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Troops Become Defiant Against The War

Active-duty troops go public to oppose Iraq war

By Staff and Wire Reports, The Virginian-Pilot

October 25, 2006

WASHINGTON — A small group of active-duty military members opposed to the occupation of Iraq, including a Norfolk-based sailor, has created a Web site intended to collect thousands of signatures of other service members who agree.

Service members can submit their name, rank and duty station if they support the prompt withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

The electronic grievances will be passed along to members of Congress, according to the Web site. “Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home,” the Web site says.

Seaman Jonathan Hutto, a Norfolk-based sailor who helped set up the Web site this month, said in a telephone interview with The Virginian-Pilot that the group has collected about 120 names and is trying to verify that they are legitimate service members.

There are 1.4 million troops on active duty , including members of the National Guard and Reserve.

The group thinks their actions are legal and distinct from their official responsibilities as service members.

“We’ve given enough,” said Hutto, who joined the Navy almost three years ago. “We’ve sacrificed too much at this point.”

He said he is not a pacifist, but he has been skeptical about the reasons behind the invasion and occupation of Iraq. “This is the crisis we have created,” Hutto said. “We’re not anti-war. But at this point, our position is anti-occupation.”

Another member of the anti-war group, Liam Madden, said he opposed the war in Iraq even before he deployed with his Marine unit in late 2004. He came home more convinced that the war was wrong.

“The more informed I got, the more I opposed the war,” said Madden, 22, a Marine Corps sergeant in Quantico. Madden said the group’s long-term goal is to get U.S. troops out of Iraq.

“The short-term goal,” Madden said, “is to spread the word that service members who feel like we do have a tool to have their voice heard, and it’s their duty as a citizen of a democratic society to participate in democracy.”

The grass-roots movement is being sponsored by several anti-war groups, including Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, and Military Families Speak Out.

Retired veterans have long waded into politics, including the 2004 presidential campaign when a group of veterans challenged Sen. John Kerry’s war record. More recently, several retired military generals have called on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign, contending he botched the war and put troops at risk.

Hearing publicly from active-duty troops is rare. Military laws bar officers from denouncing the president and other U.S. leaders, and regulations typically prevent service members from lobbying for a particular cause while on duty or wearing the uniform.

Legal experts who reviewed the Web site said the effort probably would not violate any rules because the site is not a personal attack on members of the administration and allows service members to quietly pass their grievance to Congress in their free time.

Backers of the Web site also cite a “whistle-blower protection ” law as added protection. Under the law, service members can file complaints to Congress without reprisal.

At least two senators – both critical of the administration’s handling of the war in Iraq – said they were concerned that service members speaking out against the president may undermine the military’s apolitical status.

“We expect our soldiers to follow … the legitimate orders of their commanders,” said Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who is helping lead Democratic opposition to the war this election season.

“And if you feel a course of action is inappropriate, your choice is just getting out of the service, basically, if you can, and making your comments as a civilian,” said Reed, a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger and paratrooper.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a former reserve judge for the Air Force, said vocal complaints by active-duty members represented a “disturbing trend ” that threatened to erode the cohesiveness of the military.

“We’ve had a long tradition making sure the military doesn’t engage in political debate,” said Graham, R-S.C.

Hutto and supporters of his Web site said they see no problem with active-duty military personnel weighing in to politics.

Hutto, 29, is a native of Atlanta who graduated from Howard University with a degree in political science. He says he joined the Navy to bring structure and focus to his life.

He won Blue Jacket of the Quarter for his diligence in the photography department aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, according to a news release on the ship’s Web site.

Hutto draws a bright line between his Navy and civilian responsibilities.

He cited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and thousands of enlisted active-duty Vietnam War protesters as sources of inspiration. By joining the Navy, he said, “I don’t believe I have somehow cancelled my rights as an American citizen.”

Scott Silliman, director of Duke University’s Center on Law, Ethics and National Security, said he sees the increasing political noise being made from military members – active and retired – as a relatively new phenomenon.

“Fifteen, 20 years ago you wouldn’t have seen it happen,” Silliman said.

Still, Silliman said, he sees little wrong with troops speaking out on their own time so long as they are not senior-ranking officers needed to carry out the president’s orders. “It depends certainly on who it is ” ramping up opposition to the executive branch, he said.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said members can share their views with the media so long as they are not wearing the uniform and make clear that they are not speaking on behalf of the armed forces.