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.
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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.
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Robert Smith in Washington. Neil Conan is away.
Two days ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that the commander of American forces in the Middle East, Admiral William Fallon, will retire early. Officials have suggested that his public disagreement with elements of the president's foreign policy led to his resignation. There's a profile of Admiral Fallon in the most recent issue of esquire magazine.
The article quotes from an interview he did with Al Jazeera. The constant drumbeat of conflict about a potential war with Iran, he said, is not helpful and not useful. Going on with the quote, I expect that there will be no war, he added, and that is what we ought to be working for.
This wasn't the first time Fallon has been willing to speak his mind. His called for more troop drawdown in Iraq, and said the military is neglecting it's mission in Afghanistan.
The retirement of Admiral William Fallon has raised many questions about dissent in the military. Is it acceptable for a man or woman in uniform to criticize a mission - privately, publicly, in uniform or out? We want to hear from our listeners who serve or who have served in the military. Did you ever speak out? And if you didn't, what held you back?
Tell us your story. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our e-mail address is email@example.com And you can also comment on our blog, it's at npr.org/blogofthenation.
Later this hour, "Ask Amy" columnist Amy Dickinson will be here to talk about spousal duty in the face of betrayal. When should you stand by your man or woman, and when should you walk away?
But first, dissent in the military. Joining us now is retired General Robert Scales. He served in the Army for more than 30 years. And he's joining us now by phone from Norfolk, Virginia.
General Scales, good to have you with us.
General ROBERT SCALES (Retired, U.S. Army): Hi, Robert. Good to be here.
SMITH: So do you think that Admiral Fallon's comments about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and about the prospects of a war with Iran went directly against the Bush administration?
Gen. SCALES: Oh, I think they weren't terribly congruent to what the administration was saying. But I think the issue here is not what he said so much as how he said it and the atmospherics that sort of surrounded the way he said it and - oh, by the way, also who the audience was and who he spoke it to.
SMITH: Well, what do you mean by that? The atmospherics and the controversies surrounding this?
Gen. SCALES: Well, I mean, there is a long tradition in the American military that if you're a commander, there - you have a very, very broad opportunity to dissent inside the institution when decisions are being made. And that if once the decisions are made, then your obligation is to support the decision or support the policy or the operation or whatever it happens to be. And your other course of action is to retire or resign and carry on your dialogue outside of uniform. And over the - and this is uniquely American. This is the way the American - a way civil military relations has work since the Civil War, and we've had several very famous generals who've been cashiered, you know, obviously, George McClellan during the Civil War, Douglas MacArthur after Korea, who chose to speak out publicly against the administration policy that they disagreed with while they were in uniform.
SMITH: Well, let's talk about the line here. Certainly, we would expect, I mean, we would require our military commanders, when speaking to their commander in chief or a commander above them, to speak their mind, right?
Gen. SCALES: Absolutely. Absolutely. Without a question.
SMITH: Now, can they - if they disagree with something their commander does or commander in chief, can they talk with members of perhaps another branch of the military...
Gen. SCALES: Of course.
SMITH: ...talk to their men?
Gen. SCALES: Of course. Well, no, that - the senior leadership of the military is very much like a, I guess, you'd almost attempt to call it something like a club. And as long as you keep the conversations inside the club, you can be just as free to dissent as vociferously and as passionately as you desire. It's only when you go outside the confines of the command authorities in the military and begin to speak in public and your views are counter to the administration is when you've crossed the line.
SMITH: Now what about to Congress? That could be seen as speaking publicly but they have a certain responsibility.
Gen. SCALES: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Look at the law. The law is very, very specific. The first thing a senior officer says - and I testify it, I know - is you must raise your right hand and swear that the opinions that you're about to give are yours and are freely given. And so when you talk to Congress, you have the full authority - legal authority to speak your mind freely and openly, and I've done that many times.
SMITH: Now, have other officers gotten in trouble for not following this line?
Gen. SCALES: Of course. We have a rich history. The admiral in 1941, who went against Roosevelt's decision to move the Pacific fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor because he thought it was a stick in the eye of the Japanese, was cashiered by Roosevelt. We're all very familiar with the Truman-MacArthur controversy where MacArthur wanted to attack and recapture all of Korean and retaliate against the Chinese. He was cashiered. The most famous, of course, was the famous Lincoln-McClellan controversy after the Battle of Antietam. When McClellan went public to criticize Lincoln's war policy and Lincoln fired McClellan.
This is very much an American - this is very American. Because in our society, the military must be subordinate to the administration. And it's been that way for 225 years. And that's one of the reasons why we're the only Western democracy to never been - that's never been governed by the military.
SMITH: We're talking about dissent in the military with General Robert Scales. We are going to try and get our listeners into this conversation.
Paige(ph) is with us from Tucson, Arizona. Go ahead, Paige.
PAIGE (Caller): Hello. I was in the Army for four years and sometimes the difficulty in the Army is that your get a direct order that you - but you also have a standing order to challenge orders that are illegal. And if the president is ignoring the Constitution, then that calls into a lot of his actions and decisions and judgments, and you have a responsibility to challenge illegal orders, and you have to protect yourself and the consequences.
SMITH: Well, General, does this - if you have an illegal order, is there a place you have to go to? Can you go to the press with that?
Gen. SCALES: No, it's different, that's different. Everything I've just said, everything I've just said before is a difference in policy and the way wars will be conducted. If it deals with things that are illegal, now that completely crosses the line and that's when a commander, even when in uniform, has the obligation - the moral obligation to speak out. I understand what this lady was saying. And she's absolutely right. And, oh, by the way, that goes for generals just as much as it does for anyone else. And of course the incident that always comes to mind about this was My Lai in 1968 where the incident of My Lai was covered up and the military and the nation suffered irreparable damage by simply trying to sweep it under the carpet.
SMITH: Thanks for your phone call, Paige.
Is it always clear when something is illegal and when something is a military member might just consider wrong?
Gen. SCALES: Oh, sure. I mean, read - the Uniform Code of Military Justice is very explicit on that. If you are - if you have been ordered to perform an illegal act, you are not obligated to carry out. And the old saw about I was following orders doesn't apply anymore, and all you have to do is go an look at the Nuremberg War Crime Trials in 1947, '48 to see how a whole new dimension was created when the horrors of World War II were propagated in many ways by Axis generals who claimed after the war they were only following orders.
No, that's - the code of conduct for an officer is very, very explicit in that regard.
SMITH: The frustration for those of us in the media is that we want this rich public debate about military policies. We have it constantly. And we get views from all sides and we talk to people like yourself, a retired Army general. But at the same time, the people who know the most, who know that best, are members of the military. And it would be interesting if there were some way to get them into the public debate without necessarily going outside the chain of command, or do we just have to suck it up?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Gen. SCALES: Look, I don't think there is any major disagreement in policy - particularly as it regards to Iraq and Afghanistan - that hasn't, at one time or eventually, come out into the public media. That's not the issue here.
The issue is a commanding general publicly undermining, if you will, the policy of the administration through public pronouncements directly to the media. There's a difference between that and the famous now - now-famous and ubiquitous Pentagon leaks which occur all the time.
SMITH: with us now to talk more about what is allowed and what isn't within the military is Eugene Fidell. He teaches Military Law at Yale Law School and the Washington College of Law. And he joins us today by phone from his office in Washington D.C.
Welcome back to TALK OF THE NATION.
Prof. EUGENE FIDELL (Military Law, Yale Law School and Washington College of Law; President, National Institute of Military Justice): Nice to be back.
SMITH: So, when you join the military, do you forfeit some of your rights to speak out?
Prof. FIDELL: Well, forfeit is such a harsh word.
SMITH: You agree. You agree to give up certain rights, of course you do, right?
Prof. FIDELL: Yes. But, you know, a long paragraph has to follow. Really, we have, as General Scales correctly indicated, a wonderful tradition in our society of subordination of the military to the civilian leadership. We don't have a history of military coups, touch wood. And part of the overall package of relationships is that people who are in uniform, whether they're buck privates and seamen recruits or generals and admirals, will observe certain limits on their ability to exercise their constitutional rights to free speech.
