Leslie Anne Cole, the 28-year-old sailor jailed by Navy authorities for refusing to work or wear the Navy uniform after she declared she was a pacifist, won a legal skirmish in federal court here today. But the war over her right to quit the Navy as a conscientious objector remains to be fought.
Attorneys for Cole and the Navy, meeting privately with U.S. District Court Judge Walter E. Black, hammered out an interim agreement alleviating some of the conditions of Cole's solitary confinement at the Fort Meade military detention facility. A full hearing on her bid to be discharged from the Navy as a conscientious objector will be held Tuesday.
Cole, of Bethlehem, Pa., has been jailed since Feb. 26 at Fort Meade, much of the time wrapped only in a bed sheet, after she was convicted in a court-martial in Norfolk, Va., of refusing to wear her uniform and to report to her duty assignment as a firefighter on a submarine tender.
The court-martial came while Cole's application for conscientious objector status was being considered by the Navy authorities.
Army Col. Avis Holloway testified during a court hearing Tuesday that Cole was confined to a 6-by-8-foot cell furnished only with a metal bunk and toilet and that her only permissible reading material was a Bible "or other religious materials."
Cole's attorney, Edward Halloran of Norfolk, said today that the Navy has agreed to "ease up" on some of the conditions of Cole's confinement, at least until next Tuesday's hearing. He said she will be provided a chair and writing and reading materials "of her choice." She also will be allowed to continue wearing a military hospital gown and bathrobe, a compromise apparently reached earlier after she at first covered herself only with a bed sheet.
Holloway said at Tuesday's hearing that Cole was denied visits by family and friends because her refusal to wear a uniform like other prisoners in the visiting area could have a disruptive effect. When asked by Halloran why Cole could not wear civilian clothes as she had requested, Holloway said, "If I allowed civilian clothes, some prisoners would be in buckskins and some would be in G-strings."
Cole was permitted visits at her cell, Holloway said, by a Baltimore civil liberties lawyer and a chaplain.
Black will decide next Tuesday whether to order the Navy to discharge Cole as a conscientious objector.
An administrative hearing officer found Cole's moral and philosophical objections to "bearing arms" to be genuine and recommended her discharge, but Cole claimed the Navy started stalling on the discharge. While waiting for the Navy to act and after seeing the movie "Gandhi" in late January, Cole told friends that she felt she could no longer report to work or wear the Navy uniform. Her court-martial followed.