Now 118 (and climbing) SERVING soldiers and Marines are speaking out against Iraq with whistleblower protection.
Military members’ war protest gaining steam By EVAN LEHMANN, Sun Washington Bureau Article Last Updated:10/25/2006 09:46:04 AM EDT
WASHINGTON — The number of military service members protesting the Iraq War through official communication to their members of Congress nearly doubled since Monday to 118 soldiers and Marines, according to a lawyer consulting the group. Marine Sgt. Liam Madden, 22, of Rockingham, Vt., was one of the first active-duty service members and Iraq veterans to file an appeal of redress through a whistleblower provision in military law, saying the war has “too much of a human cost.” Both House candidates seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., who is running for U.S. Senate, expressed support for Madden and the other protesting service members. “I appreciate anyone who contributes to a change in Iraq,” said Democratic candidate Peter Welch, pro tem of the state Senate. “I’d like our troops to be heard.” Welch said he supports withdrawing American troops from Iraq by the end of 2007 and suggested that troops could become involved in shaping a new strategy on Iraq by testifying before Congress. Advertisement Republican candidate Martha Rainville, the former adjutant general of Vermont’s National Guard, could not be reached for comment. Madden and several other service members are scheduled to publicly announce their campaign today in a conference call with reporters. Although the law protects troops’ communication with Congress, the soldiers and marines could potentially cross the line when speaking to reporters, according to one military law expert. By questioning the “war aims of the United States,” including administration policy toward Iraq, service members could face courts martial, said Eugene R. Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice. “If someone were prosecuted, it could raise substantial First Amendment issues,” Fidell said. “These things are notoriously fact specific. You have to see exactly what was said and in what context.” Troops are also forbidden from wearing uniforms during protests, degrading a commander or the president, praising the enemy and questioning national war policy with the “intent to promote disloyalty,” he added. Madden said he is aware of the guidelines. “I’m pretty confident I’m not degrading any government official,” he said in an interview Monday. “I’m opposed to the policy in Iraq. I don’t think anything I’m doing is illegal.” Asked if he expects a backlash from his protests, Madden said, “I’m aware it’s a possibility.” But the risk hasn’t eroded support for the protest, which grew overnight from featuring about 65 service members to 118, according to J.E. McNeil, a lawyer consulting the troops and the executive director of the Center on Conscience and War, a group that represents conscientious objectors. “It doesn’t surprise me at all that this might have touched a cord within the hearts of many in the military,” she said. “There are limitations and the people involved with this have gone to every effort to comply with Department of Defense mandates.” The troops are not seeking to avoid deployment to Iraq, she added. Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said service members can speak to the press out of uniform and must “make clear that they do not speak on behalf of their military unit, service or the Department of Defense.” Sanders, who voted against the war, issued a statement saying: “With more than 2,700 American soldiers having been killed in the line of duty and 20,000 injured, I believe we need to bring our troops home as soon as possible, and by that I mean within the next year. “I also agree that we need to know why and how we got into Iraq not simply to be critical of the Bush administration, but to make sure that the process which got us into this war never happens again,” he added.