You and I have, you know, largely untrammeled rights. In the military, it's a little different. For example, a person in the military cannot speak contemptuously - excuse me - an officer in the military cannot speak contemptuously to the president, the secretary of defense, the service secretary, certain other high officials. That doesn't apply to us. And that's one illustration of a situation where the constitutional right of free expression doesn't apply at least to the same extent for a personnel in uniform as it does to civilians.
SMITH: Well, you know, I visited West Point a few years ago and I was really surprised by how much West Point encouraged the cadets there to sort of have this rich discussion about foreign policy and direction. There were entire classes that had as their premise that perhaps what the military is doing was wrong and there are other ways to look at it.
So, clearly, the military has realized that there is a value to that kind of dissent, at least within the military, and to get critical thinking skills within their cadets, right?
Prof. FIDELL: Right. You need that in order to provide the kind of leadership that any modern military force requires. Of course, the military is not a debating society; it's not the Oxford Union. But there are situations in which dissent may not have quite the right, you know, flavor to it. But disagreement maybe not only appropriate but in some situations desirable. To give you an illustration...
SMITH: Oh, no. We need to take a quick break.
Prof. FIDELL: Okay.
SMITH: We're speaking with Eugene Fidell and General Robert Scales, and we're talking about dissent within the military. A little later we'll talk with a former Marine sergeant who founded a group that's meant to make dissent a little easier for men and women in uniform.
We want to hear from you. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. You can send us e-mail, the address is firstname.lastname@example.org
I'm Robert Smith. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
SMITH: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Robert Smith in Washington, sitting in today for Neal Conan.
We're talking about the rule of dissent within the armed forces. There are strict laws governing when military men and women can and cannot speak out on any number of issues, some are on the code conduct and some are culturally enforced.
Guiding us through those laws is General Robert Scales, retired Army general, and Eugene Fidell, he teaches Military Law at Yale Law School and the Washington College of Law.
General Scales has just a few more minutes to be with us. So I wanted to ask you first. Have you seen much of a change in the nature or amount of public dissent coming from the military especially during this war?
Gen. SCALES: Yes. I've seen less of it in this war - let me rephrase that - I've seen more dissent bubbling out indirectly in this war through the media and indirectly through, I guess, folks like me and those who are sort of attuned, I guess, if you will, to sort of the character of the discourse. And I see less and less coming out officially - that is elements of discussion and dissent coming through the chain of command, if you will, from the president on down to the ranks.
There's clearly less maneuver room, if you will, in this administration and during this war to express dissent officially or unofficially, for that matter, than there have been in previous wars.
SMITH: General, we want to take one phone call while you're still on the line. Paul(ph) joins us. Paul is on the air from Parma, Ohio. Go ahead, Paul.
PAUL (Caller): Hi, how are you doing today, sir?
SMITH: Fine. Go ahead.
PAUL: I do not believe that general or Adm. Fallon should have gone public with his comments. I spent 18 years in the United States Marine Corps and although I did not agree many, many times with my superiors and their orders, I don't believe that I should have gone public with any comments about it. If I did, I may as well, as a leader - and this holds specially true if you ask me - with officers, specially high-ranking officers, you may as well just go right before your troops and tell your troops, I don't agree with the orders. We got to carry them out, but I don't agree with the orders. You just shouldn't do that. That does not add for good discipline and good morale.
SMITH: And, you know, General, that's not true just in the military. You get that advice as a manager in any organization, going - passing orders through, yeah.
PAUL: I worked at a large corporation and we even have within the corporation regulations regarding comments about the company in public - you can get fired and that's a legal thing, if I'm not mistaken. They can hold your feet to the fire outside of work if you make disparaging comments about the company.
SMITH: Absolutely. What do you think, General?
Gen. SCALES: Well, first of all, war is not about making a profit. When wars are fought, lives are lost, and so it is a very, very form - a very, very serious form of human endeavor.
And one of the things - I'm also in the corporate world, and one of the things I've noticed to the gentleman's point is that the quality of dissent and foment(ph) and oftentimes the passion of the argument both before, during, and after a war within the military is much, much richer than it is corporate America simply because the stakes are so high, and all you have to do is rifle through any number of publications or listen to public speeches and pronouncements and read the wires to see how rich the discourse is, literally, from private all the way to four-star general.
