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Are retired military officers violating the UCMJ?

When you see some nut case birther with a military title ranting against Obama on the Internet, you will see a little “(ret.)” after their title, to indicate that they are retired. Military law demands that officers respect the country and its leaders. What about retired officers?

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) does not only apply to those actively serving in the armed forces, but also to “Retired members of a regular component of the armed forces who are entitled to pay.” Article 88 of the UCMJ further states:

ART. 88 – CONTEMPT TOWARD OFFICIALS

Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

This topic received some attention in 2006 in the context of criticism of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld by 6 retired generals. Fred Kaplan argued in a Slate.com article, “Could Rumsfeld Court-Martial the Retired Generals?” that the answer to that question is “yes.” There is no exemption for someone who claims to be speaking as a private citizen. Limited criticism in the context of a political debate is permitted, as indicated by the Manual for Courts-Martial:

If not personally contemptuous, adverse criticism of one of the officials or legislatures named in the article in the course of a political discussion, even though emphatically expressed, may not be charged as a violation of the article.

This brings us to shocking remarks recently made by Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely (ret.) at the Surprise Tea Party in Arizona, as reported by several web sites including Raw Story that includes a video link for the appearance.

“I had a call this afternoon from Idaho, the gentleman said, ‘If I give you 250,000 Marines to go to Washington, will you lead them?’” Vallely said as the group laughed and gasped. “I said, ‘Yes, I will, I’ll surround the White House and I’ll surround the Capitol building, but it’s going to take physical presence to do things.”

I was looking for something that one could label contemptuous. Certainly the call for the resignation of the top members of the government (Obama, Biden, Reid, McConnell, Boehner and Pelosi) borders on contempt, as does his comment: Obama is “intentionally weakening and gutting our military, Pentagon and reducing the U.S. as a superpower….” Vallely wrote in an email to supporters: “I have already achieved a level of ‘no confidence’ in Obama as a leader.”

All of this said, prosecutions under Article 88 are extremely rare, and unlikely to impact Vallely, but it does point out the lack of respect he shows towards the military.

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28 Responses to Are retired military officers violating the UCMJ?

  1. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG January 28, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

    =D
    Oh, this needs BLASTED at the lot of them. You know, in a “Way to uphold what that uniform stands for!” kind of way.

  2. avatar
    Egipcios January 28, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    Col. Riley (ret) claims that he will be coming to Washington with a huge mob to cause the present leadership to resign. Then he claims he will set up a “tribunal” to pick new leaders.

    He seems to think that if he insists that this process will be “non-violent”, that he is somehow free of repercussions. Yet obviously this could only happen in the presence of a great deal of intimidation. His followers are not so coy as to dance around the topic of violence, with some even naming the calibers of the guns they claim they will bring.

    Quote: (sic)

    “Phase 3 – Those with the principles of a West, Cruz, Lee, DeMint, Paul, Gov. Walker, Sessions, Gowdy, Jordan, Issa, will comprise a tribunal and assume positions of authority to convene investigations, recommend appropriate charges against politicians and government employees to the new U.S. Attorney General appointed by the new President. The U.S. Congress will execute appropriate legislation to convene new elections for positions vacated consistent with established constitutional requirements.”

  3. avatar
    Bonsall Obot January 28, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

    Sometimes, when I daydream, I imagine I can fly, or turn invisible or shoot lightning from my fingertips. Clearly, Riley and Vallely have stronger imaginations than I.

  4. avatar
    Arthur January 28, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

    Vallely and company remind me of a bunch of high school drop-outs who fantasize about the awesome disaster-action movie they’d make if they could just figure out how to write a script, raise some money, or operate a camera.

  5. avatar
    Daniel January 28, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

    People (read baggers and birthers) forget that retired generals are a dime a dozen, and retired Colonels are thrown into the deal for free by the gross.

    Neither of them are important.

  6. avatar
    Pastor Charmley January 28, 2014 at 4:06 pm #

    While attempts to muster large numbers for anti-Obama demonstrations have almost uniformly failed to achieve any real numbers at all, the suggestion of marching on Washington with 250,000 marines to remove the government sounds, shall we say, like a call for a coup. While in certain nations like Turkey and Pakistan the military has historically functioned as a guarantor of the constitution by removing presidents who were trying to set themselves up as dictators, the US has no such tradition. Retired officers calling for a coup are inciting to treason, and the fact that they have not been rounded up demonstrates that the police state they claim Obama is presiding over does not in fact exist.

    And everything I have read about Obama trying to make himself a dictator reads to me as if it has been cut and pasted from some of the more hysterical ravings about Bush among the 9/11 Truthers before Obama’s inauguration. In fact some of them swore blind that Obama would never be sworn in on the very eve of that inauguration, so sure were they of their conspiracy theory. We all know how that turned out.

