KANSAS CITY, Mo. – An Iraq War veteran accused the Marine Corps on Monday of causing a "disgusting waste of government resources" by holding a hearing about whether he should be punished for wearing his uniform during an anti-war protest.
Marine Corps officials argue they are enforcing military codes in the case of Cpl. Adam Kokesh.
Kokesh, 25, participated in an anti-war protest in Washington in March. When he was identified in a photo caption in The Washington Post, a superior officer sent him an e-mail saying he might have violated a rule prohibiting troops from wearing uniforms without authorization. Kokesh responded with a letter that contained an obscenity.
Kokesh is a member of the Individual Ready Reserve, which consists mainly of those who have left active duty but still have time remaining on their eight-year military obligations. His service is due to end June 18, but the Marine Corps is seeking to let him go two weeks early with a less-than-honorable discharge.
That could cut some of his health benefits and force him to repay about $10,800 he received to obtain his undergraduate degree on the GI Bill.
Kokesh's attorney, Lt. Jeremy Melaragno, said during an administrative separation board hearing that his client's free-speech rights are at stake.
"It has everything to do with freedom of speech," Melaragno said. "Ask yourself, would we be here if he was advocating for the Bush administration?"
During a break in the hearing, Kokesh told reporters that the case appears to be punitive.
"More importantly, it's a case of fraud, waste and abuse and a disgusting waste of government resources," Kokesh said. "While Marines are dying every day in Iraq, they are spending time investigating members of the individual ready reserves for political activity."
Kokesh was honorably discharged following a combat tour in Iraq, but he remains part of the Individual Ready Reserve, comprised of those who have left active duty but still have time remaining on their eight-year military obligations.
His attorneys said Kokesh was not subject to military rules during the protest because he was not on active duty. They said the protest was a theatrical performance, which meant wearing a uniform was a not a violation of military rules. The military considered it a political event, at which personnel are not allowed to wear their uniforms without authorization.
The Marines' first witness, Maj. John R. Whyte, testified Monday he was the officers who wrote Kokesh the e-mail informing him the Marines were investigating the possible uniform violation.
On cross examination, the defense had Whyte read a memo he had written on how the Corps should respond to protests.
"There should be manpower assigned to search for and remediate misinformation by opposition groups and individuals," he read.
Whyte recommended Kokesh's discharge be "other than honorable."
Several Kokesh supporters turned out Monday at the Marine Corps Mobilization Command and stood in front of a bus painted with anti-war slogans.
Kokesh was a reservist in an artillery unit when he became disillusioned with the war during his first tour. He said he believes there is no way for Iraq to achieve rule of law with a foreign military imposing martial law.