By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, 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.