Kansas City, Mo. An Iraq war veteran has been kicked out of the Marines days early with a general discharge after he wore his uniform during an anti-war demonstration, the military announced Wednesday.
The military said Lt. Gen. John W. Bergman, commanding general of Marine Forces Reserve in New Orleans, agreed Monday to give Marine Cpl. Adam Kokesh a general discharge under honorable conditions, based on the recommendation of a panel that met last week at the Marine Corps Mobilization Command in Kansas City. The general discharge, which is one notch short of honorable, was effective Monday.
Kokesh got in trouble after The Washington Post published a photograph of him in March roaming the nation's capital with other veterans on a mock patrol.
A superior officer e-mailed Kokesh, saying he was being investigated because he might have violated a rule prohibiting troops from wearing uniforms at protests. The demonstration marking the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq was aimed at bringing the experience of the war home to Americans.
Kokesh, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, responded to the superior with an obscenity, prompting the Marines to take steps to remove him with an "other than honorable" discharge.
Kokesh's attorney, Mike Lebowitz, said he planned to appeal to the Navy Discharge Review Board in Washington, D.C., which he described as a step toward getting the case into federal court.
"It's just an affirmation of a weak decision," Kokesh said of Bergman's decision, "and we are going to continue to fight this to re-establish the precedent that the Marine Corps can't be used for political purposes."
Staff Sgt. Dustan Johnson, a Marine spokesman, said the review board was separate from the Marine Corps Mobilization Command and he could not comment on the appeal.
Free speech or orders?
During the hearing last week, Kokesh's attorneys said the case was about free speech, while a Marine attorney said it was about violating orders.
Kokesh's attorneys argued their client was not subject to military rules because he is a nondrilling, nonpaid member of the Individual Ready Reserve, which consists mainly of those who have left active duty but still have time remaining on their eight-year military obligations.
His IRR service had been scheduled to end June 18. Kokesh had received an honorable discharge from active duty in November.
His attorneys also argued the demonstration was "street theater," exempting it from rules governing where troops can wear uniforms.
Kokesh, who is from Santa Fe, N.M., but is living in Washington, stressed that he removed his name tag and military emblems from his uniform, making it clear he was not representing the military.
Because Kokesh was an inactive reservist, the Marines were required to prove that his conduct "directly affects the performance of military duties" for him to receive an "other than honorable" discharge.
The Marine attorney, Capt. Jeremy Sibert, argued the case met that criteria, noting Congress was debating military spending during the protest.
Brig. Gen. Darrell L. Moore, one of two officers who received an e-mail from Kokesh that contained an obscenity, had been in line to make the final ruling. But he asked Bergman to make the decision "to ensure no questions of objectivity and impartiality," according to a news release from the Marines.
Two other Iraq veterans were contacted by the Marines about their protest activities and traveled to Kansas City to support Kokesh at the hearing. One of the veterans, Cloy Richards, 23, of Salem, Mo., cooperated, and the Marines did not take any further action. A hearing date for the other Marine, Liam Madden, 22, of Boston, has not been set.
"Now that the Marine Corps is going after honorably discharged members, who are in fact civilians, for free speech rights, we are fighting back," Lebowitz said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "We are seeking a precedent in federal court."
Lebowitz said the investigating officer, Maj. John R. Whyte, was biased. Lebowitz noted that during Kokesh's hearing, Whyte read a summary of his investigation in which he said the Marines "appear to be silent in addressing misinformation" presented by opposition groups. Whyte suggested that IRR members could be used to "search for and investigate misinformation and provide relevant feedback."