnesty International believes James Corey Glass to have a genuine conscientious objection to serving as a combatant in the US forces in Iraq, and would consider him to be a prisoner of conscience if imprisoned on his return to the USA. He is facing deportation from Canada on 12 June.
James Glass joined the army in 2002, enlisting in the National Guard where he was assigned to non-combatant duties in the USA. His unit was later ordered to deploy to Iraq, where he served five months of active service in 2005.
According to his statement, he had concerns about the legality of the war before his deployment to Iraq. While serving there, he developed further serious objections to the war, including what he saw as the abusive treatment of civilians by the US military and failure within the system to address such abuses. He stated that, whilst in Iraq, he reported his concerns to his superiors and asked to be relieved of duty. His request was denied but he was granted a two-week leave. He refused to return to his unit and went absent without leave (AWOL) in February 2006.
Since being in Canada, James Glass has become a member of the "War Resisters Campaign" and has spoken out publicly about his objection to the Iraq war.
US law recognizes the right to conscientious objection only on grounds of opposition to war in any form. James Glass was therefore unable to seek a claim for discharge from the army on grounds of his objection to the Iraq War. Other similar cases where US soldiers have sought to register their conscientious objection and apply for non-combatant status have been turned down.
If returned to the USA he faces a possible court-martial, where he could be imprisoned for between one and five years. Background Information
Some US military personnel who have refused to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan due to their conscientious objection to US policy and practice in the "war on terror" have been imprisoned solely for their beliefs. Amnesty International has considered some to be prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally.
Some of these conscientious objectors have been court-martialled and sentenced despite pending applications for conscientious objector status, others were imprisoned after their applications were turned down on the basis that they were objecting to particular wars rather than to war in general.
Amnesty International has declared a number of conscientious objectors in the USA to be prisoners of conscience. They included Camilo Mejia, who was sentenced to one year's imprisonment for his objections to the war in Iraq, and Abdullah Webster, who refused to participate in the same war due to his religious beliefs. Another, Kevin Benderman, was sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment after he refused to re-deploy to Iraq because of the scenes of devastation he witnessed there. Agustn Aguayo was sentenced to eight months' imprisonment for his refusal to participate in the war in Iraq. All four have since been released.
Amnesty International is of the view that the right to refuse to perform military service for reasons of conscience is inherent in the notion of freedom of thought, conscience and religion as recognised in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Amnesty International considers a conscientious objector to be any person who, for reasons of conscience or profound conviction, refuses either to perform any form of service in the armed forces or applies for non-combatant status. This can include refusal to participate in a war because one disagrees with its aims or the manner in which it was being waged, even if one does not oppose taking part in all wars.
Wherever such a person is detained or imprisoned solely for these believe, Amnesty International considers that person to be a prisoner of conscience. AI also considers conscientious objectors to be prisoners of conscience if they are imprisoned as a consequence of leaving the armed forces without authorization for reasons of conscience, if because of those reasons; they have taken reasonable steps to secure release from military obligations.
THE MORALE, DISCIPLINE and battleworthiness of the U.S. Armed Forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at anytime in this century and possibly in the history of the United States.
By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and non commissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near mutinous.
Elsewhere than Vietnam , the situation is nearly as serious.
To understand the military consequences of what is happening to the U.S. Armed Forces, Vietnam is a good place to start.
It is in Vietnam that the rearguard of a 500,000 man army, in its day and in the observation of the writer the best army the United States ever put into the field, is numbly extricating itself from a nightmare war the Armed Forces feel they had foisted on them by bright civilians who are now back on campus writing books about the folly of it all.
"They have set up separate companies," writes an American soldier from Cu Chi, quoted in the New York Times, "for men who refuse to go into the field. Is no big thing to refuse to go. If a man is ordered to go to such and such a place he no longer goes through the hassle of refusing; he just packs his shirt and goes to visit some buddies at another base camp.
Operations have become incredibly ragtag. Many guys don't even put on their uniforms any more... The American garrison on the larger bases are virtually disarmed. The lifers have taken our weapons from us and put them under lock and key...There have also been quite a few frag incidents in the battalion."
