Write for Lew Rockwell, Get 20 Years

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Salon reports:

An Army Reserve staff sergeant who last week wrote a critical analysis of the United States' prospects in Iraq now faces possible disciplinary action for disloyalty and insubordination. If charges are brought and the officer is found guilty, he could face 20 years in prison. It would be the first such disloyalty prosecution since the Vietnam War.

The essay that sparked the military investigation is titled "Why We Cannot Win" and was posted Sept. 20 on the conservative antiwar Web site LewRockwell.com. Written by Al Lorentz, a non-commissioned officer from Texas with nearly 20 years in the Army who is serving in Iraq, the essay offers a bleak assessment of America's chances for success in Iraq….

According to Lorentz, the investigation is looking into whether his writing constituted a disloyalty crime under both federal statute (Title 18, Section 2388, of the U.S. Code) and Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Grant Lattin, a former Marine judge advocate, tells Salon that an actual prosecution is unlikely:

[I]t's not uncommon for commanders to threaten soldiers with legal action in order to make a point: "If they know there's an offense for a disloyal statement, I wouldn't be surprised if he said, 'Knock it off.'" Lattin doubts that in the end Lorentz will face prosecution for his writings. "After this gets to lawyers and prosecutors who think about the consequences and the First Amendment, I don't think this will go anywhere."

We'll see.

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  1. This would be more trouble than its worth.

  2. I believe the proper term is “defeatist.” As in, “General Rommel, your comments about the fighting in Normandy smack of defeatism.”

  3. joe,

    I can only imagine how the Freepers will react. 🙂

  4. Sure. They’re not looking for an actual prosecution. They just want to get the chilling effect.

  5. What modernizing and westernizing influences may be brought to bear on our military so that they do not engage in such illiberal activities as this suppression of free speech?

  6. What modernizing and westernizing influences may be brought to bear on our military so that they do not engage in such illiberal activities as this suppression of free speech?

    Whistleblower protections? Not that it has a chance in hell to happen under the current administration.

  7. you know, i don’t really see the outrage here — it is not “write for lew rockwell, get 20 years” but rather “violate contract, pay penalty” which is perfectly reasonable.

    granted military contracts are a little on the all-encompassing side, but lorentz, being a senior noncom should know better.

  8. This type of behavior by our military weakens the case that they should be supported via tax revenue. They’re supposed to defend our freedoms and the constitution, not attack them.

  9. When I was in the military, I had a sticker on my bulletin board that read, “I love my country but fear my government.” I was threatened with court martial for sedition. It never went anywhere, because I recognized the threat as being empty. The sticker, however, did come down.

    This is not a new tactic.
    Never trust anyone who wants to supress information. It’s really that simple.

  10. I’m sure SSgt Lorentz knew what he had coming, will. As did Dr. King and Rosa Parks.

    That doesn’t make their treatment any more excusable.

  11. Mark, that was a great bumper sticker. Had one myself, one of very few I would ever consider adorning the back window of my universally reviled SUV.

    Mine was done by some Pro Drug Legalization group so I carefully excised the pot message and used the rest of it. No sense tempting the local constabulary to check out the interior for seeds and sticks.

  12. “I love my country but fear my government.”

    Me too. In fact, one of the reasons that I fear my government is because I do love my country.

  13. “I love my country, and am often annoyed by my government” just doesn’t have the same kick, does it?

  14. joe,

    No, it doesn’t. But it’s true as well.

  15. Breaking news! CNBC just reported that a federal Judge just ruled that part of the Patriot Act is unconstitutional…a part that requires companies to release financial records of clients to the government. Yes!

  16. “violate contract, pay penalty”

    Standard disclaimer: IANAL.

