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Marines Corps Should Allow Free Speech

A Marine Corps administrative board said after a daylong hearing late Thursday at Camp Pendleton near San Diego, that Sgt. Gary Stein has committed misconduct and should be dismissed.

Perhaps the U.S. is thus trying to position itself as a reliable military partner, keeping up with internal the discipline. Sergeant Gary Stein, a weather forecaster in the Marines assigned to Camp Pendleton, has started an uproar concerning an alleged infringement of his right to free speech. On March 8, Stein's senior officer ordered a preliminary inquiry after receiving allegations that the sergeant posted political statements on his Facebook page titled “Armed Forces Tea Party.”

Stein said his Facebook page was a part of an online debate about NATO allowing U.S. troops to be tried for the Quran burnings in Afghanistan. In that context, he said, he was stating that he would not follow orders from the president if those orders included detaining U.S. citizens, disarming them, or doing anything else that he believes would violate their constitutional rights. “There is not a document in this world that trumps the United States Constitution,” the San Diego Union-Tribune quoted him as saying.

However, both Afghanistan and the U.S. have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (on January 24, 1983 and June 8, 1992, respectively). Article 18 thereof ensures that everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. There may be discussions on the content of the Quran but burning its copies is not having a civilized conversation. Thus, this freedom needs to be protected. While caring for it, the Marine Corps seems to have forgotten about other values that are equally important. Like, for example, free speech. Another case from the Marine Corps' recent history is a striking example of lack of any such protection, in which a female Marine reported being raped, but who’s allegations went unanswered.

“I can't babysit you all of the time,” said a senior Marine officer to Elle Helmer when she reported being raped by another Marine. She is one of eight current and former active-duty service members who filed a lawsuit against the U.S. military. One of the well-reasoned legal grounds is included in paragraph 161 of the complaint: “Plaintiffs possess a right under the First Amendment to report sexual assault, sexual harassment and rapes without suffering retaliation, including adverse employment actions.”

According to Department of Defense estimates, over 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military in 2010 alone. Over the past five decades, more than 500,000 U.S. soldiers have been assaulted. The stories are included in the documentary The Invisible War, which won the 2012 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award.

Cynthia Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement it would be inappropriate to comment on pending litigation but that sexual assault had no place in the Defense Department.

One may think that nothing has changed since August 29, 1950, when Harry S. Truman wrote: “.. the Marine Corps is the Navy's police force and as long as I am president that is what it will remain. They have a propaganda machine that is almost equal to Stalin's.”

U.S. allies (including my country Latvia) have to be concerned about these tendencies. Tolerating such incidents, the U.S. becomes an ally that cannot be regarded as reliable. The U.S. urgently needs a judgment establishing justice and balance in the Marine Corps.

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