Saturday, June 09, 2007

Perspective: For veterans, a free-speech dispute

Above: Adam Kokesh talks to supporters during a rally as he takes a break in his hearing at the Marine Corps Mobilization Command on Monday

Having received an honorable discharge from active duty, former Marine Sgt. Adam Kokesh thought he could once again partake in all the privileges of civilian life, namely free speech. So Mr. Kokesh, who'd served one tour of duty in Fallujah with a civil affairs unit, became active in the antiwar movement.

There was one problem, though: Kokesh wasn't technically out of the military. He was still part of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), a gray area of military service where personnel are neither active duty nor entirely civilians. So when Marine Corps officials noticed pictures in The Washington Post of Kokesh protesting while wearing pieces of his uniform – OK for civilians, not for anyone in the military – they took disciplinary action. On Monday, the Corps recommended a downgrade of Kokesh's honorable discharge to a general discharge.

That probably won't affect his veterans' benefits. But two other marines in the IRR face similar charges and risk losing their veterans' benefits, such as healthcare and money for education.

The three marines' situation has raised questions about when military personnel officially become civilians entitled to free speech and all the other rights that Americans outside the service enjoy. Additionally, legal experts have accused Marine Corps officials of overstepping boundaries and have questioned their motives.

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor