Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Active-duty troops go public to oppose Iraq war

By STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS, The Virginian-Pilot
© October 25, 2006

WASHINGTON — A small group of active-duty military members opposed to the occupation of Iraq, including a Norfolk-based sailor, has created a Web site intended to collect thousands of signatures of other service members who agree.

Service members can submit their name, rank and duty station if they support the prompt withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

The electronic grievances will be passed along to members of Congress, according to the Web site. “Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home,” the Web site says.

Seaman Jonathan Hutto, a Norfolk-based sailor said in a telephone interview with The Virginian-Pilot that the group has collected about 120 names and is trying to verify that they are legitimate service members.

There are 1.4 million troops on active duty, including members of the National Guard and Reserve.

The group thinks their actions are legal and distinct from their official responsibilities as service members.

“We’ve given enough,” said Hutto, who joined the Navy almost three years ago. “We’ve sacrificed too much at this point.”

He said he is not a pacifist, but he has been skeptical about the reasons behind the invasion and occupation of Iraq. “This is the crisis we have created,” Hutto said. “We’re not anti-war. But at this point, our position is anti-occupation.”

Another member of the anti-war group, Liam Madden, said he opposed the war in Iraq even before he deployed with his Marine unit in late 2004. He came home more convinced that the war was wrong.

“The more informed I got, the more I opposed the war,” said Madden, 22, a Marine Corps sergeant in Quantico . Madden said the group’s long-term goal is to get U.S. troops out of Iraq.

“The short-term goal,” Madden said, “is to spread the word that service members who feel like we do have a tool to have their voice heard, and it’s their duty as a citizen of a democratic society to participate in democracy.”

The grass-roots movement is being sponsored by several anti-war groups, including Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, and Military Families Speak Out.

Retired veterans have long waded into politics, including the 2004 presidential campaign when a group of veterans challenged Sen. John Kerry’s war record. More recently, several retired military generals have called on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign, contending he botched the war and put troops at risk.

Hearing publicly from active-duty troops is rare. Military laws bar officers from denouncing the president and other U.S. leaders, and regulations typically prevent service members from lobbying for a particular cause while on duty or wearing the uniform.

Legal experts who reviewed the Web site said the effort probably would not violate any rules because the site is not a personal attack on members of the administration and allows service members to quietly pass their grievance to Congress in their free time.

Backers of the Web site also cite a “whistle-blower protection” law as added protection. Under the law, service members can file complaints to Congress without reprisal.

At least two senators – both critical of the administration’s handling of the war in Iraq – said they were concerned that service members speaking out against the president may undermine the military’s apolitical status.

“We expect our soldiers to follow … the legitimate orders of their commanders,” said Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who is helping lead Democratic opposition to the war this election season.

“And if you feel a course of action is inappropriate, your choice is just getting out of the service, basically, if you can, and making your comments as a civilian,” said Reed, a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger and paratrooper.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a former reserve judge for the Air Force, said vocal complaints by active-duty members represented a “disturbing trend” that threatened to erode the cohesiveness of the military.

“We’ve had a long tradition making sure the military doesn’t engage in political debate,” said Graham, R-S.C.

Hutto and supporters of his Web site said they see no problem with active-duty military personnel weighing in to politics.

Hutto, 29, is a native of Atlanta who graduated from Howard University with a degree in political science. He says he joined the Navy to bring structure and focus to his life .

He won Blue Jacket of the Quarter for his diligence in the photography department aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, according to a news release on the ship’s Web site.

Hutto draws a bright line between his Navy and civilian responsibilities.

He cited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and thousands of enlisted active-duty Vietnam War protesters as sources of inspiration . By joining the Navy, he said, “I don’t believe I have somehow cancel ed my rights as an American citizen.”

Scott Silliman, director of Duke University’s Center on Law, Ethics and National Security, said he sees the increasing political noise being made from military members – active and retired – as a relatively new phenomenon .

“Fifteen, 20 years ago you wouldn’t have seen it happen,” Silliman said.

Still, Silliman said, he sees little wrong with troops speaking out on their own time so long as they are not senior-ranking officers needed to carry out the president’s orders. “It depends certainly on who it is” ramping up opposition to the executive branch, he said.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said members can share their views with the media so long as they are not wearing the uniform and make clear that they are not speaking on behalf of the armed forces.

This article was compiled from reports by The Associated Press, McClatchy-Tribune News Service and Pilot staff writer Louis Hansen.

Comments 1 - 10 of 41 View All Comments

I agree (hide comment)
As a current active duty member, and a Republican I agree that members of the Armed Services have a right to question this war. The war itself is hurting military readiness. I have seen many people do six month turn around deployments. Moral is very low, and I believe retention of active duty members is declining. The argument of "following and not question orders" was the defense of many Nazi leaders at Nuremburg. Just because one chooses to join the military does not mean they become a "puppet on a string". For thoes of you who say "get out", they are... More than you might realize
- Andy g. - Norfolk

Comments (hide comment)
Just because someone says they are against this war, does not mean they are against all war. Just because someone criticizes the Bush administration, does not mean they are unpatriotic. The people out there that want to force those who do not agree to keep quiet are the ones who are unpatriotic in my mind. Everyone has a right to voice their opinion, not just those who agree with the war or the administration. -Active Duty
- Jeffrey H. - Norfolk

