Thursday, May 15, 2008

Statement Before the Whistleblower Tribunal

Sponsored by Congresswoman Jackson Lee
May 14th, 2008

Good morning. My name is Adam Kokesh and I served as a Sergeant on a Marine Corps Civil Affairs team in the Fallujah area. I now serve as a member of the Board of Directors of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Since our founding in the fall of 2004, IVAW has called for three things: the immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces from Iraq, full benefits for returning veterans, and reparations for the Iraqi people. We have over a thousand members, in 43 chapters, in 48 states, in Germany, in Canada, and in Iraq. We have members on active duty, in the Reserves, in the Guard, and in every branch of service. We are the only organization of veterans of the Global War On Terror that requires proof of service for membership. We take it as our duty to speak out, and to cut through the lies, spin, and propaganda that are being used to manipulate society into supporting a war that is not in our best interest as a nation. If America could see what the boots on the ground really thought of this occupation, it would not continue for another day. We are an organization of whistleblowers.

And like the other whistleblowers you will hear from today, we face many of the same challenges, but also a set of challenges that are unique to the military, because the military has a distinct power over service members. I joined the Marines for the challenges, so harassment was part of the bargain for me, but I never expected it to come for political reasons. When service members are in a combat environment, risking our lives on a regular basis becomes part of the bargain as well. The possibility of harassment becoming a matter of life or death, has always been very effective in silencing dissent.

Some military whistleblowers are trying to get accountability for a specific incident or to correct a particular injustice. Some of us are simply trying to tell our stories and portray things that to us are all too commonplace. The only people that do not support whistleblowers are the ones who are up to something. That we have faced the challenges we have, is a testament to the fact that someone is up to something in Iraq. Not only is the occupation immoral, illegal, and bad for America, it is fundamentally corrupt, and those that are benefiting from it do not want Americans to understand that reality.

While some service members who come to this conclusion, face legal consequences for resisting their direct participation in the occupation, some of us have faced unjust consequences for exercising the rights that are supposed to be guaranteed to us not just in the First Amendment of the Constitution, but under military law as well. Today you will hear from four members of Iraq Veterans Against the War who have experienced retaliatory harassment for exercising their rights in keeping with their consciences, and while honoring their oaths to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Geoff Millard served with the New York Army National Guard for nine years including a year in Tikrit. After coming home from Iraq and attending an anti-war event, he was made to fear for his life from his command. Mark Wilkerson served in Tikrit and Samarra with the 401st Military Police Company. When he came home, he decided to apply for Conscientious Objector status, but was threatened and harassed in such a way that he had no choice but to go AWOL when his application was denied. Thomas J. Buonomo graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy with a degree in Political Science and Middle East Studies and a minor in Arabic, then volunteered to cross-commission into the Army in order to support our ground forces. Shortly after qualifying as a Military Intelligence Officer, his security clearance was suspended, and he was involuntarily discharged for expressing views contrary to the administration. We will also be joined by attorney Mike Lebowitz, who served in Iraq as a paratrooper with the elite Pathfinder Company of the 101st Airborne Division, and is currently a JAG captain with the Virginia Army National Guard where he serves as a defense counsel for the 29th Infantry Division, providing legal assistance to troops subject to adverse action. In his civilian practice, he specializes in military free speech issues. Together, our testimony will make it clear that it is essential the No Fear Act II includes language that truly holds military retaliators accountable and serves as a deterrent for harassment. In addition to our oral statements, we will be submitting substantiating legal documents for the tribunal's records.

In my case, I was a member of the inactive reserves when I joined Iraq Veterans Against the War and participated in a guerrilla street theater action called Operation First Casualty. It was called that because it has long been said that the first casualty of war is the truth, and we wanted to bring some of the truth of what was going on in Iraq home to the American people in the form of a mock combat patrol through the streets of Washington, DC. Knowing that the Uniform Code of Military Justice does not apply to members of the inactive reserves, I knew that I was within my rights to wear certain uniform items in the execution of this street theater, because I was not representing myself as a member of the military. In addition to removing rank insignia and name tapes, our squad was surrounded by volunteers distributing fliers that described exactly who we were, and what we were doing.

My picture and name appeared in the Washington Post's coverage of the event, and I soon received an email of warning from Major John R Whyte of the Marine Corps Mobilization Command, who identified himself as my Investigating Officer and said, “As a member of the Reserve Component, until 18 JUN 2007, the law restricts your wearing of the uniform at certain events. Please call me or reply to this e-mail acknowledging your understanding of your obligations and responsibilities.” I replied by saying that he was wrong to investigate the political activities of an inactive reservist when as an active duty Major, he could be doing something to bring our fellow Marines home alive from Iraq, and used an expletive to express my displeasure with his waste of military resources. The next communication that I received from the Marines was a letter explaining their intent to charge me under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and separate me with an Other Than Honorable discharge, which theoretically would have disqualified me from any benefits that I had earned through my service. After a significant legal battle and extreme pressure brought to bear on the Marines as a result of the negative media attention, I was separated with a General Discharge, which theoretically would disqualify me from any education benefits, and theoretically make me liable for the money that I had previously received through the GI bill. Around the same time, Marines serving at the Marine Corps Mobilization Command called Cloy Richards, a two combat tour veteran in the inactive reserves who has an 80% disability rating, is using the GI bill to help get through college, and is dependent on the VA for treatment. They threatened to take all of that away if he did not stop protesting. They also tried to prosecute Liam Madden, another former Marine and member of the inactive reserves for making “disloyal statements.”

The way that the Marine Corps Mobilization Command came after me was illegal, the decision of the separation board was legally faulty, and it was a clear-cut case of political harassment. Although we were able to achieve what seemed like wrestling things to a tie, the Marine Corps was able to send two very strong messages: We don't want you speaking out against the occupation or even portraying the reality of the every day in Iraq, and even if you're in the inactive reserves, we can still control your fate. I spoke out within my rights, and was punished. To my knowledge, none of the officers responsible for this unnecessary waste of military resources, or for any other cases of retaliatory harassment against IVAW members, have ever been held accountable.