"Frag incidents" or just "fragging" is current soldier slang in Vietnam for the murder or attempted murder of strict, unpopular, or just aggressive officers and NCOs. With extreme reluctance (after a young West Pointer from Senator Mike Mansfield's Montana was fragged in his sleep) the Pentagon has now disclosed that fraggings in 1970(109) have more than doubled those of the previous year (96).
Word of the deaths of officers will bring cheers at troop movies or in bivouacs of certain units.
In one such division -- the morale plagued Americal -- fraggings during 1971 have been authoritatively estimated to be running about one a week.
Yet fraggings, though hard to document, form part of the ugly lore of every war. The first such verified incident known to have taken place occurred 190 years ago when Pennsylvania soldiers in the Continental Army killed one of their captains during the night of 1 January 1781.
Bounties, raised by common subscription in amounts running anywhere from $50 to $1,000, have been widely reported put on the heads of leaders whom the privates and Sp4s want to rub out.
Shortly after the costly assault on Hamburger Hill in mid-1969, the GI underground newspaper in Vietnam, "G.I. Says", publicly offered a $10,000 bounty on Lt. Col. Weldon Honeycutt, the officer who ordered (and led) the attack. Despite several attempts, however, Honeycutt managed to live out his tour and return Stateside.
"Another Hamburger Hill," (i.e., toughly contested assault), conceded a veteran major, is definitely out."
The issue of "combat refusal", and official euphemism for disobedience of orders to fight -- the soldier's gravest crime – has only recently been again precipitated on the frontier of Laos by Troop B, 1st Cavalry's mass refusal to recapture their captain's command vehicle containing communication gear, codes and other secret operation orders.
As early as mid-1969, however, an entire company of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade publicly sat down on the battlefield. Later that year, another rifle company, from the famed 1st Air Cavalry Division, flatly refused -- on CBS-TV -- to advance down a dangerous trail.
While denying further unit refusals the Air Cav has admitted some 35 individual refusals in 1970 alone. By comparison, only two years earlier in 1968, the entire number of officially recorded refusals for our whole army in Vietnam -- from over seven divisions - was 68.
"Search and evade" (meaning tacit avoidance of combat by units in the field) is now virtually a principle of war, vividly expressed by the GI phrase, "CYA (cover your ass) and get home!"
That "search-and-evade" has not gone unnoticed by the enemy is underscored by the Viet Cong delegation's recent statement at the Paris Peace Talks that communist units in Indochina have been ordered not to engage American units which do not molest them. The same statement boasted - not without foundation in fact - that American defectors are in the VC ranks.
Symbolic anti-war fasts (such as the one at Pleiku where an entire medical unit, led by its officers, refused Thanksgiving turkey), peace symbols, "V"-signs not for victory but for peace, booing and cursing of officers and even of hapless entertainers such as Bob Hope, are unhappily commonplace.
Only last year an Air Force major and command pilot for Ambassador Bunker was apprehended at Ton Son Nhut air base outside Saigon with $8 million worth of heroin in his aircraft.
The major is now in Leavenworth.
Early this year, and Air force regular colonel was court-martialed and cashiered for leading his squadron in pot parties, while, at Cam Ranh Air Force Base, 43 members of the base security police squadron were recently swept up in dragnet narcotics raids.
All the foregoing facts – and mean more dire indicators of the worse kind of military trouble – point to widespread conditions among American forces in Vietnam that have only been exceeded in this century by the French Army’s Nivelle mutinies of 1917 and the collapse of the Tsarist armies in 1916 and 1917.
Sedition – coupled with disaffection within the ranks, and externally fomented with an audacity and intensity previously inconceivable – infests the Armed Services:
At best count, there appear to be some 144 underground newspapers published on or aimed at U.S. military bases in this country and overseas. Since 1970 the number of such sheets has increased 40% (up from 103 last fall). These journals are not mere gripe-sheets that poke soldier fun in the "Beetle Bailey" tradition, at the brass and the sergeants.
