'Anti-war' Iraq veteran fights military over war protests
A veteran of the Iraq war is accusing the military of trying to stifle the freedom of speech he volunteered to fight to protect.
After serving his country in Iraq, former Marine Sgt. Adam Kokesh grew disillusioned with US involvement there and became an anti-war activist. He participated in demonstrations around Washington, including Operation First Casualty, which was organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War in March.
Kokesh's anti-war activity and his correspondence with Marine investigators has rankled the military enough that it is working to revoke the veteran's "honorable discharge" designation. Kokesh will appear before a military hearing in Kansas City, Mo., Monday to fight the military's attempt to change his discharge status to "other than honorable."
The voices of war veterans are the "most relevant" additions to public debate about the war, Kokesh said during a press conference in Washington Friday before leaving for Kansas City. He called the military's attempt at giving him a non-honorable discharge a "vindictive act and a waste of taxpayer dollars."
Kokesh's attorney's call the military's move to change his discharge status unprecedented, and he has the country's largest veterans organization behind him in his fight to protect vets' freedom of speech.
"These Marines went to war, did their duty, and were honorably discharged from the active roles. I may disagree with their message, but I will always defend their right to say it," said Gary Kurplus, who leads the 2.4-million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars. "Trying to hush up and punish fellow Americans for exercising the same democratic right we're trying to instill in Iraq is not what we're all about. Someone in the Marine Corps needs to exercise a little common sense and put an end to this matter before it turns into a circus."
At the press conference, Kokesh and his supporters said they were heartened by the VFW's support, which they said shows this case is about free speech rights for all veterans, not just him.
The March demonstration involved Kokesh and other vets performing mock patrols around the nation's capital to offer Americans a peek at what life is like in Iraq. Kokesh wore his Marine fatigues with his name, rank and Marine Corps insignia patches removed. The military told Kokesh that wearing the uniform violated Defense Department regulations, despite the fact that he had been honorably discharged from the service the previous year. Kokesh is still part of the Inactive Ready Reserve, which allows for discharged troops to be called back to service in case of an emergency.
Kokesh was informed via e-mail that he may be violating regulations, and he did not take the admonishment lightly. He responded to the officer who had sent the e-mail, advising him not to waste time on "such petty issues, (while) our fellow Marines continue to die in futility...."
"So no, I am not replying to your e-mail in order to acknowledge my understanding of my obligations and responsibilities," Kokesh wrote, " but rather to ask you to please, kindly, go fuck yourself."
Knowing what he knows now, Kokesh said he would not change the way he responded to the officer.
"I don't regret it at all. Marines don't pull punches," Kokesh told RAW STORY following the press conference. "They messed with the wrong veteran."