Marines investigate antiwar activities of inactive reservists: The case raises questions about freedom of speech
By DAVID MONTGOMERY, Washington Post
The U.S. Marine Corps is investigating three inactive reservists for wearing their uniforms at protests and for critical statements they made. They face the stain of an “other than honorable” discharge. Whether it affects their veterans benefits would be up to the VA. WASHINGTON — Going on a mock patrol can get you in real trouble with the U.S. 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.
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 the officer, “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.”
Appeal to Congress
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 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.
Papers drawn up by Marine lawyers indicate the corps sees it as a matter of enforcing clear regulations.
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?
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 Michael Lebowitz, Kokesh’s attorney, says that unlike other types of reservists, Individual Ready Reservists are not paid, have no weekend drill requirements and no chain of command. Therefore, he says, they are civilians, unless summoned back to duty. And if they are civilians, they can say pretty much what they want.