By Vladimir Gladkov
US Marine veteran Gary Stein, 26, is facing dismissal after posting critical remarks on Facebook about President Barack Obama.
A Marine Corps board held a hearing last week and recommended Stein`s discharge. Now the final decision is due to be made by a commanding general. If he does not accept the board’s decision, the case will be handed over to the Department of the Navy. Meanwhile, some politicians say that the scandal has once again proved that the rules restricting freedom of speech among the military should be revised.
Prosecutors say that Stein had repeatedly criticized the US leader on Facebook and other websites. Stein, who is a Marine sergeant on active duty, ignored warnings made by his superiors, and even founded a website called Armed Forces Tea Party, apparently in support of the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement. During an online discussion in March about NATO allowing US troops to be tried for Koran burnings in Afghanistan, Stein said that he won`t follow orders from the president that involved detaining US citizens or anything else he thought would violate their constitutional rights. After that Stein was notified by his commanding officer that he was up for some administrative measures because of his alleged misconduct.
On the one hand, there is nothing unusual about the Marine Corps Board recommending a ‘less than honorable’ discharge for Stein: President Obama is the commander and chief of US armed forces, and thus a sergeant`s refusal to follow his orders cannot be viewed in any other way but as a violation of the army discipline.
On the other hand, there is a tradition in the US rooted in the times of the Civil War, when freedom of speech in the military was severely restricted. There is a Pentagon rule that prohibits service members from certain political activity. From this point of view, Stein`s attempt to explain that he had been urging to boycott not all Obama`s orders but only those violating constitutional rights of Americans, will hardly be taken into consideration by the board. Stein`s lawyers, however, say that such regulations, as well as allegations faced by the sergeant, violate his right to freedom of speech.
Stein has many supporters, including Republican Duncan Hunter who urged the Pentagon not to discharge Stein, adding the army policies should be updated to reflect “the changing dynamics of social communication”. The fact that a Republican politician commented on the issue did not come as a surprise to anybody. Nevertheless, the Stein`s case obviously has raised some very important issues about the correlation between regulations imposed on the army and present-day life. Meanwhile, Stein who is a hero for some, while a lawbreaker for others, is expecting the final decision to be made on his case.