They have the right to speak out. (hide comment)
These servicemen/women absolutely have a right to speak out as we all do! As long as they do their jobs, and obey a few extra (well justified) rules they can voice their opinions. You don't lose absolutely all your rights just because you joined the military. All the people that think you don't have a right to speak out should move to a country where you can't. There are plenty of them. Move to Russia or China or N. Korea. I don't think you would like living there! So let them voice their opinion just as you do yours. Lastly, Did some of you actually read the article? A link to the website is in the fourth paragraph!!! Or did you just read the headline and fire off an uneducated opinion? This is the most uneducated city I have ever seen!
- James Woods - Norfolk

How amusing... (hide comment)
I am one of several other posters who have taken the oath to obey all orders, obey all officers, etc. I'm not a mental giant, but I'm pretty sure the oath doesn't forbid me from voting, nor does it prevent me from contact my elected officials on an issue of great imprtance to me. As long as these servicemen and women are making their grievances known in their off time, and they are not claiming to speak on behalf of their service, then they are perfectly within the limits of the regulations. If their message upsets you, that's too bad. You have the right to ignore it, and you have the right to start a counter-movement of your own. But you do not have the right to silence the voice of another American citizen because it offends your delicate sensibilities. If silence of dissent is to your liking, I hear real estate is booming in Beijing...
- Andrew M. - Virginia Beach

Former and current military dependents do understand too. (hide comment)
I am offended as a former military spouse that our opinion does not count as much as "active" duty members do. We serve and did serve too, in our way. We were home with the children during deployments, paying the bills, keeping the house up and working a full time job. I am no longer a military spouse but I did "serve my time" I have been overseas to a foreign country and made to sit at home because there were no jobs for "dependents". I have suffered deployments, no I have never been in the line of fire and I do not take that away from you but I have served my country in my way, by supporting my troops, all of them. No I do not agree with this war and yes I feel we need to pull our troops out. The military family is suffering by lost loved ones, lost fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and children. We have kids who will never know their parent and for what? So a third world country can keeping killing each other like they have the past 1000 years?!
- Nicole E. - Virginia Beach

Obviously military people... (hide comment)
Obviously military people don't appreciate being lied to about the "Decider's" war any more than the rest of us do. Especially since they and their families appear to be the only ones sacrificing for it. No WMDs? Well, no there weren't. No terrorists in 2003? Well, no maybe not then, but they are there are now. But hey, the economy is up, the Dow just hit a record and, some of us are making money. Not only that, those making the most money received tax cuts' and also we're fighting this war on credit, so someone else's kids, middle class kids probably, will wind up paying for it. My old grand-daddy had a saying, "it's a rich man's war and a poor man's fight". Appears he was well versed in human nature. But it's asking a lot of our military to make all the sacrifices and ignore the obvious.
- charles h. - montpelier

They have the right to speak out. (hide comment)
These servicemen/women absolutely have a right to speak out as we all do! As long as they do their jobs, and obey a few extra (well justified) rules they can voice their opinions. You don't lose absolutely all your rights just because you joined the military. All the people that think you don't have a right to speak out should move to a country where you can't. There are plenty of them. Move to Russia or China or N. Korea. I don't think you would like living there! So let them voice their opinion just as you do yours.
- James Woods - Norfolk

Only Those Who Have Served - Have a Right to Criticize (hide comment)
I have read most of the comment and some of you (who may have served or not) feel that if you are a volunteer, you need to "shut up and color"! I am retired now, and I remember the oath about following the lawful orders of the officers appointed over me; since when has it become lawful to illegally invade another country and remove the rightful leader. Since when is it lawful for us kill innocent civilians and call it "collateral damage". We say we are the greatest nation on earth and I would like to be able to think that, but when we become the aggressors, and in the eyes of most of the world the "bad guys" that I begin to question our leaders. I retired from the Air Force after serving for 23+ years, and I have seen mostly under the Republican leadership a deterioration of America's prestige as a leader of human rights. I would not normally support an active duty member making a political statement, but if you watch television news you know that our generals are doing it now!
- tom m. - minot

User Comment (hide comment)
Once again...for all of you civillians ... You have no idea baout military life and I agree with those who say that military members have the most right to comment on the war...We are the one's that are affected. ... You have no idea about how promotion works, or what kind of training we recieve. We are constantly in training...Army, Air Force, Marines or Navy...Everday is training on something. The war on terror is a great thing...this world needs it...but the occupation of a country in not what we need. The situation is obviously getting worse as observed by battlefield commanders on the ground in Iraq. My point is...if you have no idea about the military or how it works...then shut up. Don't act like you know whats going on...just go back to your cup of coffee and Sunday paper...we'll take care of the rest.
- vincent o. - Barksdale AFB

Sad as it may be (hide comment)
What right does enlisted Navy have to say about this war basing their opinions on what they see on the news??? Very few Navy know what Iraq is really like as they are not part of the ground troops like the Marines and Army. I think it is a discrace to voice an opinion when they have no real experience fighting. Most Army and Marines are proud to serve their country and fight for our freedom and know that is what they signed up to do!
- Deonna W. - Virginia Beach


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