"In Vietnam," writes the Ft Lewis-McChord Free Press, "the Lifers, the Brass, are the true Enemy, not the enemy." Another West Coast sheet advises readers: "Don’t desert. Go to Vietnam and kill your commanding officer."
At least 14 GI dissent organizations (including two made up exclusively of officers) now operate more or less openly. Ancillary to these are at least six antiwar veterans’ groups which strive to influence GIs.
Three well-established lawyer groups specialize in support of GI dissent. Two (GI Civil Liberties Defense Committee and new York Draft and Military Law Panel) operate in the open. A third is a semi-underground network of lawyers who can only be contacted through the GI Alliance, a Washington , D.C. , group which tries to coordinate seditious antimilitary activities throughout the country.
One antimilitary legal effort operates right in the theater of war. A three-man law office, backed by the Lawyers’ Military Defense Committee, of Cambridge, Mass., was set up last fall in Saigon to provide free civilian legal services for dissident soldiers being court-martialed in Vietnam.
Besides these lawyers’ fronts, the Pacific Counseling Service (an umbrella organization with Unitarian backing for a prolifery of antimilitary activities) provides legal help and incitement to dissident GIs through not one but seven branches ( Tacoma , Oakland , Los Angeles , San Diego , Monterey , Tokyo , and Okinawa ).
Another of Pacific Counseling’s activities is to air-drop planeloads of sedition literature into Oakland ’s sprawling Army Base, our major West Coast staging point for Vietnam
On the religious front, a community of turbulent priests and clergymen, some unfrocked, calls itself the Order of Maximilian.
Maximilian is a saint said to have been martyred by the Romans for refusing military service as un-Christian. Maximilian’s present-day followers visit military posts, infiltrate brigs and stockades in the guise of spiritual counseling, work to recruit military chaplains, and hold services of "consecrations" of post chapels in the name of their saintly draft-dodger.
By present count at least 11 (some go as high as 26) off-base antiwar "coffee houses" ply GIs with rock music, lukewarm coffee, antiwar literature, how-to-do-it tips on desertion, and similar disruptive counsels. Among the best-known coffee houses are: The Shelter Half (Ft Lewis , Wash. ); The Home Front (Ft Carson, Colo.); and The Oleo Strut (Ft Hood, Tex. ).
Virtually all the coffee houses are or have been supported by the U.S. Serviceman’s Fund, whose offices are in new York City ’s Bronx .
While refusing to divulge names, IRS sources say that the serviceman’s Fund has been largely bankrolled by well-to-do liberals.
One example of this kind of liberal support for sedition which did surface identifiably last year was the $8,500 nut channeled from the Philip Stern Family Foundation to underwrite Seaman Roger Priest’s underground paper OM, which, among other writings, ran do-it-yourself advice for desertion to Canada and advocated assassination of President Nixon.
"Entertainment Industry for Peace and Justice," the antiwar show-biz front organized by Jane Fonda, Dick Gregory, and Dalton Trumbo, now claims over 800 film, TV, and music names. This organization is backing Miss Fonda’s antimilitary road-show that opened outside the gates of Ft. Bragg, N.C., in mid-March.
Describing her performances (scripted by Jules Pfeiffer) as the soldiers’ alternative to Bob Hope, Miss Fonda says her case will repeat the Ft Bragg show at or outside 19 more major bases.
Freshman Representative Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.) runs a somewhat different kind of antimilitary production.
As a Congressman, Dellums cannot be barred from military posts and has been taking full advantage of the fact. At Ft Meade, Md., last month, Dellums led a soldier audience as they booed and cursed their commanding officer who was present on-stage in the post theater which the Army had to make available.
This article was originally published in the New York Times, February 28, 2007
In a small but growing sign of dissent, a group of active-duty military personnel and reservists, including many who have served in Iraq, is denouncing the war and asking Congress for the prompt withdrawal of troops.
The service members, who number more than 1,600, have sent an Appeal for Redress to their Congressional representatives, a form of protest permitted by military rules. Most of those who signed the appeal, at www.appealforredress.org, are enlisted soldiers in the Army, from the lowest to the highest ranks.
