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Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!

Stolte, Amick Get Four Years For Free Speech.

Ken Stolte and Dan Amick were convicted on May 22 after a three day general court-martial at Fort Ord. Calif. The two charges against them were “attempting to conspire” to commit an offense and engaging in acts prejudicial to the good order and discipline of the Army, including uttering disloyal statements with intent to arouse disloyalty and disaffection among the troops and civilian populace. They were sentenced to four years at hard labor and dishonorable discharges. Their civilian attorney, Francis Heisler, is appealing their conviction.

The Ally attended the court-martial and was impressed that this trial was really a disciplinary proceeding. The jury was made up of officers with the lowest rank being captain. Heisler questioned at the outset whether such a panel could really be impartial even though the legal officer, a chicken-colonel, instructed them to be fair. We talked with Ken at the trial. He insisted that the decisions were made well in advance of the trial, and it certainly seemed so to us that day in court.
We recall a letter Ken wrote us back in March: “they are attempting to court-martial me for distributing the leaflet. There are two charges against me that could result in six years of prison life for me. I think this is the army’s attempt to suppress any antiwar sentiments that GIs may have. In short, I think they’re trying to make an example of me to quiet or dissuade anyone else from ever attempting to say anything. If they drop the charges against me, which I doubt, then the door will be open for any GI to express his opinions... Can you imagine being put in jail for six years for simply writing a leaflet?”

Heisler based his case on the First Amendment to the Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech to everyone; the US constitution says nothing about restricting that right in the military.

The prosecuting attorneys (both captains) went through the motions of proving that Stolte and Amick actually distributed the leaflet – a charge they never denied. Heisler showed that Article 134 concerning “acts prejudicial to good order and discipline” was unconstitutionally vague. The charge of intent to spread disloyalty and disaffection, Heisler showed to be untrue: first, none of the witnesses called by the Army became disloyal from reading the leaflet. In fact these privates were too frightened to read more than three lines. Secondly, Heisler showed that the prosecution had not even attempted to prove intent. In fact, Ken and Dan had no such intention and do not consider their leaflet disloyal. They believed when they passed it out, and still believe, that they were exercising their constitutional rights of free expression. In addition, Heisler showed that their belief is correct. A prosecution witness, Capt. Meyers, testified that the leaflet, was “fallacious but not disloyal.” The First Amendment guarantees the right of citizens to oppose government policy and the right to hear other people’s opinions. To the charge of conspiracy, Heisler responded that the men were only exercising their right of free assembly and were planning no offense.

Stolte and Amick had distributed about 200 of the leaflets all over the post. The leaflet said in part:

We protest the war in Vietnam, we know that the war will never bring peace. Peace can only be obtained through peaceful means. War cannot be justified or condoned. If you want to fight to peace, stop killing people.... You have the free will to refuse to be part of this stupidity. Our government is supposed to represent us, not rule us.... The Communist paranoia that we posses cannot justify what we are doing to the Vietnamese people.... If you really want to work for peace and freedom, then join us in our opposition. A union is being formed to express our dissension and grievances.

One group of men who received the leaflet were clearly frightened by it. At the court-martial Pvt. Bissinger testified that the leaflet was propaganda and another private admitted under cross examination that he was afraid of what the officers would do to him if they caught him with it. He said it was something he shouldn’t be reading.

These men turned the leaflet into their sergeant who turned it over to his CO. Capt. Meyers. Heisler questioned Meyers at length, and Meyers admitted that several senators have recently made statements which are much the same as the leaflet and were not disloyal. Meyers said that he considered himself well informed: “I am not so much a soldier that I don’t read newspapers.”

Heisler concluded that the Army’s overriding intention is to prevent soldiers from thinking. He then pointed out that among the “turncoat GIs who refused to come homer after the Korean War, 19 of the 20 had no knowledge of why they were fighting.” He brilliantly turned the tables on the Army by showing that it was in their interest to have fully informed soldiers.

The main point of Heisler’s argument on appeal will be that the First Amendment guarantees apply to all American, in or out of uniform. As Ken said, “I was born with freedom of speech and many other freedoms and I refuse to confine, limit, or relinquish them under any circumstances.”

The Ally, vol. 1, no. 5

 

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