Marines Reduce Penalty For Reservist-Protester

By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A panel of Marine Corps officers yesterday evening recommended a less severe sanction than Marine investigators had proposed for a reservist who protested the war while wearing parts of his uniform during a theatrical demonstration in Washington in March.

Adam Kokesh should receive a "general discharge under honorable conditions," the panel ruled, according to his lawyer, Michael Lebowitz. A Marine investigator and a lawyer acting as prosecutor for the corps had sought to have Kokesh, 25, separated from the reserves under a somewhat harsher "other than honorable" discharge. Kokesh already had been honorably discharged from active duty after serving in Iraq.

"This is a nonpunitive discharge," Col. Patrick McCarthy, chief of staff for the Marine Corps Mobilization Command, told the Associated Press.

Kokesh said he might appeal the ruling, which has yet to be approved by the commanding general.

"Frankly, I'm very disappointed with this decision and I'm very disappointed with the board members who made it," Kokesh told the Associated Press. "I do not think it was in the Marine Corps spirit to take the easy road or to not take a stand. In the words of Dante, the hottest layers of hell are reserved for those who in times of moral crisis maintain their neutrality, and I think that's what happened here today," he said.

"They took the safe, easy route," said Lebowitz, who characterized the ruling as saying that "he's kind of honorable, but he's not dishonorable." Lebowitz said Kokesh may file an appeal in federal court, if the panel's recommendation is endorsed by a Marine Corps general, which is the next procedural step.

"There's still a First Amendment issue involved," Lebowitz said. "We have a lot to go on if we take it to federal court."

The less severe discharge means Kokesh probably would not lose health benefits from the military, Lebowitz said. However, it is still a stain on his honor, implying that the reservist was doing something wrong -- which Kokesh denies.

The all-day hearing took place at the mobilization command in Kansas City, Mo.

Kokesh, now a graduate student at George Washington University, was one of 13 members of Iraq Veterans Against the War who staged a mock patrol of Capitol Hill and downtown Washington, clad in camouflage and carrying imaginary weapons, to mark the fourth anniversary of the war's start.

Kokesh and two other Marine reservists, also honorably discharged from active duty in Iraq, who participated in the demonstration received letters from the Marines warning them not to wear uniforms during political activity. Kokesh replied with a detailed e-mail about his views and concluded with a profanity aimed at the investigating officer, which earned him a second charge of "disrespectful" speech.

Kokesh and the other two Marine protesters are members of the Individual Ready Reserve, a category of former active-duty men and women who are not paid, do not drill and do not have a chain of command.

One of the other two reservists, Cloy Richards, who is 80 percent disabled after two tours in Iraq, agreed to stop wearing his uniform so he wouldn't lose his benefits, according to his mother. The other, Liam Madden, was also accused of "disloyal" statements for criticizing the war effort in a speech he gave while not wearing his uniform. A hearing for Madden has yet to be scheduled.

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