The new PC
November 9, 2003 10:03 PM   Subscribe

Career marine forced from job for 'liberal' views - "I was brought up on charges of "Disloyal Statements" under Article 134 of the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice). Not because anything I wrote was disloyal, but because of my political views...We now live in a climate of political correctness and false patriotism where anyone who goes against our president is immediately labeled as disloyal; unpatriotic; a traitor; a liberal. Consider the recent scandal involving the White House CIA leak. Because Mr. Wilson disagreed with our President and publicly acknowledged this, his wife's cover was conveniently blown so she could never work as an intelligence operative again."
posted by troutfishing (26 comments total)
Serves him right, the dirty commie bastard! :)

"What good fortune for those in power that people do not think."

posted by LouReedsSon at 10:23 PM on November 9, 2003

Ferriol's original letter and the responses to it are on his website.
posted by homunculus at 10:31 PM on November 9, 2003

This guy writes well, and I must say I share his views completely. I wish he could name his accusers, but I suppose the current mood would only honor these "patriots' for exposing this (get the soap) liberal.

How appalling, that first responder who believes in surrendering rights when active in the military. Pity.
posted by LouReedsSon at 10:50 PM on November 9, 2003

now all we need is a few hundred thousand more letters to be written, a few hundred thousand more loyal, hardworking military careerists to suddenly understand that they are working for fascists.
posted by quonsar at 11:09 PM on November 9, 2003

err.. quoting hitler, possibly not a great idea.
posted by PrinceValium at 11:12 PM on November 9, 2003

It's not just the marines. Consider the recent case of Jack Spadaro, a superintendent of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy punished for doing his job. He investigated a coal sludge spill, attempted to issue violations and keep the regulation people in check. The inspectors went soft. Spadaro resigned in protest. And now the mine safety officials are trying to hit him with ridiculous charges. Never mind that Senator Mitch McConnell's major campaign contributors are Martin County Coal, or that McConnell is married to Department of Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

Or how about Helen Thomas, White House Press Corps grand dame? A reporter who has covered every President since John F. Kennedy. Criticize Ari Fleischer and the next thing you know, you're moved to the third row.

Or Paul O'Neill and Larry Lindsey, who resigned after several flareups with Bush's inflexibility? (It's one thing to be hot-headed like Tony Lake; it's another thing altogether for neither side to listen to each other and work out a compromise.) Even a hard-liner like O'Neill, who at least had the diplomatic capacity to head to Africa with Bono (of all people) and listen to an opposing view, had to confess that he would not have gone with the tax cut program.

This unilateral atmosphere of diplomacy, developed out of the ashes of September 11, has been in place for too long. And it doesn't surprise me one whit that this Marine was canned for similar reasons. The operative principle in place from within the Cabinet and the grimy crenellated walls inside the Republican sanctum santorum is now well outside of it (apparently extending to every government job and every soldier). The object? To obliterate anyone who disagrees with the hard line. Even if the disagreement doesn't get in the way of the person doing the actual job, or represents a person espousing the rights they have under the First Amendment. If it even remotely interferes with the task at hand, then you're useless to these hubric crones on Pennsylvania Avenue. Being a civil servant is now no longer about what one does within one's role; partisanship is now favored over the merits or even the results.
posted by ed at 11:26 PM on November 9, 2003

Even if I agree with the guy, I'd have thought it was settled about 50 years ago that if you're in the military, your ability to call the President a dunderhead in public is rather curtailed, even when he acts like one.

Why he thought he'd be able to get away with something that got Douglas "I Shall Return" MacArthur, Conqueror of Japan, summarily sacked I dunno.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:09 AM on November 10, 2003

ROU: True, but that was probably because MacArthur had a lot more political weight to throw around than some small-change Marine with a blog.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:36 AM on November 10, 2003

sanctum santorum

Are you referring to the the holy frothy mixture [nsfw]?
posted by srboisvert at 4:27 AM on November 10, 2003

And the hits just keep on comin! Radio Free George Bush.
posted by damnitkage at 4:30 AM on November 10, 2003

Criticize Ari Fleischer and the next thing you know, you're moved to the third row.

Oh my God! Not moved to the third row? I can't believe she's four feet further from the President! What kind of chilling effect will that have?

Characterizing Helen Thomas as just a "reporter" is disingenuous. Her columns are pretty agressive. That's not to say I would have moved her (it does come across as somewhat petty -- it would have been better to just take the high road and placate the old bat), but it's not like this is some egregious example of governmental abuse.
posted by pardonyou? at 6:28 AM on November 10, 2003

There is a tremendous disdain among military officers for openly expressing political views. They are a reserved lot that still embrace the "Don't talk religion and politics" safe conversation zone. Unlike with civilians, an officer who spouts off quickly becomes an outcast--it is noted that they lack "tact."

