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Activists defend Iraq vets' right to speak

By Nicole Colson | June 8, 2007 | Page 16

THE U.S. military is trying to send a message to veterans that speaking out against the war will cost them.

As Socialist Worker went to press, former Marine Cpl. Adam Kokesh was facing charges before an administrative military panel in Kansas City, Mo.

Kokesh, who had previously received an honorable discharge after active duty, including a tour in Iraq, was photographed in March in Washington, D.C., wearing fatigues--though with the military insignia removed--during "Operation First Casualty," a mock patrol that he and other veterans participated in to show their opposition to the war.

Now, the military is trying to silence him--along with fellow Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) members Cloy Richards and Liam Madden. The military is threatening all three with reopening their cases and downgrading their discharges for alleged violations of regulations that forbid wearing all or part of a uniform "while engaged in political demonstrations or activities."

But none of the three were on active duty, or even reservists, at the time. The three are part of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), which is composed of former active-duty or reserve military personnel, usually on their way to being fully discharged. The approximately 158,000 individuals in the IRR aren't paid, don't participate in military exercises or drills, have no chain of command, and are almost never recalled to active duty.

What else to read

Sign an online petition in support of Liam Madden. For news and updates about war resisters and other initiatives by antiwar veterans and active-duty troops, go to the Iraq Veterans Against the War Web site.

The Citizen Soldier Web site is an excellent resource for active-duty soldiers looking for news and advice about resistance. Soldiers can also contact the GI Rights Hotline Web site, or call 800-394-9544 from the U.S. or 510-465-1472 from outside the U.S.

For an excellent history of the GI rebellion during the U.S. war on Vietnam, read David Cortright's Soldiers in Revolt, republished by Haymarket Books. David Zeiger's Sir! No Sir! is an inspiring documentary about the Vietnam soldiers' revolt, and is available on DVD, along with many other supplemental materials.

 

"Wearing the uniform for political means is not something that would be appropriate if you're doing it while representing the military or while on active duty," Kokesh explained on Good Morning America. "But when you're finished with your active obligation, and you're a member of the individual reserve, you are, for all intents and purposes, a civilian--with at least the rights of an American citizen."

If his discharge status is changed, Kokesh says he could lose health benefits and be forced to repay more than $10,000 that he received in college funding from the Montgomery GI Bill.

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Cloy Richards has not been formally charged, but says that he has been threatened with similar punishment, including revocation of his GI Bill and the $1,300-a-month disability payments he receives as a result of brain trauma, post-traumatic stress and injuries he suffered as a result of a mortar attack in Iraq in 2004.

The military moved quickly to bring a case against Kokesh because he is slated to be released from the IRR on June 18. After this, they would be unable to make a public example of him.

Kokesh, Madden and Richards say that they have received support for their right to speak out from numerous places, including active-duty soldiers, veterans groups and the antiwar movement.

Gary Kurpius, commander of the 2.4-million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars, which is known for being conservative, recently went on record in support of the three. "What the Marine Corps is trying to do is hush up and punish these individuals who served our country," Kurpius told the Washington Post. "This is about First Amendment rights...these Marines went to war, did their duty and were honorably discharged from the active roles."

Antiwar activists in Boston are planning to circulate a petition and will hold a press conference in defense of Liam Madden on June 7 at Noon on the State House steps.

"The voices of Iraq Veterans Against the War are among the most important in the antiwar movement, because organized antiwar soldiers have power in stopping the war," said antiwar activist Khury Petersen-Smith. "We will not sit by as the military tries to intimidate resisting soldiers and vets--instead, we can use a public defense campaign to inspire more resistance."

Meanwhile, Kokesh has refused to let the impending hearing against him intimidate him into silence. Days before the hearing was scheduled, he took part in another "Operation First Casualty" protest in New York City--while wearing his uniform.

"I will not be intimidated," he told the Washington Post. "This is clearly a case of selective prosecution and intimidation of veterans who speak out against the war."

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