June 1, 2007 – WASHINGTON – The nation’s largest combat veterans group on Friday urged the military to “exercise a little common sense” and call off its investigation of a group of Iraq war veterans who wore their uniforms during anti-war protests.
“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,” said Gary Kurpius, national commander of the 2.4 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“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,” Kurpius said.
A military panel in Kansas City, Mo., is holding a hearing on Monday to decide whether Marine Cpl. Adam Kokesh’s discharge status should be changed from honorable to “other than honorable” after he was photographed wearing fatigues – with military insignia removed – during a mock patrol with other veterans at a protest rally in April.
The Marine Corps is investigating whether Kokesh might have violated a rule prohibiting troops from wearing uniforms without authorization. Kokesh was honorably discharged following a combat tour in Iraq, but he remains part of the Individual Ready Reserve, a pool of former active duty service members in unpaid, non-drill status.
Kokesh also was cited for making a disrespectful comment to a military officer investigating the incident. His attorney, Michael Lebowitz, has called the case an effort to stifle critics of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy.
Kurpius said even an implied threat to lower the discharge rating could threaten educational and other benefits Kokesh is eligible to receive from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The action might also prevent Kokesh from future employment opportunities that require a security clearance, Kurpius said.
“We all know that people give up some individual rights when they join the military,” Kurpius said. “But 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.”