Georgia man imprisoned for a song

Army Specialist Marc Hall has served honorably for over three years, including a 14-month tour of duty in Iraq.  He’s a loving father and an amateur rapper.  His battalion commander ordered Specialist Hall confined in the Liberty County Jail on December 11.  As of today he is still incarcerated there.  The charge against him?  Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

The UCMJ contains many “crimes” of which a military member can technically be convicted (including oral sex – even with one’s own spouse, and having an abortion).  The 134th, and final, article encompasses any type of misconduct that is not specifically prohibited in the (seemingly comprehensive) 133 preceding articles.

The heinous act committed by Specialist Hall was the recording of an angry, explicit song.  His term of enlistment will end in February of 2010, but Uncle Sam has chosen not to honor his contract.  Under the Stop-Loss program, Specialist Hall has been forced to stay in the Army for an additional year after he was supposed to get out, because his unit is deploying to Iraq again just a few days before Christmas.

He did not (as many other soldiers more courageous than me have done) refuse to deploy and fight in what he (presumably) believes to be an illegal war.  Had he refused, the Army could have charged him with disobeying an order or missing movement, instead of the vague Article 134.  He simply channeled his feelings of bitterness and betrayal into his art.

True, his song includes a line in which he expresses his desire to lock and load a 30-round magazine and shoot all the E-7’s (Sergeant First Class) and above in his unit.  Obviously this was the line that his commanding officers interpreted as a direct threat.  The entire Army is doubtless still reeling from the events of November 5,  when a Major killed thirteen soldiers and wounded 30 others at Fort Hood, Texas.  If that incident has any bearing on the case of Marc Hall, it is a valuable lesson.  Stressed-out, disillusioned soldiers should not have their service time involuntarily extended.  These brave men and women endure real-life nightmares that most of us can not even imagine.  The Fort Hood shooter, himself a decorated veteran of over 20 years, tried several times to get out of the Army due to religious and ideological differences, but his requests were routinely denied.  If the officers reviewing his claims had recognized that discharging one frustrated psychiatrist would not really hamper the mission, thirteen soldiers now dead would still be alive.

The larger over-riding problem with the way the Army handled Marc Hall is that no one can be held responsible for a statement (or, sometimes, even an action) uttered in a moment of passion.  Whether or not you believe that Spc. Hall actually intended to shoot his superiors (I do not; I think the majority of soldiers have similar desires at some point) is irrelevant.  No one can be preemptively tried for a crime he may or may not commit in the future.

Every time some attention-hungry high school student is sent home for shaving a swastika into his hair, it makes national news as a purported violation of the First Amendment.  But where is the outrage over the illegal pre-trial imprisonment of Marc Hall?  Why has there been no action from our Commander in Chief, who could repair this injustice with a two-minute phone call?  As long as Marc Hall is behind bars, this fellow Iraq veteran will join him in saying “F*** THE ARMY!”

UPDATE:  On February 5, 2010, the Army announced that Specialist Hall will be extradited to Iraq to face a court-martial there, out of the public eye.  His civilian attorney will not be permitted to accompany him.  The term “military justice” grows more Orwellian every day.

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