''There is a sense of betrayal,'' said Specialist Linsay Burnett, 26, who recently returned from Iraq with the First Brigade combat team of the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee. The division is readying for its third deployment.
''These soldiers stand up to fight, to protect their country, but we are now on the fifth reason as to why it is we are in Iraq,'' added Specialist Burnett, who has served as a public affairs specialist and as a military journalist focusing primarily on the infantry. ''How many reasons are we going to come up with for keeping us over there?''
The Appeal for Redress reads: ''As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home.''
The protest, which was started in October by two active-duty service members and is sponsored by three antiwar groups, initially drew 65 signatures, growing to more than 1,300 by February. This week, after the CBS News program ''60 Minutes'' reported on the appeal, about 300 more active-duty soldiers joined the campaign, said Petty Officer Third Class Jonathan Hutto of the Navy, a co-founder of the group behind the appeal.
While the 1,600 make up a tiny part of the armed services, the appeal is one of the first official signs of protest from people within the military. An estimated 70 percent of those who have signed it are on active duty; the rest are members of the Reserves or the National Guard, and about 100 officers have signed it.
Describing themselves as supporters of the military but critics of the Iraq war, leaders of the appeal say they believe it is their right and duty under the Constitution to question the war and its mission, a position not widely voiced in the military.
Their decision to speak out and take their opposition outside the chain of command has been criticized by some veterans' groups that argue that soldiers are obligated to follow orders, not change policy. Critics also say that while service members cannot choose where they will be deployed, they can choose to join the military or not.
When the group sent its first letter in October, the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, said it was ''not unusual for soldiers in a time of war to have some misgivings,'' adding that the group constituted a small minority of service members.
In a phone call yesterday with three signatories, including Petty Officer Hutto, the service members said their decision to appeal had not been taken lightly. The military does not allow service members to organize and frowns on dissent.
''The Army has many ways to make your life very difficult,'' Specialist Burnett said, adding that she had come forward largely because ''there are not many voices out there for the men on the ground.''
Jeff Slocum, a chief master sergeant of the Air Force who is scheduled to deploy to Iraq next year, said his high rank was one reason he had signed the appeal. ''I'm not antiwar, I'm not antimilitary,'' said Chief Master Sergeant Slocum, who added that the troops were feeling ''used and abused.''
That 1,600 service members have signed the appeal ''shows just how much we are willing to risk,'' he said. ''We are trying to raise awareness that we need people to be sticking up for us, because nobody else is.''
Originally published in the Washington Post, May 31, 2007
Going on a mock patrol can get you in real trouble with the United States Marine Corps.
In a case that raises questions about free speech, the Marines have launched investigations of three inactive reservists for wearing their uniforms during antiwar protests and allegedly making statements characterized as "disrespectful" or "disloyal."
Two of them were part of the guerrilla theater squad of 13 Iraq Veterans Against the War who roamed Capitol Hill and downtown Washington in March, clad in camouflage and carrying imaginary weapons, to mark the fourth anniversary of the Iraq war. A Washington Post story about that protest is part of the evidence gathered by Marine lawyers.
Adam Kokesh, 25, a graduate student at George Washington University, faces a hearing Monday in Kansas City, where the Marines will recommend an "other than honorable" discharge from the Individual Ready Reserve. He was previously honorably discharged from active duty after fighting in Fallujah and receiving the Combat Action Ribbon and the Navy Commendation Medal.
Upon learning he was being investigated for wearing his uniform during the mock patrol, Kokesh wrote an e-mail to the investigating officer, Maj. John Whyte. The combat veteran discussed his service and his critique of the war, and asked this officer assigned to look into his "possible violation" of wearing his uniform: "We're at war. Are you doing all you can?" He concluded with an obscene recommendation about what Whyte should go do.
This earned him the count for a "disrespectful statement."