    This is not contract law, this is criminal law. The charge of violating 18 S 2388 wouldn’t apply because you have to either “willfully make or convey false statements,” which because it is an opinion piece he does not do, or, “willfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny,[etc]” which because of the medium the government cannot prove…the piece is obviously directed at “armchair” politicians (as bloggers generally are) any of the side effects mentioned in the law would be indirect. Oh, and there’s the minor technicality that 2388 explicitly states we have to be at war, which we are not. This activation of the War Powers act rhetorically indicates a war, but is not itself a declaration of war.

    The only two applicable UCMJ 134 charges would be a clause 3 or a clause 4 offense. Clause 4 is the double jeopardy clause: if you are charged with breaking a federal law (like 18 S 2388), then you are also charged with violating UCMJ 134. Clause 3 includes disloyal statements, but when you make statements of personal belief, it has to be shown that the personal belief included an explicit denial of allegiance to the United States as a whole, not just some segment thereof. Moreover, the military would have to show that the statement was intended to promote “disloyalty or disaffectation” towards the U.S. Had he sent this letter into soldier of fortune or posted it on a barracks wall, they might have a case. But as a posting on a purely political weblog its intended audience is clearly the voter, military or otherwise.

    I wouldn’t put it past them to prosecute this one though. The flavor of free speech has changed since 2001, and I’d imagine that the already strict rules on the military tightened even more.

  17. you know, i don’t really see the outrage here — it is not “write for lew rockwell, get 20 years” but rather “violate contract, pay penalty” which is perfectly reasonable.

    granted military contracts are a little on the all-encompassing side, but lorentz, being a senior noncom should know better.

    Well, if the people who are on the ground and know the most can’t criticize the war because of what they’ve seen, who will tell the politicians what they don’t want to hear? While it’s just those of us in the US who have been against the war since the beginning criticizing the US’s war effort, then we can be dismissed because we don’t really know what conditions are like on the ground. When someone who’s been there can’t criticize it because they’ll be prosecuted for disloyalty, then all that will happen is that the politicians will get an echo chamber from all the generals telling them that all is well and the war is still winnable. I’d rather have a senior non-com telling me the truth about what’s happening than a general telling me what I want to hear so he can get that fourth star.

  18. I remember being in uniform and being “Read the Riot Act” about “public expressions of lack of proper respect for the Commander-in-Chief” [Slick Willy Clinton]. Not being born yesterday, I chilled out with blinding speed, but not before saying “I feel SOOO violated”.

    Having been a Company Commander [twice] I am astonished by the lack of professionalism shown in this case. What an experienced Captain does:

    A) Issues a Formal Counselling Statement to the SSG: “Bad Form, Smee, BAD FORM!”

    B) Next day, inspects his area and notices all of the inevitable flaws. Repeat Item A.

    C) Next day, has TOP [the First Sgt] counsel him for poor attitude, weak leadership abilities and lack of complete dedication to duty. Repeat Item A.

    d) That night, peer group administers “Wall-to-Wall Counselling”. [You are not cleared to know what that is, but feel free to guess] Pointedly ignores any bruises next morning.

    Armed with 3 counselling statements, explains to SSG [in a 4th one] that he is ‘Not Recommended for Promotion’, ‘Barred from Re-enlistment’ and ‘Flagged’ [no favorable personnel actions allowed]. BTW, his is also at the bottom of the R&R list and the top of the Sh*t List.

    Everybody gets the message, it is far from final [I can un-do all of this at will] and, best of all, NO lawyers are involved. Then we get back to the business of killing Bad Guys.

    Letters like that are indicators of poor morale, bad leadership and weak discipline in that company – a couple more of those and they will be needing a new CO.

    Hmmmmmm . . .

