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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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