WASHINGTON – Leonard Clark (search), an Arizona Army National Guardsman stationed in Iraq, paid a steep price for using a blog to share his overtly anti-war opinions — he was demoted for putting American troops in danger.
But Clark, a 40-year-old kindergarten teacher, says officials went too far with their response. In an e-mail exchange with FOXNews.com, he said the military "indirectly outed" him by making the charges against him public, and now he fears his wife and daughter are in danger.
"I am terrified for my family," he said, noting that "the highly inflammable and controversial charges against me" — the most severe for any soldier-blogger on record — have generated fierce hate mail to his Web site, LeonardClark.com.
The blog, which a friend had operated since Clark's demotion, is now inactive.
Because he is complying with a gag order, Clark won't discuss the military charges until his tour of duty is over early next year.
But others in the military aren’t bound to keep quiet, and they say Clark should have known he could go only so far.
"One of the things that all troops learn in basic training is that there are certain limits to free speech when you wear a military uniform," said Capt. David Sherman, who is currently on active duty with the Air Force, stationed in Montana, and publishes the DavidMSC.com blog.
Clark was one of hundreds of people in the military who have chronicled their experiences on the Internet on so-called milblogs (search). Since April, all soldiers in the Multinational Corps must register their blogs and allow the content to be monitored quarterly by their commanders to ensure they are not violating operational security and privacy restrictions.
"Bloggers are free to discuss a fairly broad range of topics, give their opinions on virtually anything, as long as they don’t violate obvious security/personal info concerns," said "Greyhawk," a soldier stationed in Germany who runs the popular MudvilleGazette.com blog and who believes the military is generally supportive of milblogs.
According to information provided by the Multinational Corps in Iraq, Clark was demoted one rank to private first class, fined $820 per month for two months and sentenced to 45 days restriction and 45 days of extra duty.
He was charged with violating 11 specifications of Article 92 — failure to obey an order — under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (search), and two counts of Article 134 (search) – reckless endangerment.
A press release said Clark violated Article 92 (search) by "releasing classified information regarding unit soldiers and convoys being attacked or hit by an improvised explosive devices on various dates, discussing troop movements on various dates," and violated Article 134 by releasing specific information that "the enemy forces could foreseeably access" and cause harm or death to U.S soldiers as a result.
No other specifics have been made available.
"They managed to muzzle him," said friend Esther Lumm of Arizona, to whom Clark has sent numerous e-mails describing his experiences in Iraq. She said Clark "was always careful about what he said and even stated in some of his e-mails that he had to be careful not to violate any operational security."
Clark said he has not spoken about his case since the Article 15 (search) administrative adjudication in July, and he says he was told the charges wouldn't be made public.
"It's a scare tactic to make him shut up. It's a smear campaign against a pretty liberal, politically inclined soldier," said Jason Hartley, a New York National Guardsman formerly stationed in Iraq who had been demoted earlier this year after putting his blog, JustAnotherSoldier.com, back online after a commanding officer asked him to take it down.
"If you write very boring stuff, no one is going to care," he said, noting that his blog was more irreverent than political – he once posted a photo of himself sitting on a toilet. "If you are critical or scatological, like in my case, it will raise an eyebrow."
But there are plenty of milblogs from Iraq that aren't gung-ho about the war that survive, "Greyhawk" said.
"I can point you to a few other blogs that could be called 'anti-war' [a misnomer – all soldiers are anti-war] that are still cruising along," he said in an e-mail exchange with FOXNews.com.
A spokesman for the Multinational Force press office told FOXNews.com that he only knew of two other non-judicial actions like Clark's, against bloggers — one was for violating operational security, the other for violating the privacy act.
It is unknown how many bloggers have been told to take it offline, since individual commanding officers have discretion over the troops' blogging.
Clark's supporters say his posts were politically and ideologically driven because he disagreed passionately with the U.S invasion of Iraq. But they do not believe he would put troops in jeopardy to make his point.
They also believe his intention to run for U.S. Senate against Arizona Republican Sen. John Kyl (search) landed him in trouble.
In letters to Lumm, which have been posted at http://blog.forclark.com/story/2005/6/24/0446/69105, Clark despairs at what he sees as increased corruption in the Iraqi police, subtle racism among the ranks and dangerous night missions.
"At this time I am worried about being accused of violating operational security, so everything I write will be carefully worded so as not to violate operational security," he wrote on April 10.
On April 11, he wrote, "A growing number of men here are starting to wonder why we should continue to risk our lives for this whole mess when we know that the government will probably pull us out of here."
"By being here, I have seen how it seems not only the insurgents, but the Iraqi people all want us out of here."
Colby Buzzel, a milblogger who returned from duty in Iraq six months ago and still publishes on cbftw.blogspot.com, said he didn’t know much about the Clark case, but what he's read did not suggest to him that Clark was guilty of much more than highly vocal dissent.
"From what I saw, he wasn't giving out secrets," he said.
But Buzzell fears that critical blogs such as Clark's might lead to an overall blog ban. "I think sooner or later the Army will pull the plug on all blogs."
Others have less sympathy for Clark.
"If a soldier has strong opinions about the war effort, it doesn't help things one bit to put it on the Internet," said Phil, an Army captain stationed in Iraq and co-publisher of PhilandBecky.blogspot.com. "Remember, the enemy's only hope for long term victory is for public support on the homefront to diminish to the point where the war is no longer politically sustainable," Phil says.
He nonetheless told FOXNews.com there was a difference between "hostile" and "honest" dissent and the latter may not deserve punishment.
Paul Rieckoff, an Iraq war veteran who heads the Operation Truth veterans' organization, said the rules regarding free speech in the military are "vague," where individual commanders have the authority to monitor blogs, and apply the rules as they generally see fit.
"There's a lot of gray area," which is why it's been difficult to judge Clark's blog since its been shut down and no archives available, he said. "To be honest with you, this is an area in the professional military that is uncharted."