It ought to be clear by now that the Amerikan military doesn't give a damn about a serviceman's constitutional rights ––especially, if by exercising those rights the military Brass and their co-conspirators in Washington are exposed for what they are.
As the editor of OM––the first anti-war, anti-brass paper put out by a Navyman in the U. S. Navy's long and inglorious history, I will be the first serviceman to face court-martial solely for statements written in a GI newspaper. For this dubious distinction I face up to 39 years in the brig and a Dishonorable Discharge when tried by a General Court-Martial “Kangaroo” Court on April l4, 1970 here in Washington, D. C.
WHY? One reason was that I was speaking the truth about the Amerikan war in Vietnam. Have you ever heard that the “truth shall make you free?” Don't believe it. Pentagon dictionaries define truth as something to be hidden or manipulated. I also never minced words in conveying my disgust and contempt for the lying pig politicians in Washington, the industrial complex and the other war criminals in the Pentagon who give the orders, make the policies, gain the promotions, and the medals and reap the money while OUR blood and Vietnamese blood is shed to benefit these few “leaders” who see progress in body counts.
OM said in very plain language that you didn't have to take it––that there was another way. And the way was through ORGANIZATION. OM showed GI's that they had nothing to lose by organizing but their stripes. The paper further pointed out to servicemen that NOW was the time to speak out against the war, racism and oppression; not after they got out.
But the war criminals––the military, the government and the war industries––need the big lies to survive. How else would we ever fight and die for them in their bloody wars? They want and need us silent about our fate so as not to rock the boat or spoil the profits.
So when a newspaper comes along and pricks the Patriotic Balloon of Bullshit that is held before us––someone has to pay. Today, they are trying to make me pay for the “crime” of speech. Tomorrow, what will they try to make YOU pay for? The situation is that you either stand up for your right s or you let people continue to use you for their own ends. And if you wait till tomorrow it will probably be too late; for then they will be coming after you too.
But what of our “rights?” Do servicemen give up certain “rights” upon entering the Armed Services? Do they give up their First Amendment rights after they raise their hands and swear to defend the Constitution of the United States? The answer to the last question is no. Servicemen do not lose their rights to speak and to write or to even assemble. But the problem comes when you try to exercise those rights. Try writing, speaking or demonstrating for an end to the war in Vietnam. There is no end to the harassment or intimidation that the Pentagon and local base commanders will use to try and “silence” you.
The Pentagon is scared shitless. They are afraid of the anti-war GI. They are afraid that he has “infected” the ranks of servicemen with “subversive” ideas like peace and freedom. And they are right. For right now the cancer has spread throughout the body of the Monster. And soon the Monster will die.
You know, if one person starts a paper, They'd think he's crazy. If a couple of papers were started They'd think it was a Conspiracy. But if a lot of papers were started, They'd think it was a Movement. . . and that's what it is! A Movement that has grown to over 70 newspapers reaching hundreds of thousands of GI's––on land and on the sea. And to paraphrase the founder of of the U.S. Navy, “We have not yet begun to fight.”
A specter is haunting the Amerikan military––the specter of a mass movement of GI's declaring in solidarity with each other the end of their complicity with the Pentagon war criminals. The GI movement is realizing that its powers lie in the collective might of servicemen standing up and refusing to be used any longer. And if enough start affirming their basic rights; then courts-martial will no longer be possible. There is strength in numbers...and we've got the numbers. Now we've got to get it organized and “together.”
Anytime you engage in struggle, you run the risk of losing. Losing what? Your life? Your freedom? If you are in the service then you have already lost your life and your freedom. You have lost it because someone else is in control of it. And if you struggle for your life and your freedom what can the Pentagon do to you? They can't take away what they already have. What they are doing now is to imprison those who dissent. But you can't imprison an idea. This has been the lesson all totalitarian regimes have failed to learn.
You can be handed a paper that says, “Undesirable Discharge” or maybe if you are lucky one that says, “Dishonorable Discharge.” What an honor! You might lose that clearance or even be transferred for joining the struggle. So what! Types of discharge or prison records will not be the currency for OUR society. Only in this Alice in Wonderland society that we live in do you receive “Honorable Discharges” for participating in the rape and murder of a people 10,000 miles away from us. And for that “honor” we are told (never asked) to give our lives? Bullshit.
So I will face trial for editing and publishing 1,000 copies apiece of the three issues...What a crime! Things have got to be really bad. The Pentagon is truly paranoid. By singling me out, they have caused a reaction just the opposite of what they wanted. My circulation has increased to 10,000 and several more papers are being put out by Navymen. Keep up the repression Pentagon. Our numbers and our determination are increasing.