  7. avatar
    Karl Nance January 28, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

    Per Wikipedia:

    195,000 active
    40,000 retired

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Marine_Corps

    There aren’t even 250,000 US Marines in existence.

  8. avatar
    Pastor Charmley January 28, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

    It’s ironic that those who are fantasising that the US President is carrying out a coup are in fact the ones who are advocating a coup. Ironic, but to one who has been watching Truthers for the last decade, not at all surprising. They did the same.

  9. avatar
    sfjeff January 28, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

    Once again a group who wants to save the Constitution by pissing on it.

  10. avatar
    CarlOrcas January 28, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

    I think Vallely’s comments amount to rhetorical sedition.

    One of the things he gave up when he became a military officer was the ability to say whatever he wants whenever he wants. That he won’t abide by the deal now says a great deal about him and his notion of honor.

  11. avatar
    nbc January 28, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

    Vallely is a loud mouth but he has little to show for. Best ignore him, he is irrelevant, powerless, and yes somewhat clueless.

  12. avatar
    CarlOrcas January 28, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

    nbc:
    Vallely is a loud mouth but he has little to show for. Best ignore him, he is irrelevant, powerless, and yes somewhat clueless.

    What he has to show for it is a lifetime pension that amounts to tens of thousands of dollars a year. If he doesn’t want to abide by the law and the oath he took he should figure out some way to give up all the benefits he has and live like the rest of us.

  13. avatar
    Keith January 28, 2014 at 6:00 pm #

    CarlOrcas:
    I think Vallely’s comments amount to rhetorical sedition.

    One of the things he gave up when he became a military officer was the ability to say whatever he wants whenever he wants. That he won’t abide by the deal now says a great deal about him and his notion of honor.

    You aren’t suggesting that he’s one of the “Oath Keepers” are you?

  14. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG January 28, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

    nbc:
    Vallely is a loud mouth but he has little to show for.

    Which puts him in the same boat with all the other birthers.
    Oh look, an iceberg!

  15. avatar
    sfjeff January 28, 2014 at 6:54 pm #

    CarlOrcas: One of the things he gave up when he became a military officer was the ability to say whatever he wants whenever he wants. That he won’t abide by the deal now says a great deal about him and his notion of honor.

    To be honest- I think retired officers should be allowed to criticize the President etc- as long as they are not representing themselves as military- i.e. they should not be using the title “Major General ret” to give them professional creds if they are not willing to follow the code.

    But what disturbs me more is that these retired ‘officers’ are openly calling for unconstitutional acts against our nation.

    What they have proposed- from ‘forcing resignations’ to their imaginative formations of new governments are all unconstitutional and probably seditious.

  16. avatar
    JPotter January 28, 2014 at 7:30 pm #

    Karl Nance: There aren’t even 250,000 US Marines in existence.

    That popped out to me, too. Begs the question: which country does he intend to ‘borrow’ the balance from? And the punishment for leading foreign troops against the Capitol is …. ;)

  17. avatar
    CarlOrcas January 28, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

    Keith: You aren’t suggesting that he’s one of the “Oath Keepers” are you?

    sfjeff: To be honest- I think retired officers should be allowed to criticize the President etc- as long as they are not representing themselves as military- i.e. they should not be using the title “Major General ret” to give them professional creds if they are not willing to follow the code.

    I agree on that but, of course, no one would be paying attention to him if he wasn’t flogging his service all the time. Fox certainly wouldn’t be paying him to shoot his mouth of if he was a retired truck driver.

    sfjeff: But what disturbs me more is that these retired ‘officers’ are openly calling for unconstitutional acts against our nation.

    What they have proposed- from ‘forcing resignations’ to their imaginative formations of new governments are all unconstitutional and probably seditious.

    Yes! The question is when will the military start holding these men responsible for their public comments. Not soon enough for me.

  18. avatar
    Rickey January 28, 2014 at 9:32 pm #

    Karl Nance:

    There aren’t even 250,000 US Marines in existence.

    And even if there were that many, nearly all of the active duty Marines would have to go AWOL in order to participate in Vallely’s march.

  19. avatar
    John Reilly January 29, 2014 at 12:26 am #

    Karl Nance:
    Per Wikipedia:

    195,000 active
    40,000 retired

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Marine_Corps

    There aren’t even 250,000 US Marines in existence.

    That’s 195,000 active and 40,000 reserve. I could not find a number on how many living Marine veterans there are.

  20. avatar
    John Reilly January 29, 2014 at 12:34 am #

    A fair number of active duty Marines are African-American and Hispanic. They may not take well to being ordered by RWNJs to remove a duly elected President.

    As I have reported here previously, many officers refrain from voting, as I did, until out of the service. We respect civilian control of the military. Now in the Air Force there are clearly winds of change given the very strong conservative Christian element starting in the Academy and radiating out through the AF. Nevertheless, while we urged enlisted personnel to vote, most of the officers I knew did not vote.