Liam Madden, 22, who spent seven months on the ground in Iraq, last fall helped launch the Appeal for Redress, a Web site where military personnel can directly appeal to Congress to support withdrawal of troops. Madden, of Boston, is accused of wearing his camouflage shirt at an antiwar march in Washington in January.
He also is accused of making disloyal statements during a speech in February in New York, when he says he wasn't wearing his uniform.
These statements, as summarized by the Marines in legal documents: "Sgt. Madden spends several minutes explaining the 'war crimes' of the Bush administration. Sgt. Madden claims that the war in Iraq is a war 'of aggression' and one of 'empire building.' Sgt. Madden explains that the President of the United States has 'betrayed U.S. military personnel' engaged in the Iraq conflict."
The identity of the third Marine under investigation could not be immediately verified; his or her name had been blacked-out of legal documents reviewed by The Post.
Kokesh and Madden say they have a question about all this: Don't the Marines have anything better to do these days?
Papers drawn up by Marine lawyers indicate the corps sees it as a matter of enforcing clear regulations. Spokesmen for the Marines did not return telephone calls and e-mails seeking comment.
The case also raises a fundamental question of interest to the roughly 158,000 men and women in the Marines' and Army's Individual Ready Reserve: Are they civilians -- free to speak their minds -- or not?
"This case is about the Marine Corps seeking to stifle critics of the Iraq policy by officially labeling civilian acts of peaceful protest and political speech as misconduct and serious offenses," says Michael Lebowitz, Kokesh's attorney, who fought in Iraq as an Army paratrooper .
In legal documents sent to the reservists, the Marines cite well-known military regulations against wearing uniforms for political activity. Against Kokesh they say a Marine may not insult an officer. Against Madden they cite a military law that covers disloyal statements.
But, counters Lebowitz, unlike other types of reservists who have specific paid duties, Individual Ready Reservists are not paid, have no weekend drill requirements and no chain of command. Therefore, he argues, they are civilians, unless summoned back to duty. And if they are civilians, they can say pretty much what they want.
"For the military to try to punish civilians for speaking out against the war is completely outrageous, says Arthur Spitzer, legal director of American Civil Liberties Union for the National Capital Area, whom Madden has consulted but not yet retained.
It is true that civilians are subject to civilian laws against wearing military uniforms -- but that's not for the Marines to judge, the lawyers say.
Usually, reservists who wear their uniforms improperly are unaware of the rules and the matter is resolved amicably, says Col. John Sessoms, staff judge advocate for Marine Forces Reserve, the top lawyer for the reserves. "These are misdemeanor-type offenses," Sessoms says. "Once counseled, Marines usually conform. They suffer no repercussion."
The cases against Kokesh and Madden are administrative, not criminal. The main repercussion they face is the stain of the "other than honorable" designation, something they may have to explain on applications for employment or security clearance. Whether it affects their Veterans Administration benefits would be up to the VA.
Kokesh and Madden both say they are proud to have served and have nothing against the institution of the Marines. Neither plans to curb his antiwar work, despite the consequences. Kokesh just took part in another mock patrol protest -- wearing his uniform -- in New York City.
"I will not be intimidated," Kokesh says.
This article, by Kirsten Scharnberg, was originally published in the Chicago Tribune, June 22, 2007
Veterans defend their right to question the war
Chicago:The young combat veteran stared at the letter in disbelief when it arrived in his mailbox a few months ago.
The Marine Corps was recommending him for "other than honorable discharge." The letter alleged he had violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice by wearing part of his uniform during an anti-war rally. Furthermore, the letter accused him of being "disloyal," a word hard to swallow for a man who had risked his life to serve his nation.
"All this because I have publicly opposed the war in Iraq since I came back from it," said former Marine Sgt. Liam Madden, 22.
Madden is not alone.
At least two other combat veterans who have returned from tours in Iraq and become well-known anti-war advocates have seen the military recommend them for less-than-honorable discharges. One of them is a young man 80 percent disabled from two tours who was threatened with losing his veteran's disability benefits if he continued to protest in uniform.