I was orginally [sic] charged on June 20, 1969 with violating l4 specifications under four Articles of the Uniform Code of Military (In)Justice based on statements and articles out of the April, May and June 1969 issues of OM. They were as follows: Article 82-soliciting others to desert and commit sedition. Article 89-disrespect to Gen. Earle Wheeler, Chairmen, Joint Chiefs of Staff. Article 92-not disclaiming that my views were not Official Navy views. Article 134-conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline (making disloyal statements-8 counts), violation of Title 18, Section 2387 (the notorious 1940 Smith Act-intent to Interfere with, impair, etc., etc., loyalty and discipline, etc., etc., -good for 10 years each, Pretty heavy.
On August 28, 1969 I was ordered to stand trial, Charges under Articles 89, 92 and two specifications under 134 were not referred to trial.
On November 19, 1969 the military judge ruled that the solicitation charges be thrown out. But the judge was overruled by Rear Admiral George P. Koch, Commandant, Washington Naval District; who ordered that the charges be reinstated since he disagreed with the judge as a “matter of law.” Koch has worn several hats in dealing with this case. He convened the court, picked the attorneys for both sides and will review the case after his drumhead court finds me “guilty.” But he is an honorable man.
My attorneys filed a petition with the U. S. Court of Military Appeals stating the obvious: that the Commandant's actions were an “unwarranted interference into the judicial proceedings” and that he had no authority to overrule a military judge on “matters of law.”
After being before the court for over four months, a decision was handed down on March 13, 1970 denying our petition, The court ruled that a convening authority (with no legal training) has the authority to overrule a military judge (a trained lawyer) on “matters of law.” The court said further that they could see no “irreparable harm” coming to me from standing trial on the charges that had been dropped; since if I am found guilty then it can be taken up on appeal. The court, it seems, was more concerned that irreparable harm” might come to the Navy's case against me if they were not allowed to prosecute. So much for the military's “courts.”
And you can bet there will be an appeal. What chance does an enlisted person have when tried by a court of officers? You know, being tried by an all-officer jury is like being a Jew tried in Nazi Germany. My request to be tried before a jury composed of E-2's and E-3's was turned down by the Commandant. What's more, to top everything else, it only takes a 2/3 vote to convict!
But all the charges and all the legal maneuvering is just BULLSHIT! Correspondence which I have obtained between the Chairmen of the House Armed Services Committee, L. Mendel Rivers of South Carolina and Rear Admiral Means Johnston, Chief of Legislative Laison [sic], Pentagon, clearly shows that it was Rivers who was instrumental in bringing about this court-martial.
In a letter dated June 6, 1969, Rivers wrote Rear Adm. Johnston that OM reflects a “gross abuse of the constitutional right of free speech.” He then demanded to know just what the Navy planned on doing about it.
So the Navy toadies tried to interrogate me on June 12; they transferred me to the Processing Division, Washington Naval Station, on June 17; and formally charged me on June 20, 1969. Fast reaction time, huh?
One of the things that brought Rivers' attention to OM was a parable written by Bobby Seale in the June 1969 issue. All the Southern-fried bigot had to do was to turn to page two to read of a very thirsty poor man who finds a stream at the foot of a mountain, but can't drink from it because it is full of filth. A second man explains that there is a huge hog standing in the middle of the stream at the top of the mountain.
“This hog,” the man said, “is pissing and shitting in the stream and that is why it is so dirty. If you want a cool, clean drink, you must get that hog out of the stream.
I added to the moral of the story by attaching the following line of my own at the end: “L. Mendel Rivers. Get your ass out of that stream. You hear, boy?”
That did it. An investigation that used as many as 25 Naval Intelligence agents to follow and harass me was terminated and charges brought. And now Rivers wants to see me in jail.
The issues that my trial are concerned with are much broader than the personal vendetta between Rivers and the Navy over my newspaper. The whole question of a servicemen's right to dissent without fear of punishment will be at stake. The stakes are heavy. You either have the freedom to voice your concerns during your off-duty hours, off-base, out-of-uniform and with your own funds or you don't.
The Navy will maintain that I went “too far” and that what I said should be punished since it is “disloyal” and undermines morale and discipline. My answer to that is that you can't go “too far.” There is no way that you can abuse the constitutional right of free speech; except by not exercising it. And that is precisely what the Pentagon wants.
Every lifer knows that when you enter the Armed Services you give up your constitutional rights. It's all unwritten though. The illusion is maintained that you have “rights.” The illusion is shattered when you exercise those “rights.” This trial should pull the veil of lies back even further and shatter a lot of illusions that people have about themselves and their precious Bill of Rights.
I believe in freedom of speech and of the press. They are fundamental rights that should not be given up. If I should have to go to prison for standing up for my rights, then that is what I am prepared to do. Others can pick up the pen that I have used and continue the fight. By struggling together we shall win the peace and freedom that is rightfully ours. SEIZE THE TIME.
By Roger Priest, United States Navy.
OM, Souvenir Court Martial Edition