SMITH: Thank you very much for your call, Paul. And thank you General Robert Scales. We appreciate that you are retired Army general and you can speak your mind. Thanks for joining us.
Gen. SCALES: Thank you, Robert.
SMITH: With us now is Eugene Fidell from Yale Law School and the Washington College of Law. We touched about this a little bit with General Scales, but have you seen a change in military culture about the type of dissent allowed and the amount?
Prof. FIDELL: Oh. I think - yes. I - and let me say that I think his comments have been right on target. I had a sense though that there were other aspects of this that people weren't focusing on.
For example, the current war is the first one of what - let's call the cell phone era. So opportunities for communication - or the Internet era...
SMITH: Yeah. MySpace. Facebook, that sort of thing. Yeah.
Prof. FIDELL: ...opportunities for communication are much different. It's the first war of the digital camera era. So, you know, this does have an effect. Also, remember - and here contrasting with the situation during the war in Vietnam - there's no conscription, we don't have a draft. So everybody who's currently in the service is there - you know, they - not necessarily everybody wants to be there right now, but there are people who came in to the service voluntarily.
The other thing that I think is worth mentioning is that we have, over the last several decades, let's say, had a substantial growth in the number of officers with very advanced degrees. There were a lot of Ph.D.s in the service. These are people who are used to doing independent work, independent thinking, independent study, and some of them are going to be written off as gifted mavericks - wonderful image. But, you know, others contribute to the robustness of debate within the military community. So that's a change, I think.
SMITH: Well, that's what happens when you have a professional Army, any profession part of being a professional is having a lot of opinions and having an invested stake...
Prof. FIDELL: It's true.
SMITH: ...in how things turn out. On this topic, I wanted to go to now to Liam Madden, and he joins us. He served in the Marine Corps for four years and now he is a student at Northeastern University in Boston. He cofounded a group called Appeal for Redress while he was a Marine.
Liam Madden is with us studio at WBUR, a member station in Boston. Thanks for being here.
Mr. LIAM MADDEN (Cofounder, Appeal for Redress; Former Marine): Thank you for having me, Robert.
SMITH: I understand you were in Iraq in 2005, right?
Mr. MADDEN: That's correct. I served in Iraq in Haditha in September 2004 through February of 2005.
SMITH: Did you speak out against the war when you were actually deployed there?
Mr. MADDEN: No. At the time, I felt that my biggest commitment was to the people around me and to ensure that I did my job as best as I could. And that's kind of a personal decision that every person who is serving overseas has to make at that time.
SMITH: But when you came back, did you speak out against the war while in uniform?
Mr. MADDEN: I spoke out against the war - I cofounded this petition of over 2,000 service members who asked Congress to end the war while I was still in the Marine Corps. But the Uniform Code of Military Justice actually cites that you can't do it while in uniform, while on base or while on duty. So, although I was serving as an active duty Marine, I never did it representing - I never spoke out representing the Marine Corps or the Department of Defense. I did it off duty.
SMITH: Now, of course, the media may not take this as a - you may have obeyed the letter of the law and found a loophole for that, but clearly the media would treat this as someone who is in the military, who disagrees with the policies of the military.
Mr. MADDEN: Well, I think it's interesting that you say loophole. I think it's actually a protection that's afforded to members of the military because that's exactly what Americans who expect people who take the oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States to be allowed to do, to be able to speak out on behalf of their conscience and do what is right, and that is the highest authority we have is the Constitution. Our duty is to protect that.
SMITH: Eugene Fidell, who is a professor of Military Law, has this been tested in the courts? Does a military member have all the protections for the constitution at all times?
Prof. FIDELL: Well, the answer is no. At times, issues have bubbled up. I remember there was a famous case during the Vietnam War of a junior officer who was engaged in a peace march in which he carried a sign accusing President Johnson of being a fascist. He misspelled the word fascist by the way, and he wasn't punished for bad spelling, but he was convicted at a court martial for treating President Johnson contemptuously or speaking of him contemptuously.