This is not to say that it is not done. And officers who do it are so insensitive that they also do not understand why they are given a cold shoulder by their peers; any more than an officer who can't hold his liquor might stupidly not understand why he is being punished for getting drunk and offensive. "Everybody does it, why can't I?"

And whether or not civilians like the idea of an apolitical military, (and a lot of political types don't), it functions better without politics. Thus the *real* argument behind "Posse Commitatus". Violate it at your own peril.

There is some solace in this for both conservatives and liberals. For the conservatives, a military that will be enthusiastic in carrying out its missions; for the liberals, a military that will do what it's told, even if they loathe their commander in chief and resent terribly the social experiments foisted on them as a captive audience.

A politicized military--a military that accepts political speech--is less likely to perform up to standards for either political party, or the nation as a whole. This gentleman has proven to my satisfaction that he would be more comfortable as a civilian.
posted by kablam at 6:52 AM on November 10, 2003

for the liberals, a military that will do what it's told,

Isn't that kind of dependent on who's doing the telling?
posted by biffa at 6:57 AM on November 10, 2003

From the letter to the NYT that Ferrioli wrote: Probably the most damaging “smoking gun” is the hypocrisy the Bush Administration has so blatantly exhibited. It has successfully trounced every value and moral this country has represented for 227 years by moving forward with this “unilateral, pre-emptive strike.” (emphasis added)

This, coupled with the earlier letter, indicate a man who appears to be crying out or begging for repercussions. Yes, he has the right to his opinions; yes, he has the right express his views discreetly with his wife, family, friends, etc. Yes, he has the right to air his views in a very public forum -- but this last example is simply not wise. As pointed out by kablam and others, there are very good reasons that military personnel should not publicly criticize the President - at least as such criticism pertains to military activities and foreign policy. Within the military, you can express positive views of the President regarding military & foreign policy. If you disagree with said policies, you should either keep it to yourself, or opt to leave the service. I appreciate Mr. Ferrioli's service - by all accounts, he appears to have been an exemplary Marine - but by crossing the line and publicly airing his criticism of the President, he essentially terminated his own career.
posted by davidmsc at 7:13 AM on November 10, 2003

kablam -

are you active duty? if so, what branch? because your description of the officer corps does not match my 7 years experience while on active duty as a naval officer. those of us who weren't republicans were afraid to discuss our political views, for fear of it affecting our careers. even during an 8 year democratic presidency.
posted by Irontom at 7:18 AM on November 10, 2003

"...There is a tremendous disdain among military officers for openly expressing political views." - Kablam, I seem to recall the very open expression of what sometimes came close to attitudes of outright rebellion against the authority of President Clinton from many in the armed services during Clinton's eight years in office.

This is unsurprising for the fact that: "In 1976, the senior military officers he polled were one-third Republican. Today, it's two-thirds. Liberals have all but evaporated. You go from a conservative-to-liberal ratio among senior ranks of 4-to-1 in 1976 to a ratio of 23-to-1 in 1996. That's even with the injection of females and minorities into the senior ranks. That tells me that the white male officer corps is about 95 percent Republican."

more recently: "...Right-wing demagogy over the disputed presidential election results in Florida has found considerable support within the US officer corps. Two major US military units recently warned their commanding personnel that it is a crime for officers to publicly express contempt for civilian political authorities.

The official notices were sent out by the Air Force's Air Combat Command and the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, which together comprise 156,000 soldiers and civilians at 32 bases, after press reports quoted comments by military officers denouncing the Democratic Party and Vice President Al Gore over challenges to military absentee ballots cast in Florida. The messages were first reported Thursday by the Washington Post."

But criticism of GW Bush's policies by those few in the US military not marching in lockstep is now anathema?

It's odd to think that, a scarce few years ago, Jesse Helms openly warned (or threatened) Bill Clinton that he would risk assasination if he went to South Carolina.
posted by troutfishing at 7:56 AM on November 10, 2003

We now live in a climate of political correctness and false patriotism where anyone who goes against our president is immediately labeled as disloyal; unpatriotic; a traitor; a liberal. ...

This sounds purposely obtuse. "Disloyal statement" has a specific legal meaning. The Manual for Courts-Martial says that "disloyal statements" can include "attacking the war aims of the United States." This guy's statements were not disloyal because they were liberal; if his letter to the editor fumed about child poverty or the Patriot Act, he would not have violated Article 134. But questioning war aims when you are a member of the military--and thus have sworn obedience to the civilian authorities who decide whether to fight wars--is entirely different.
posted by profwhat at 10:42 AM on November 10, 2003

troutfishing, I'm not sure what you're getting at. Their was official censure of officers who criticized Al Gore. How does that show that the military establishment is biased with their official displeasure of criticisms of civilian leadership?

