When can soldiers publish their opinions about the war in Iraq?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Aug. 22 2007 5:41 PM

Sir, Can I Publish This, Sir!

Do soldiers have free speech rights?

A soldier in Afghanistan. Click image to expand.
A soldier in Afghanistan

The New York Times published an op-ed on Sunday by seven infantrymen and noncommissioned officers serving in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne. The writers expressed skepticism "of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable" and went on to describe Iraq as a "lawless environment." Are Army personnel free to publicize their opinions?

Yes, as long as they clear a security review. According to Army regulations (PDF), soldiers must consult with their immediate supervisor and their operations-security officer before disseminating articles, Web-site postings, or other statements in a public forum. The OPSEC officer (usually a major or chief warrant officer) then checks for "critical information," such as command-unit locations or weapons capabilities. Despite these guidelines, Army PR reps insist that OPSEC officers don't actually monitor each and every communication—especially when it comes to blogs. After receiving "awareness training," blogger-soldiers are often entrusted to post messages without prior approval.

Advertisement

Members of the armed forces who air their grievances in a public setting must also specify that their views don't reflect those of the Department of Defense. To ensure that the ideological distance between the DoD and individual authors is patently obvious, the Joint Ethics Regulation instructs writers to print disclaimers in a "prominent position." The Times op-ed contributors were thus wise to stress at the bottom of the first paragraph that their "personal views" do not represent the "chain of command."

What happens if a soldier publishes an article that fails to comply with operations-security policies? He'll most likely be punished for disregarding an order under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. If the writer is a commissioned officer, and his article is especially hard on the president, vice president, secretary of defense, or another government executive, then he might be accused of using "contemptuous words" against an official and charged under Article 88. Either way, there's a good chance the outspoken serviceman will face a court-martial.

 

Historically, active servicemen and -women have exercised their First Amendment rights through official Army newspapers and the unofficial GI press. While serving with the 45th Infantry Division during World War II, a sergeant named Bill Mauldin drew anti-authoritarian cartoons for Stars and Stripes. Gen. Patton threatened to ban the paper from his Third Army, but Gen. Eisenhower maintained that censorship would undermine morale and kept the publication afloat. During Vietnam, GIs stationed at home and abroad published more than 300 "underground" newspapers, many of which expressed strong opposition to the war effort. Some GIs were intimidated or even arrested just for having such newspapers in their possession, but the Army's 1969 Guidance on Dissent sanctioned their distribution.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Dr. James Lewes of Displaced Films and Maj. Cheryl Phillips of the U.S. Army Public Affairs Division.

TODAY IN SLATE

Jurisprudence

Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Colorado Is Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

Culturebox

Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
  Life
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.