Other issues tend to come up from time to time. For example, there were issues as to whether a G.I. could have a bumper sticker that said, Impeach Nixon, around the time of the Watergate controversy. And it was determined by Army legal authorities that there was no provision on having such a bumper sticker. But it's - a great thing about our society is we're very creative about finding ways to express our view, sometimes in ways that are a little subversive.
SMITH: Well, let's have both of you stick around while we get some of our callers in the conversation. We go now to Ian(ph). Ian is in Blacksburg, Virginia. Hey, Ian.
IAN (Caller): Hello. It's very - I'm happy to be on the program. An issue that is, I think, missing is the difference between the (unintelligible). The Reality of the situation is, you're (unintelligible) being in the armed forces that everyone around you needs to know that you have their back and they have your back, and voicing dissent and voicing a contrary opinion, you are offering up a reception that that may not be the case.
Even for me right now to be on, you know, the air with you, it's a questionable thing for me. I don't know if anyone is going to hear this and I don't know what type of trouble this may cause.
SMITH: Well, thanks for your phone call, Ian. I'm going to take you off the line because we're having a little trouble hearing you. But I'm going to get Liam Madden to respond. Because you were sensitive to how your fellow military members felt while you were actually in the field but, you know, this is the modern age, anything you say can get back to them, and do you think about that when you're speaking on political issues?
Mr. MADDEN: Oh, I agree strongly with the sentiment that there's a big difference between the reality and the hypothetical and I think the reality here is that in the cases like Admiral Fallon resigning it's - in speaking out, it indicates that the reality of the situation is that there's a political entity in power that has a clear record of lying our nation into conflicts. And the reality, in my opinion, is I want a leader that is bold enough and the has the courage enough to not sit on his hands during a reality like that. So reality is an important part to infuse into this scenario and I think it leads me, personally, to the conclusion that we are on a dire situation and we can't be embroiled in any more conflicts based on lies.
And that as a soldier, as a Marine, as a service member, it's the highest priority leaders have, is to ensure that when you sign up for the United States Armed Forces, you do so with trust that your government will put you in harms way only when it is just and only when it is necessary. And that's a trust that's extremely important, and protecting that is just as important to maintaining the sanctity of the oath of services as any other.
SMITH: Let's speak with Fred(ph). Fred is in Wyoming. You're on the air, Fred.
FRED (Caller): Yes, Robert, thanks for taking my call. I served in Iraq as well in April of '04 to April of '05, and I believe that we definitely need to help more dissent within the ranks because ultimately more dissent leads to a more informed policy. And there are troubles within each command to bring the dissent up. I don't believe it's appropriate to go the media directly, but if and when your dissent isn't being taken seriously within your command I think it's up for you - you might want to think taking it outside.
SMITH: Well, thanks for your phone call. Let's go to Bob(ph) now. Bob is in Minneapolis.
BOB (Caller): Good afternoon. I have a question concerning the use - possible use of the classification system by vigorous people trying to restrain their subordinates. If they classify things top secret, it would restrain the subordinates from testifying before open members of Congress. The Congress would go into closed session. Who passes on the eligibility of those members of closed session to hear classified information and could this be used to restrain the passage of information from the military to the Congress? Thank you.
SMITH: Thanks, Bob. Eugene Fidell, you want to take that question?
Prof. FIDELL: Well, certainly members of Congress, particularly members of the committees that are concerned with military and national security issues, do have a clearances and the clearances are given by the executive branch, obviously. Is there a danger of manipulation by withholding a clearance? I don't think that's a significant danger. But I think there is a problem of over-classification. I think things are classified too easily and it's very difficult to get an outside source, let's say, to look over the executive branch's shoulder and say, you know, you classified acts not because it's really national security at risk but because it might be embarrassing. And that kind of thing is very hard to poke into from outside.
SMITH: You are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Liam Madden, I wanted to ask you a question because I think people - even people who want to hear some forms of dissent publicly might think there's a line which gets crossed, which is, at some point, do you want to hear all of the tactics and military strategy basically debated at the highest levels and in the media. At some point, the unified command isn't there anymore if everything is being run through leaks and statements and press conferences.
Mr. MADDEN: Well, I don't think that necessarily tactics should be open for discussion publicly. I think that's something that - it doesn't make any sense at all to have the government openly discussing what kind of methods we would use to fight a war...