Two rather different cases, both involving criticism of civilian leadership, both censured or punished by the military establishment. What's changed, what's the difference?
posted by Snyder at 11:12 AM on November 10, 2003

Profwhat - My reply is halfway along in this comment

Snyder - The widespread violation of article 88 (which, on reading it, I'd say Ferriol also clearly violated) cited in that article I linked to was NOT punished or censured. Officers were merely warned via email and some subordinates were required to attend classes concerning civilian control of the military, but I would hardly call this punishment : "....Col. James Rosenblatt, the staff judge advocate for the Training and Doctrine Command, sent an e-mail reminding the command's generals and lawyers that Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice forbids military officers from using “contemptuous words against the President, Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any state.”

He also urged local commanders to conduct educational sessions for their subordinates “on the question of civilian control of the military.” Rosenblatt told the Post it was the first time in his 28 years of military service that he had felt it necessary to issue such a cautionary message. Violation of Article 88 can result in dismissal from the military and one year's imprisonment.

Military sources could cite only one such prosecution in history, the case of an Army reservist, Second Lieutenant Henry Howe, who was sentenced to one year in confinement and dismissal from the service during the Vietnam War for participating in an antiwar protest demonstration in which he carried a placard calling President Lyndon Johnson a fascist.

The widespread violation of Article 88 has occurred on two previous occasions under the Clinton administration—first, after denunciations of Clinton by military personnel in 1993 over his proposed relaxation of the persecution of gay and lesbian servicemen and women; and again in 1998, during the Monica Lewinsky affair."

So, Sgt. Ferriol's nearly became the second case in US history (recorded anyway) of prosecution of a member of the US military under article 88, and his career was permanently damaged but widespread violations of the same article by US military personnel with right leaning political sentiments have gone unpunished.

I'm not saying that the military establishment is necessarily biased: to punish a hundred or even a thousand violations of article 188 would do significant damage the fabric of the US military, to it's overall esprit de corps. I think it's probably impossible to punish so many in the current US military culture - but it's easy to make an example of one lone and highly visible renegade. And it's a simple matter of statistics that, because the officer corps is so heavily republican, the lone renegade who gets picked off will be democratic-leaning. So, does this amount to bias?

Well, I'd say it amounts to a sort of functional bias, yes. But I'm not sure what can be done about it - the only practical and evenhanded administrative approach which comes to my mind would be to make examples, here and there, of a few individuals of varying political leanings (and not just Democrats).

Thanks for clarifying the legal distinction. As I cited above, Ferriol was also in violation of Article 88, and I actually agree with you, despite generally agreeing with Ferriol's political views, that he was probably out of line and that all such US military personnel should be barred from making such statements (which they are) and punished if they do (which they as a rule - with a tiny handful of exceptions - are not) The less politicized the US military is, the better, in my opinion.

Ferriol was clearly pushing right up to the line in his letter to the editor. And maybe he skirted over it. He cannot have been unaware of the relevant laws governing disloyal statements could he? Perhaps, though I doubt it.

His comments did not actually criticize US war aims exactly...but he sure did criticize George W Bush, and quite roundly. Perhaps his intention was to cause a flap? Further, I don't think that his equation of his case with the Valerie Plame scandal was appropriate.

But - having said that - I have to note that 1) the US military HAS become far more politicized than it once was, 2) it leans heavily to the right and 3) it is even used sometimes to advance a political agenda - such as in the case of George W. Bush's aircraft carrier landing staged PR event or the case of the multiple, identical scripted letters to the editor sent from Iraq in the names of US soldiers but actually written by higher ups or PR people. I could go on much further in detailing these sorts of examples.

And during Clinton's eight years members of the US military often displayed their contempt for their commander-in-chief.

(from my article linked to above) "...the mood among sections of the military brass became so hostile to the newly elected Democratic president that Senator Jesse Helms, the ultra-right North Carolina Republican, publicly warned Clinton that he would be in physical danger if he visited such military bases as Fort Bragg....The officer corps was even more incensed during the Lewinsky affair, since it followed the well-publicized sacking of Navy and Marine officers for sexual assaults carried out during a convention of the Tailhook Association, as well as the forced retirement of several senior generals charged with sexual harassment. Navy Times and Army Times both published letters from active-duty officers denouncing Clinton as a “criminal,” while other officers circulated petitions supporting the impeachment and removal of their nominal commander-in-chief."

Letters to the editor and petitions for the impeachment of Clinton - hmmmm.

To quote your linked material (about article 134, "Disloyal Statements"): "Certain disloyal statements by military personnel may not constitute an offense under 18 U.S.C. §§ 2385, 2387, and 2388, but may, under the circumstances, be punishable under this article. Examples include praising the enemy, attacking the war aims of the United States, or denouncing our form of government with the intent to promote disloyalty or disaffection among members of the armed services."

Promoting disloyalty or disaffection. Hmmm.....