    Once I was out of the AF, I registered to vote. My first vote for President was for John McCain.

    I am not aware of any Article 88 proceedings. Article 88 must still be understood in the context of the First Amendment. And I see nothing wrong constitutionally in calling for the President to resign. I don’t do that, but others certainly may. Nixon resigned. Others suggested that Clinton resign.

    Vallely, though, wants to reverse an election without having the votes. And Col. Riley wants to have a coup. Neither is an intellectually defensible position.

  21. avatar
    The Magic M January 29, 2014 at 4:06 am #

    John Reilly: A fair number of active duty Marines are African-American and Hispanic. They may not take well to being ordered by RWNJs to remove a duly elected President.

    Remember that a surprising number of birthers is not following the “the clear majority agrees with us” narrative when it comes to violent overthrow. Indeed, they dream of “Civil War II” instead.

    As much as I could gather from their delusional rants, the motive is the belief that they can “clean up” (or “turn back the clock”) more than just “removing the traitors in DC”. They hope after CW2, they can erase all the rights of those who fought on the other side – Democrats, non-whites, non-Christians etc.
    Because simply “cleaning house” will not give them the Christian Theocracy of the White People most of them long for, they need something bigger to achieve that.

    The irony is that it is them who want a “new world order” and to destroy the US as you know it in order to pave the way for it (the same thing they accuse “leftists” of, so as usual, if you want to know their goals, look what they accuse others of planning).

  22. avatar
    Keith January 29, 2014 at 5:16 am #

    John Reilly:
    A fair number of active duty Marines are African-American and Hispanic.They may not take well to being ordered by RWNJs to remove a duly elected President.

    Nor would my niece who had command of a small detachment of Marines during Gulf War I.

    Nor would my niece’s husband, who if he told you what he did, would probably have to kill you; but the Navy did basically pay for his PhD in physics at Cal, if you catch my drift.

  23. avatar
    Andrew Morris January 29, 2014 at 9:24 am #

    How do these people ever become officers, never mind generals?

  24. avatar
    1% Silver Nitrate January 29, 2014 at 9:43 am #

    Andrew Morris: How do these people ever become officers, never mind generals?

    Pentagon investigations point to military system that promotes abusive leaders
    Article By Craig Whitlock, Published: Washington Post, January 28, 2014
    There are miserable bosses, and then there are toxic military commanders.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/pentagon-investigations-point-to-military-system-that-promotes-abusive-leaders/2014/01/28/3e1be1f0-8799-11e3-916e-e01534b1e132_story.html

  25. avatar
    Curious George January 29, 2014 at 10:21 am #

    Vallely….Corsi…..Riley……Arpaio…..Zullo…..Surprise Tea Party…..simply connect the dots, or should I say, dolts?

  26. avatar
    Daniel January 29, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

    Andrew Morris:
    How do these people ever become officers, never mind generals?

    Military leadership and tactical/strategic skills are a very narrow set of criteria, and the military pretty much uses just them to promote, especially in times of war.

    Lots of high ranking Officers have been tactical geniuses, and bat guano crazy at the same time. You can wear bunny ears and high heels at home, as long as you show up in a crisp uniform for work.

  27. avatar
    Matt January 29, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

    John Reilly: I am not aware of any Article 88 proceedings. Article 88 must still be understood in the context of the First Amendment. And I see nothing wrong constitutionally in calling for the President to resign. I don’t do that, but others certainly may. Nixon resigned. Others suggested that Clinton resign.

    The July 1999 issue of “The Army Lawyer”, found here, contains a comprehensive analysis of Article 88 and its predecessors going all the way to before the Revolutionary War.

    Edit: Somehow the rest of what I had to say got eaten by the editor, but according to the article, there has only been one Article 88 prosecution since the UCMJ was established and only one retiree in the history of our nation recalled to face court-martial for contemptuous speech. In the 115 or so prosecutions before and after the UCMJ, the 1st amendment was only raised as a defense twice (both times unsuccessful).

    There were some other cases during Clinton’s presidency of officers being administratively fined, reprimanded or forced to retire without courts-martial.

    As a veteran who served over 26 years in the military, I am very interested in this topic. Maybe I will comment more later.

  28. avatar
    The Magic M January 30, 2014 at 4:53 am #

    Daniel: Lots of high ranking Officers have been tactical geniuses, and bat guano crazy at the same time. You can wear bunny ears and high heels at home, as long as you show up in a crisp uniform for work.

    My company once had a DBA who never seemed to wash, always showed up in the same raggedy clothes and rarely talked to anyone. But he laid the foundations of the architecture we’ve been using to this very day, he was a genius in his field, so we put up with his quirks, because what good would somehow have been who was all show and no go?
    I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a raving lunatic on the interwebs today.

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