SMITH: To the (unintelligible) policy.
Mr. MADDEN: Exactly. I think that the reality of the situation is that our government has a history of bringing us into conflicts when it is unjust, when it's unnecessary. And that, one of the first lines of defense is a vigilant and, you know, honestly courageous officer corps, enlisted ranks of the military being what is historically been referred to as winter soldiers, people who stand up in times of crisis, during the country's darkest hour and does what's difficult to do but necessary. And I think that is being repeated - it was repeated from Shays' Rebellion - soldiers coming back after the revolution and demanding, you know...
SMITH: Liam we want to try and get one last phone call. Michael(ph) joins us now. Michael is in Oklahoma City. Go ahead.
MICHAEL (Caller): Yes. Hello. I'm Michael in Oklahoma City. I'm a National Guardsman. Just last year, I spent a year in Afghanistan and what I've discover it overtime is it's a lot easier to defend in-house, within the ranks. When I was coming up through the ranks in the 90's as a junior enlisted soldier, it was fairly irritating to hear your superiors say things along lines of, well, if you don't vote for this guy, you know, you're an idiot, or well, I'm not going to have anybody of this particular political persuasion in my squad or my platoon, I'm going to get rid of them.
Today, you know, what I noticed in Afghanistan was it was lot easier for me to talk with my superiors. There was a much more of a common goal and respect for other opinions, you know, to a certain point. I mean, you know, with how you deal with your superiors, of course that never changes. But I guess what I found is that it's more valued internal to the Army. And doing it externally is still frowned upon it. It doesn't matter what everybody thinks about the current of situation. We're given an order, we salute and move out.
SMITH: All right. Thank you very much, Michael. We have run out of time on this. But Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice. He teaches military law at Yale Law School. Thanks for joining us.
Prof. FIDELL: My pleasure.
SMITH: And Liam Madden is a former Marine sergeant. He is a cofounder of Appeal for Redress. He joined us from the studios of member station WBUR in Boston. Thanks, Liam.
Mr. MADDEN: Take care.
SMITH: Coming up, Silda Wall Spitzer stood next to her man as he admitted to what he call private failings. Should you stand by your spouse when he or she lands on the hot seat? It's time for our weekly visit from 'Ask Amy's' Amy Dickinson. We'll talk about betrayed spouses next.
I'm Robert Smith. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
IVAW faces a critical juncture. As we have witnessed the addition of numerous new, talented members and the development of an organically constructed strategy, we have failed to implement our strategy with goals and plans that facilitate the achievement of our objectives.
During the National Strategy sessions held earlier this year, members analyzed why the war in Iraq was being fought and the institutions that enabled the U.S. government to continue the illegal occupation of Iraq. Clearly, the U.S. military is the single most important entity to the U.S. government’s capacity to wage war and extend the occupation. We acknowledged that IVAW was in a unique position to remove the support of the military by utilizing three primary methods:
Organizing Active-Duty resistance
Truth in Recruiting
Since the creation of this framework, our organization has been working to generate a unified effort among our members to implement this strategy. However, we didn’t set goals or make plans that would guide our actions to fit directly into this strategy.
Recently, our members, particularly those who dedicate time to our strategy team, have devised a plan that will drastically refocus our energy to making tangible inroads into the active duty. This plan, as all plans henceforth should, passes the litmus test of the following questions:
Does this project make our organization stronger (ie, more members, stronger community, healthier chapters, better active duty outreach, developing leaders, etc)?
Does this plan/action assist in removing military support for the war?
A serious political question arises from this plan; it is the question that necessitates this entire essay:
“Why are we devoting time to building a GI resistance movement?”
This question can be expounded to say:
“Why build a GI movement if the next president or congress will end the war?”
It is vitally important to address this question so that we can move forward together as an organization with a common understanding of the significance and urgency of our work. Further, engaging in active duty outreach implies that we all know how to handle the inevitable questions that will emanate from the service members we encounter.