So - I'm not condoning Ferriol's statements. But similarly inappropriate public statements from US military personnel with right wing political views have not been prosecuted.
Given the stats on the political leaning of US senior military officers I cite above (from research mentioned in the Salon article I linked to) this is not surprising. But it is not desirable.
posted by troutfishing at 12:24 PM on November 10, 2003

Article 88, in circumstances kind of like these, are for prosecution of slanderous or libelous statements against the President, which members of the military tend to forget is in the chain of command, and you can't speak out against your chain of command.

I find it hard to swallow that “the position of the newspaper as an institution,” as stated by your definition of an editorial, is to be just another thoughtless sheep following the rhetoric and propaganda flowing from the mouth of President George W. Bush.

Well, this is certainly contemptuous, though I wouldn't say disloyal....but I want everybody to keep in mind that this guy was a SERGEANT, a Non-Commissioned Officer. He's not supposed to be held to as high a standard as a Commissioned Officer. There's no reason why this guy's head should have been on the chopping block.

But I can tell you that at USMC OCS, I was told point blank to keep my views to myself, especially concerning the POTUS. You never know who's gonna overhear you and turn your ass in, and because of the nature of the military, you could find yourself punished in some fashion pretty arbitrarily. This guy's lucky his Base CO (or whoever it was that pressed the charges) went overboard and called for an Article 134...else he might have gotten non-judicial punishment and his career would have been just as over.

On preview....what troutfishing said.
posted by taumeson at 12:53 PM on November 10, 2003

else he might have gotten non-judicial punishment and his career would have been just as over.

He probably did, and rejected it-- you do get that option under Article 15.

I know I would have.

And davidmsc-- I find your assertion that he has the right to his opinions as long as he keeps them to himself downright disgusting. I contract to the USAF, and I'm inundated every goddamn day with GOP propaganda through official channels-- if they can get away with it, so should Sgt. Ferriol.

But we all know the Right isn't about being fair, don't we?
posted by Cerebus at 1:40 PM on November 10, 2003

troutfishing: I am sure that not every disloyal statement has been prosecuted. I have no reason to believe, though, that "liberal" disloyalty gets punished more than "conservative" disloyalty. Calling for Clinton's impeachment, while possibly an Article 88 violation, is a far cry from questioning an ongoing war effort.

The military justice system is run almost entirely by career military officers. Decisions about whom and how to prosecute are made by military officers, not by political appointees. I'll grant you that most service members are conservative, but you'll have to grant me that most of them perform their jobs well and would not abuse their positions for political reasons. Why do you think they crack down on liberals more than conservatives?
posted by profwhat at 2:20 PM on November 10, 2003

He probably did, and rejected it-- you do get that option under Article 15.

Doubt it...article 134 is too serious a charge. It prolly went straight to charges which were later dropped.
posted by taumeson at 5:38 PM on November 10, 2003

Decisions about whom and how to prosecute are made by military officers, not by political appointees.

You've never met a bird wishing for a star, have you?

Why do you think they crack down on liberals more than conservatives?

Because I've been there, seen that, every day.
posted by Cerebus at 8:13 PM on November 10, 2003

profwhat - I can't claim to be anything resembling an authority in this. I just use the net to confirm my pre-existing biases....

Really though - hasn't the US, technically, been almost at constant war with some country or other during it's short history as a nation, and so wouldn't any criticism of the commander-in-chief at any point in US history be, more likely than not, technically guilty of "disloyalty"?

"...Decisions about whom and how to prosecute are made by military officers, not by political appointees. I'll grant you that most service members are conservative, but you'll have to grant me that most of them perform their jobs well and would not abuse their positions for political reasons." - no, of course not - but they are humans, and humans are not perfect, meaning; we all have biases and if we all have similar political leanings then our biases will tend to flow in the same direction. This is all "anecdotal", of course. I haven't come across any actual studies on this - the subject matter is too hot, I think. But I have to defer to Taumeson and Cerebus's firsthand experiences here.
posted by troutfishing at 8:25 PM on November 10, 2003

troutfishing: I don't think we are in fundamental disagreement here, insofar as military types criticizing the President no matter what his political leanings.

During the Clinton years, I was more astonished at the sheer volume of hatred in the military--however, this does not excuse such acts, and *many* prosecutions *should* have occurred. Whether then or now it should be Article 88 prosecutions, I am of mixed mind. Some of the anti-Clinton threats were far more serious felonies than that.

In addition, I was both astonished and appalled that the military had become, at least on the surface, a branch of the republican party.

Now that was actually scary. At what point does the Pentagon go "wink, wink" and refuse to carry out orders from an executive they dislike? And what if they decide to do it solely to cost him an election?

It would be worthy of federal legislation to ban military officers from membership in political parties, and, I believe, quite constitutional, too, though it might not sound so on the surface.
posted by kablam at 9:11 PM on November 13, 2003

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