Critics - including some groups that have been the most supportive of the war - say the crackdown on these men constitutes a blatant attempt to quiet dissension in the ranks at the very time more and more members of the armed forces are publicly questioning the war they are being sent to fight.
"I may disagree with their message, but I will always defend their right to say it," said Gary Kurpius, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in a scathing statement he released this month under the headline, "VFW to Corps: Don't Stifle Freedom of Speech."
"Trying to punish fellow Americans for exercising the same democratic rights we're trying to instill in Iraq is not what we're about," Kurpis concluded.
The military has been quick to defend its decision to punish the men, stating that its policies regarding acceptable forms of protest are quite clear. Military guidelines state that troops may attend demonstrations only in the United States, only when they are off base and off duty, and, most critically, only when they are out of uniform.
"We don't restrict free speech," Maj. Anne Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman, said. "It's the uniform that gets people in trouble. When you wear the uniform, you are representing the armed service behind that uniform, and it is against the military code of justice to protest in uniform."
Madden and the two other Marines were clearly documented wearing at least part of their uniforms at public protests. (Though all three had completed their active duty service, they remained reservists; the military argued that the Pentagon's conduct codes still applied to them, an assertion that seems likely to make its way to federal court.)
The military, with its hierarchal rank structure and absolute adherence to following orders, has never been an institution that takes kindly to debate from within. But today, as an increasingly unpopular war drags on and troops are being sent on second, third or fourth combat tours, the volume of criticism from veterans and even those on active duty is reaching a fevered pitch.
Perhaps the most telling part of such criticism is how open disgruntled troops are becoming despite the risk to their careers - signing their names to furious letters printed in military-owned newspapers; speaking on the record to reporters in Iraq about how badly the mission is going; writing members of Congress. And then there are the protests in uniform, a throwback to the Vietnam War era, when veterans such as Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., denounced the war in weathered fatigues, throwing away their medals.
Many of the protests involving vets in uniform are all-out street theater, such as one in Washington last spring where protesters staged a mock patrol, manhandling people at simulated gunpoint in order to illustrate how they say Iraqis are treated by American troops. Just last week in Chicago, a similar protest took place. The intended subtext of the uniformed protests is apparent: that protesters have additional credibility because they are denouncing a war they have witnessed firsthand, that the very uniforms now being used in protest have walked the real-life battlefield.
"Guys like us - veterans who served but then came to believe the war is not only wrong but illegal - are not who the military wants speaking on a national stage," Madden said.
If Madden and the other Marines initially feared their high-profile discharge cases would serve to silence protest, the opposite seems to be slowly and quietly happening. The men's cases have spurred dissenting troops to find creative ways to voice their disapproval of the war while remaining well within military guidelines.
Take, for example, DOD Directive 7050.6. It expressly provides the right of service members to complain and to request redress of their grievances, including to members of Congress. In recent months some 2,000 active-duty and reserve troops have used the protection of that directive to sign "An Appeal for Redress," an initiative that sends troops' demand for an end of the war directly to Congress.
The wording of the appeal is intended to at once be patriotic and respectful while also unequivocally anti-war: It begins, "As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform." It ends: "Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home."
Of the three Marines caught protesting in uniform, the case of former Cpl. Cloy Richards has garnered the least public attention-but the most within military circles. The 23-year-old from Missouri has been deemed 80 percent disabled from two tours in Iraq; he agreed this month before a military discharge review board that he would no longer protest in uniform in order to keep his honorable discharge and his veterans benefits that come to some $1,300 per month.
But that hasn't silenced Richards' protest. He now attends anti-war demonstrations in civilian clothes; his mother attends as well, wearing his old uniform for him.
Others are also creative. A young infantryman based at Ft. Drum, in Watertown, N.Y., home to the 10th Mountain Division, well knows the fine balancing act it is to be a uniformed member of the military and a committed anti-war activist. Phillip Aliff - he asked that his rank not be used, saying that would be against regulation - is the president of the Ft. Drum chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Once a week, Aliff and the other IVAW members finish their duty day in uniform, change into civilian clothes and drive off base to meet at the Different Drummer, a cafe in downtown Watertown that is modeled on the anti-war coffeehouses of the Vietnam War era.