In order to explain why we want members and service members to organize with us, we must be able to analyze these pertinent issues:
Why the U.S. is occupying Iraq
What it’s going to take to end the war
How the elections will affect our interactions
How U.S interests at stake in Iraq affect our actions
How this war is a symptom of a deeper problem
What are we asking service members to do
As we all know, the primary reasons given by the Bush administration for invading Iraq, WMDs that threatened the U.S. and its allies and terrorist links, were fraudulent. Thus the real reasons for invasion have been avoided by the government and media alike.
This isn’t meant to be a lecture on points we’ve all heard before, but it is necessary to illustrate that if our members or potential members feel that the U.S. invaded Iraq simply because Bush is an idiot or that he wants to “export democracy,” we will fail to grasp why our strategy was devised.
The U.S. is perpetuating the occupation of Iraq to dominate world energy supplies and to project military power into the Middle East, ie, the war is being fought for neo-imperialism. It is important to note that this is not a problem that rests solely on the doorstep of the Bush administration, as we have seen from the prevailing position of ALL presidential front runners, no major candidate or party is calling for an end to the occupation. This is not because the democrats simply don’t have the votes; in fact, they are basing their presidential campaigns on the grounds of a continued, albeit modified, occupation that perpetuates the same policy of controlling oil and projecting power.
Even if they did promise to “Redeploy,” it would be foolish to disregard the lesson taught to the people of 1968 when Richard Nixon was elected on promises of “peace with honor.” As history reveals, politician’s empty promises often provide little more than broken hearts and shattered lives.
This is why our strategy is hinged to our ability to organize GI resistance. Such organizing will not only reduce the capacity of the government to execute its policies, it will develop our members organizing ability, strengthen our organization, and fill our ranks with new members. If we were to engage in any other strategy, we would be expending energy on endeavors that ultimately left us with nothing to show for our effort and frustrated that our organization wasted precious resources.
Obviously, it will take more than the efforts of IVAW to end this war. The Iraqi resistance will certainly continue to play a role, as well as the civilian anti-war movement. The Vietnam War was ended by a
combination of all of these components. Many say that Vietnam was ended because “America lost the political will to fight,” the fact is that it was soldiers who lost the will to fight. Of course not every soldier did, but enough to make the government choose between the occupation of Vietnam and a functioning U.S. military.
As elections draw nearer, the conditions exist where members and potential members will be confused and attracted to the sheer magnitude of the mainstream dialogue about the war. No “serious” candidates will say anything remotely close to committing to the removal of troops from the occupation, however many will make it seem like they are advocating for a serious change, for example continuing the occupation with 90,000 troops and changing the nature of their mission.
Thus it is imperative that we predict these conditions and prepare our tactics to correspond with our goal. Meaning, we need to know what to say when troops/members doubt that a GI movement is necessary.
Where as I previously stated that the government was forced to reevaluate its policies during Vietnam in response to the staunch VC/ NLF resistance, the crippling decline in effectiveness and discipline of the military and tremendous, domestic unrest, the current scenario requires a qualitatively different level of all forms of resistance.
More clearly, the U.S. has much more at stake in Iraq than it did in Vietnam; therefore the need for dedicated GI organizing is much more pressing. It is foolish to think that the war will peter out on its own. The U.S. will not give up its superpower status, which is entirely bound to its ability to dominate the Middle East, unless it is forced to by a conscience within its own ranks.
The war in Iraq is unique in its importance and scale, but it is entirely consistent with U.S. foreign policy for the last century. I believe that if we don’t end this war and simultaneously lead the way to a systemic change in the American power structure, the same pattern will reemerge. Given the near certainty of this, I believe it would be wise to put forth a strong argument for the drastically different method of change for which we stand and also the level of change I feel we should stand for as individuals.
What are we asking of our members and our new members?
Our new plan asks our members to develop tactics to conduct outreach to active duty service members with the express goal of developing chapters of IVAW on military installations. Our six month plan needs the organization to focus its efforts on carrying out this outreach. Chapters are being called upon to facilitate the organizing and training needed to successfully conduct this outreach.
Our new active duty members are being asked to organize a community of service members who can support and educate each other personally and politically. The ultimate goal is to empower members to stand on their principles in an organized and thoughtful manner that defies the mold of individualism that is unfairly projected on war resisters, and to foster the sense of solidarity needed to stand by each other while we act to bring peace and justice to our nation and the world.
