New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com
Gen.: G.I.s who rip leaders will pay
By HELEN KENNEDY
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU
Thursday, July 17th, 2003
WASHINGTON - The military will punish demoralized soldiers in Iraq who are bluntly venting their frustration to reporters, the Pentagon said yesterday.
"None of us that wear this uniform are free to say anything disparaging about the secretary of defense or the President of the United States," said Gen. John Abizaid, head of Central Command. "We're not free to do that. It's our professional code. Whatever action may be taken, whether it's a verbal reprimand or something more stringent, is up the commanders on the scene."
This week's abrupt cancellation of homecoming plans for the Army's 3rd Infantry Division unleashed a remarkable and widespread flood of fury from troops who are hot, homesick and hunted by guerrillas.
"If Donald Rumsfeld was here, I'd ask him for his resignation," Spec. Clinton Deitz of the 3rd Infantry's 2nd Brigade told ABC News.
"I've got my own 'Most Wanted' list," said a 2nd Brigade sergeant. "The aces in my deck are Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and Paul Wolfowitz."
Many soldiers are openly asking why they are in a country that wants them out. They complain that their commanders have gone home. Frustration with the powers in Washington is a main theme.
"I can guarantee you they've never stood out in a checkpoint in the heat of the day, day after day, full battle rattle, always wondering if today's the day somebody's going to shoot me. Do they even care?" one soldier told a Knight Ridder reporter.
The 2nd Brigade, in the Persian Gulf since September, had been told it would be home by May, then July, then August. When the announcement came that the deployment was being extended until at least September and maybe beyond, "you could hear a pin drop," said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Wright of the 64th Armored Regiment.
The Code of Military Justice bars officers from using "contemptuous words" against civilian or military leaders. Punishment is rarely stringent, said military law expert Eugene Fidell.
"People always grumble in the trenches," he said. "Typically, administrations are extremely well advised not to throw gasoline on the fire by creating martyrs."
The White House took no public offense at the soldiers' gripes. "We know that they are making significant sacrifices," said spokesman Scott McClellan. "We are going to do everything we can to support them and get them home as soon as we can."