As predicted, the soldiers who violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice by criticizing the President and the Secretary of Defense on camera for ABC apparently won’t be prosecuted.
But I didn’t predict this, though perhaps I should have: the administration — reportedly the President personally — has decided instead to wreck the careers of six of their military superiors, who violated no law. Apparently defending your country doesn’t count: if you don’t protect your President’s standing in the polls, you’re toast.
I think the law making criticism of the president off limits to people in uniform is fundamentally appropriate. It’s appropriate to remind the entire chain of command, which seems to have largely forgotten about that law when Mr. Clinton was President, that it remains valid and binding. When, as in this case, there’s evidence that the troops don’t know the rules, it’s appropriate to send the word down the chain that it’s the job of each superior to remind his or her subordinates that the law is in place and is to be obeyed.
(To be sure, that law is not hard to evade: “Sir! It would be a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for me to state what I, and my comrades, think of the President of the United States, sir, especially with respect to his personal courage and knowledge of military affairs, sir! So I have no comment, sir!”)
What is not appropriate — what is, in fact, astonishingly vicious and low — is to punish the innocent because you’re afraid of the political consequences that would come from punishing the guilty.
If I were a war hero running for President, I think I could get some mileage out of this. What do you think, Senator Kerry?
Pentagon may punish GIs who spoke out on TV
Robert Collier, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, July 18, 2003
Fallujah, Iraq — Morale is dipping pretty low among U.S. soldiers as they stew in Iraq’s broiling heat, get shot at by an increasingly hostile population and get repeated orders to extend their tours of duty.
Ask any grunt standing guard on a 115-degree day what he or she thinks of the open-ended Iraq occupation, and you’ll get an earful of colorful complaints.
But going public isn’t always easy, as soldiers of the Army’s Second Brigade, Third Infantry Division found out after “Good Morning America” aired their complaints.
The brigade’s soldiers received word this week from the Pentagon that it was extending their stay, with a vague promise to send them home by September if the security situation allows. They’ve been away from home since September, and this week’s announcement was the third time their mission has been extended.
It was bad news for the division’s 12,000 homesick soldiers, who were at the forefront of the force that overthrew Saddam Hussein’s government and moved into Baghdad in early April.
On Wednesday morning, when the ABC news show reported from Fallujah, where the division is based, the troops gave the reporters an earful. One soldier said he felt like he’d been “kicked in the guts, slapped in the face.” Another demanded that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld quit.
The retaliation from Washington was swift.
CAREERS OVER FOR SOME
“It was the end of the world,” said one officer Thursday. “It went all the way up to President Bush and back down again on top of us. At least six of us here will lose our careers.”
First lesson for the troops, it seemed: Don’t ever talk to the media “on the record” — that is, with your name attached –unless you’re giving the sort of chin-forward, everything’s-great message the Pentagon loves to hear.