By Robert MacMillan and Mary Specht
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, August 5, 2005
The Defense Department has removed messages containing political commentary from a Web site designed for people to show their support for U.S. forces serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Most of the postings at America Supports You ( http://americasupportsyou.mil/ ) express love and encouragement -- "The greatest nation in the world is kept that way by men and women like you," reads one message -- without partisan asides.
But among the 60,000-plus messages were at least a few dozen -- found with the site's search function -- that equated troop support with backing the Bush administration's political goals. Still others lambasted Democratic politicians such as John F. Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy, the senators from Massachusetts.
One message said: "I thank you Mr. President for all you have done and standing up to the one's who don't believe in you. My theory is that if they don't like it here; we will pay their way out. Can you put that in the budget?"
Another said: "I show my support verbally in public and by donations to the RNC and reelect George W. Bush campaigns."
Both those messages, visible on the site two weeks ago, are gone.
The decision to remove such messages reflects a policy posted on the site last week warning that political speech will be barred. Last month the Wall Street Journal reported that two antiwar messages had disappeared from the site, but at the time the site had no posted policy on political statements.
Now, "we are not including messages with political commentary -- pro or con," said Allison Barber, deputy assistant defense secretary and creator of the Web site, which opened in November. "Frankly, this a site to support the troops and thankfully, our men and women in the military volunteer to defend our country no matter who is in political office."
Yesterday, though, several messages remained that both support and oppose the Bush administration and the U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. For example, one said: "We very much support the troops serving but do not support the administration's handling of the conflicts where they are currently asked to serve. Please, bring them home as soon as possible."
Posting political content on Web site operated and financed by the government may not violate any rules, several experts said, but they warned that it creates an image problem.
The military "should not be seen as promoting a political agenda," said Lawrence M. Noble, head of the Center for Responsive Politics and former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission.
MacMillan is a staff writer for washingtonpost.com. Specht is a news intern for washingtonpost.com.