"I'm definitely walking the line," Aliff said, admitting that none of his direct commanders know of his anti-war activities. "But we who protest have a collective experience. We took part in it - we did the midnight raids and patrols, we caused the fear in the Iraqi people - so when even we say it's wrong, that carries some real credibility."
The Ft. Drum group has grown from two members when it was launched two months ago to 12 members today. Aliff said the members encourage each other to speak out despite the fear of reprisal that comes with doing so.
"None of us wants to get in trouble," Aliff said. "None of us wants to lose our jobs or our GI bills or our benefits. But we also feel we have to be willing to do what's right."
By meeting off base and out of uniform, the Iraq Veterans Against the War members stay just inside the line of legality for military code. They don't distribute literature on base or openly recruit new members at work.
"There are so many ways to stay within military law," Aliff said. "We know we have something to say so we are finding legal ways in which to say it."
A Zogby poll last year showed that war critics like Aliff may not be entirely on the fringes of the mainstream military. The poll of 944 U.S. military personnel in Iraq, conducted by Zogby International and Le Moyne College, found that 72 percent of those polled believed the U.S. should pull out within one year.
"The unrest has been churning below the surface for a while," said Madden, who still is waiting to see what will become of his less-tha
IVAW is in high gear! Our members are focussed on reaching out to their active duty brothers and sisters. Our strategy is built around mobilizing the military community to withdraw its support for the war, and our members are putting that strategy into action. Soldier, You're Not Alone
IVAW's Seattle chapter is spearheading a week of Active Duty outreach to Ft. Lewis from February 18-24, with support from the Bellingham chapter and other members in the northwest. The Seattle chapter has been very active - holding weekly meetings and working closely with GIs at Ft. Lewis to spread the word about IVAW's work to end the war. As part of this effort, the chapter is hosting a "Soldier, You're Not Alone" benefit concert on February 21st in Tacoma. All ages are welcome, and active duty servicemembers get in free with a Military ID. Spread the word! Our fourth active duty chapter
Deep in the heart of Texas, soldiers at Ft. Hood who recently returned from Iraq have organized our fourth Active Duty chapter. Organizing an IVAW chapter on a military base isn't easy, which is why we're proud of all our members who are organizing on bases, both active duty and local veteran members who are supporting them. We welcome our newest members back from Iraq, and into the IVAW family! Working together to build IVAW
Members in the Mountain Region are getting together for an organizing retreat February 23-24, and our members in the Los Angeles area have a retreat planned for this weekend. These retreats are organized locally to build member involvement, learn organizing skills, and sharpen IVAW's strategic impact. They're an important part of making sure that IVAW stays strong as we continue our rapid growth. Winter Soldier Update: Spreading the word about Winter Soldier
IVAW allies are hosting house party fundraisers from Los Angeles to Maine! Chapters of Veterans for Peace, affiliates of United for Justice with Peace, students from the Campus Anti-War Network, and labor organizers from US Labor Against the War are rallying their friends and neighbors to support Winter Soldier. All funds raised will go towards transportation and lodging for veteran, GI and civilian testifiers, and towards the live broadcast of their stories across the internet, television and radio. For information on how you can support Winter Soldier, see our How You Can Help Now page. You can find highlights from our Boston fundraising party featuring Howard Zinn and IVAW Board Member Liam Madden on our website. Watching Winter Soldier Public events featuring the live broadcasts of the Winter Soldier testimonies are being planned across the country. Planning an event? Be sure to post it on our site for others to see. Making history Winter Solider is an historic event, and our Boston area supporters are gearing up to make sure everyone can watch history in the making. That’s why a coalition of leaders in Boston’s peace and justice community want to make sure the stories told this March will be made available to everyone in their city. For more on their organizing efforts to secure a public space for all of Winter Soldier weekend, please contact Paul Shannon, email@example.com. Winter Soldier video now online
We've just posted an 18 minute preview of Winter Soldier on our site. Stop by and check it out, and pass the word - this is a great way to get people ready for the big event.