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
The description of this event was originally published, February 13, 2008 on the Falmouth Bulletin website. The video was originally posted to youtube on February 13, 2008
Jpe Bangert speaks in Falmouth:
United front: Anti-war activists pack Moonakis Café
By Sarah Murphy
FALMOUTH - A large crowd gathered in Moonakis Café this past Saturday but, unlike the usual patrons, those in attendance wanted more than pancakes and home fries; they were hungry for change.
Proceeds of the fundraising event will support Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, a demonstration to be held in Washington, D.C. Thursday, March 13 to Sunday, March 16.
Sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War, the four-day anti-war protest will bring together veterans from across the country to testify about their experiences. Panels of veterans and scholars will also cover topics such as veterans’ health benefits and support.
The fundraiser was organized by Moonakis café owner Paul Rifkin of FalmouthPeace.Org and Mike Tork of Veterans for Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War and FalmouthPeace.Org.
Members of Cape Codders for Peace and Justice, the Cape Cod Group of the Sierra Club and Iraq Veterans Against the War were also present to show their support.
The term Winter Soldier refers to Thomas Paine’s description of the Summer Soldier in his collection of articles, “The Crisis,” written during the American Revolutionary War.
“The Summer Soldier fights only when it’s popular, when the weather is good but the Winter Soldier fights year-round under all conditions,” Tork said.
History is repeating itself for Joe Bangert of Veterans for Peace and Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
In 1971, Bangert testified with other Vietnam veterans, including current U.S. Sen. John Kerry, at the Winter Soldier Investigation. Bangert offered first-person accounts of atrocities, which he said, were committed against innocent civilians on behalf of the U.S. government in what he described as an “illegal war.”
Bangert likened the Vietnam War to the Iraq War.
“We need to fight this beast. We need to build a base of resistance,” he said to the cheering crowd. “We’re not waiting for pie in the sky and the government process. We need to stand up and tell people what is really happening.
“This isn’t the country we want to leave our children. The American Dream has been wrenched away from us.”
Tork echoed Bangert’s sentiments.
“What is going on right now is completely illegal,” he said. “We attacked a sovereign nation. It completely violates the Geneva Conventions.”
Tork said war is not the antidote to terrorism.
“You’re not going to meet terrorism on the ground with an army. You have to fight it with diplomacy and intelligence.”
Pat Scanlon, a musician, activist and member of Veterans for Peace and Vietnam Veterans Against the War, entertained the crowd with selections from his album “Songs of Peace.”
Scanlon addressed the crowd before he sang “Young Soldier Welcome Home (I Can’t Walk in Your Boots).”
“Every time I hear George Bush say ‘Thank you for your service’ it makes me sick,” he said. “He doesn’t mean it. We really do.”
Liam Madden and Carlos Harris of Iraq Veterans Against the War represented the younger generation.
“We are people who care more about the words in the Constitution than the color of our iPod,” Madden said.
Madden described the potential impact of the D.C. protest.
“It’s not every day that ordinary people get to tell their version of history. No movement begins without the truth,” he said.
“Resistance is not controversial but going along with it is.”
Harris said he feels betrayed.
“We are out there risking our lives and to violate that trust by waging this kind of war is something you don’t recover from.”
When asked if he were optimistic that things would change, Harris said he is waiting for action.
“I can’t afford to be optimistic.”
Joan Power and Jane Richardson, members of FalmouthPeace.Org, show their concern by participating in the anti-war vigil in front of Falmouth Post Office from 11 a.m. to noon every Saturday.
“I do it because I believe so strongly in the possibility of peace,” Power said.
Richardson said our government is engaged in a fruitless war.
“Winning this war is impossible,” she said. “We don’t even have a defined enemy.”
Frances Johnson and her husband, Charles, spearheaded the vigil, which started with a small group and continues to grow.
“We’re very upset about what our government is doing,” Johnson said. “We stand every week and we will continue to stand until our government stops invading other countries. Today we had 24 people out there. When the people lead, the leaders will follow.”
Charles, a Korean vet, was invigorated by the enthusiasm in the room.
“I haven’t felt the spirit rising this way in a long time,” he said. “We need it. I’m encouraged.”