Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Vet Escapes Punishment for Protesting War

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A military panel has recommended a general discharge for an Iraq war veteran who wore his uniform during a war protest and later responded with an obscenity to a superior who told him he might have violated military rules.

There is no way for Iraq to achieve rule of law with a foreign military imposing martial law

Marine Cpl. Adam Kokesh participated in the protest in March, clad in a uniform that had his name tag and other insignia removed. After he was identified in a photo caption in The Washington Post, a superior officer sent him a letter saying he might have violated a rule prohibiting troops from wearing uniforms without authorization.

After a hearing Monday before an administrative separation board at the Marine Corps Mobilization Command, the panel decided not to recommend an other-than-honorable discharge, choosing instead the general discharge.

"This is a nonpunitive discharge," said Col. Patrick McCarthy, chief of staff for the mobilization command. "The most stringent discharge that could have been received is other than honorable, and the board chose to raise that up to a general discharge."

If the recommendation is approved, Kokesh would not lose any military benefits, McCarthy said. Brig. Gen. Darrell L. Moore, one of two officers who received an e-mail from Kokesh that contained an obscenity, likely will decide whether to go along with the board's recommendation.

Kokesh is a member of the Individual Ready Reserve, which consists mainly of those who have left active duty but still have time remaining on their eight-year military obligations. His service is due to end June 18, but the Marine Corps is seeking to let him go two weeks early with a less-than-honorable discharge.

That could cut some of his health benefits and force him to repay about $10,800 he received to obtain his undergraduate degree on the GI Bill.

His attorneys said Kokesh was not subject to military rules during the protest because he was not on active duty. They said the protest was a theatrical performance, which meant wearing a uniform was a not a violation of military rules.

The military considered it a political event, at which personnel are not allowed to wear their uniforms without authorization.

Kokesh said he might appeal the board's ruling on principle.

"Frankly, I'm very disappointed with this decision and I'm very disappointed with the board members who made it," he said. "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."

Marine Capt. Jeremy Sibert said in closing arguments that military personnel can be punished if their civilian behavior "directly affects the performance of military duties and is service-related." He said Kokesh's actions could affect how people view the Marine Corps and discourage recruits.

"A lot of us believe in this uniform. At some point, Cpl. Kokesh decided he was above that," he said.

Kokesh's attorney Lt. Joseph Melaragno maintained that the military was violating Kokesh's free speech rights. "(Sibert) argues we're sending a bad message," Melaragno said. "I say we need that in society. The easiest thing for individuals to do is get complacent with the war."

Kokesh was honorably discharged after a combat tour in Iraq.

The Marines' first witness, Maj. John R. Whyte, testified Monday he was the officer who wrote Kokesh the e-mail informing him the Marines were investigating the possible uniform violation.

After the Marine Corps told Kokesh it was investigating, he sent an e-mail to officials that included an obscenity.

Kokesh was a reservist in an artillery unit when he became disillusioned with the war during his first tour. He said he believes there is no way for Iraq to achieve rule of law with a foreign military imposing martial law.

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