Winter Soldier is just 27 days away, and we'll have more news every week on how you can support and participate in Winter Soldier events around the country. The Winter Soldier Team is interviewing testifiers, preparing the satellite and website live feeds, and making travel and lodging arrangements for members who will join us for IVAW's biggest event to date. Many of you have stepped forward with donations to help us make this event happen, and we appreciate your support. If you haven't made a contribution to support Winter Soldier, please visit our donation page now!
Former Sergeant, Army National Guard
Executive Director Iraq Veterans Against the War
Hey, I’m back. I was just out on a really long lunch break. We take long lunches in the National Guard.
Things are fine here at Taji. My battalion’s soldiers dutifully protect our base in our many guard towers and entry points, braving threats such as freezing temperatures, rain, darkness, snipers, and bouts of boredom. I pulled guard duty a few times in Germany after September 11th and was completely bored out of my mind after two hours. I can’t imagine what it’s like to do it on a daily basis for 8 months. They’re doing a great job though. We haven’t had many incidents at all. We like to avoid incidents around here.
I have so many interesting and humorous things to talk about from this deployment but I hesitate to write about them because this blog is now officially registered at the Multi-National Corps-Iraq’s command HQ. A new directive had me report my blog address up to my higher headquarters last week. This wasn’t a surprise. In fact, I wrote all my entries with this eventuality in mind, so my throat was gulp-free when I heard in a meeting that all blogs were to be registered by a certain date.
Iraq is generally safer than it was before the fabled surge, but it’s still a dangerous country. Just about 10 miles away from here is Diyala province, arguably one of the most dangerous places in the world. There were also those suicide bombs in Baghdad a few days ago. The ones where the insurgents, from a safe distance, blew up two unsuspecting retarded girls in two crowded pet markets. What animals. Then again, animals don’t exhibit anything remotely similar to this repugnant behavior in the natural world. Baghdad is safer, but what did we expect would happen when we erected 10 foot high concrete barriers between Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods and poured 30,000 heavily armed American troops on the streets? I liken it to a domestic disturbance. When the cops show up at the house, a husband can't his his wife anymore. What’s going to happen when we, the cops, leave? That’s one of the central questions of American foreign policy, though from watching the news you’d think the war was already over.
On a lighter note, my unit is scheduled to return to the U.S. in late April. I can’t talk specific dates of course, but I’ll be out of the Army and on my own for the first time since 1996, when I entered West Point. I got out in 2005 and went to school but was still technically in the Army—something I was so politely reminded of when my parents received the Army FEDEX letter in the mail. I still haven’t written off the Army Reserves or National Guard though. My parents and some friends here think I’m completely crazy for even considering it, but I want to keep my options open. There is the potential for a bonus, extra salary for weekend drills and other training, leadership experience, camaraderie, retirement benefits, and other advantages. But then on the other side there is the chance (or more like the certainty) of more one-year deployments and time away from family and friends during uncertain times. Starting a new career, then having to leave the job after 2 years is not the best way to establish oneself in a field.
I’m jumping into the job market in May, so I’m doing a bit of soul-searching to select a career I’ll be happy with. I’m looking at both government jobs and private sector jobs in a few different areas, including state or city public finance, economic development, and emergency management. (Does anyone know anybody at FEMA?) You know what career counselors say about success: you should know what your short-term and long-term goals are before you apply for jobs. Well, that’s the thing. I’m not entirely sure what my end-state is. Is anyone? As long as I’m doing something I love, in a place that I enjoy, I’ll be a happy camper. Another decision I’ll have to make of course is where to live. What will make my job search a hell of a lot easier is that I am very geographically flexible. I’m most likely going to end up somewhere between Boston and D.C., but I can’t seem to get the other interesting places like San Francisco, the Pacific Northwest, and south Florida out of my head. I obviously want to wait until I get back to the U.S. before I make any brash decisions though.
I hope everyone is doing fine back in the States and I’d like to thank all of you who sent me care packages over the holidays.