    “Captain Brittles, Captain Brittles, you got this letter, all the way from the Yankee War Department . . . ”
    – Ben Johnson to John Wayne in
    ‘She wore a Yellow Ribbon’

  19. The sergeant is in trouble… Not much sympathy. I guess he wants out and doesn’t how. Col Hackworth did the same thing. Mind you I don’t approve of the Sgt.’s actions.
    Seems that some Anarcho-Capitalists really ARE cluless about the military, though. Unless Rick is just acting shocked… Militaries aren’t democratic nor do they tolerate dissent. Not much Happy Pony Land in them at all. Mind you, SOME militaries have tried the “Democratic” Approach. Generally they have had their arses handed to them when they met a traditional military. Right off the bat the Spanish Anarchists versus Franco’s Spanish Foreign Legionaires springs to mind. The Spanish Tercio’s cut the Anarchists into ribbons. It’s why militaries aren’t democratic, they understand that democracy is a killer.
    It is also why soldiers don’t do well running countries. Countries CAN and DO prosper with democracy and dissent. However, militaries don’t.

  20. OldFan, your approach is the most sensible thing I’ve read all day. Thanks.

  21. Joe L.,

    You are ever the sophist (as was demonstrated in our earlier discussion).

  22. OldFan,

    Of course they could also be indicators that things have gone FUBAR in Iraq.

  23. OldFan,

    Your post does describe one method for the command to use in dealing with the letter. It’s also a method that is thoroughly reviled among the troops themselves. It shows an appalling lack of respect for your soldiers, (whom you as an officer, and Top as an NCO, are pledged to mentor and train) to essentially trump up a disciplinary record. Don’t you think the other soldiers notice whats going on? Don’t you think they’re talking among themselves saying, “If I say something that pisses off the CO, he’ll find a way to F*** me over too…”? Notice they’re not even worried about the original problem.. now they’re worried about their command structure “using the system” against them. Don’t you think the soldiers under you command would rather see you actually address the problem instead of cowardly refusing to deal with it directly?

    What do you think that does for “poor unit morale”? What do you think the soldiers, NCO’s and other Officers in a unit who’s CO uses thinly veiled professional and physical intimidation tactics would say about his leadership abilities? And don’t get me started on how you think all of this would be a remedy for “weak discipline”.

    How about this?… The CO calls a company formation and reads the letter to the company as a whole. He says that SSG Lorentz is entitled to his opinion… but then refutes the letter on all pertinent points (if he can). Then the CO ensures the assembled troops that some would say SSG Lorents is dissenting, but then show how he’s not citing the actual statutes from the UCMJ. Conclude by saying that the CO and SSG have a difference of opinion, but that the mission is the same and both are working very hard together to achieve it…. “go ahead and have your opinions; but never forget that regardless of whats happening here, we’re here right now, we depend on each other right now for our very lives. I trust the soldiers and NCO’s in this unit with my life. All of them.”

    Morale is boosted. Problem is defanged. No attorneys. No strongarm tactics.

    But lets be honest. Do you REALLY think a company commander is pushing this issue? I think this whole thing started much higher in the chain of command and us vets all know, s*** rolls downhill.

  24. Our Army is not a democracy, but our nation is a democratic one. And, unlike Turkey, we do not exclude poeple in uniform from being full citizens of that nation.

    This guy wasn’t disobeying orders, he wasn’t suggesting that anyone stop doing their job, he was commenting on a political issue. Yes, the political issue was related to the military. Yes, he denounced the political decision that put them there. But last time I checked, the loyalty and commitment of the troops didn’t depend upon their opinions about politics.

  25. Sergeant Lorentz letter is very interesting. He tells us the occupation is very bleak and hopeless.

    But even if he is correct about that, he does not make a case for withdrawal, although that is what he is advocating. To make such a case, he would have to weigh all the alternatives, to weigh their costs, benefits, and likely outcomes. This he does not do.

    I feel very sorry for Lorentz, for he is in a very, very tight spot: he is risking his life and the lives of his men for a cause he no longer believes in. What could be worse than that?

    But the most interesting problem is not the dilemma of Sgt. Lorentz, or any dilemma his superior officers might face in disciplining his insubordination.

    The most interesting problem is how do the U.S. Armed Forces and the Iraqi nation fight their way out of this mess. So far they’ve done very well, but Sgt. Lorentz reminds us that it’s very difficult and costly, and the outcome is not pre-ordained.

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