Soldier Who Sued Army Facing Threats
Friday 21 September 2007
An Army specialist stationed in Iraq said he has been repeatedly threatened by other US soldiers after word spread that he sued the secretary of defense and an Army major this week for allegedly retaliating against the soldier when he convened a meeting of atheists, according to the founder of a military watchdog organization that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the soldier and has been in close contact with him since then.
Jeremy Hall, 22, who is on active duty at Combat Operations Base Speicher, Iraq, sent an urgent email message to Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, whose organization is a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Pentagon. The email said a fellow soldier has threatened to "beat his ass," called him an "atheist ass pirate" and "a faggot" and enlisted a "lynch mob" of other soldiers to intimidate Hall because of the allegations Hall made against the military in a lawsuit Weinstein's foundation and Hall filed Monday in US District Court in Kansas City.
Weinstein said he has been in contact with supporters of his foundation who have reported the posting of messages on military and civilian-based blogs, such as military.com, apparently threatening Hall with "fragging," a term used by the military in which an unpopular soldier could be killed by intentional friendly fire during combat.
"Mikey, I hope I am not a victim of a hate crime while I sleep tonight," Hall wrote in an email to Weinstein Thursday evening. "I do not want to die for my country this way. [The soldier] is threatening to beat my ass and all sorts of things. I may be harmed or worse. I am afraid for my safety. I can't sleep, man.... I just lay in my bunk for two hours and I couldn't sleep."
Messages left for several Pentagon spokespeople Thursday evening - on cell phones and at the Defense Department - were not returned.
Weinstein said late Thursday evening that he has not yet been able to verify the authenticity of the blog postings threatening Hall with "fragging." But Weinstein said he takes the threat of violence against Hall seriously and has already reached out to senior officials in the Pentagon as well as senior Army operations officials to ensure Hall's safety. Weinstein is a former White House attorney under Ronald Reagan, was general counsel to H. Ross Perot, and was formerly an Air Force judge advocate general (JAG).
Weinstein said he demanded "that the Secretaries of Defense and the US Army take absolute immediate action to do two things: provide for the comprehensive personal safety of our co-plaintiff Army Specialist Jeremy Hall, and immediately investigate all US Army personnel who may have violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice by threatening the personal safety and indeed the life of Specialist Hall. If one hair on Hall's head is touched there will be hell to pay."
Hall's lawsuit alleges that his First Amendment rights were violated beginning last Thanksgiving when, because of his atheist beliefs, he declined to participate in a Christian prayer ceremony commemorating the holiday.
"Immediately after plaintiff made it known he would decline to join hands and pray, he was confronted, in the presence of other military personnel, by the senior ranking ... staff sergeant, who asked plaintiff why he did not want to pray, whereupon plaintiff explained because he is an atheist," says the lawsuit, a copy of which was provided to Truthout. "The staff sergeant asked plaintiff what an atheist is and plaintiff responded it meant that he (plaintiff) did not believe in God. This response caused the staff sergeant to tell plaintiff that he would have to sit elsewhere for the Thanksgiving dinner. Nonetheless, plaintiff sat at the table in silence and finished his meal."
Moreover, the complaint alleges that on August 7, when Hall received permission by an Army chaplain to organize a meeting of other soldiers who shared his atheist beliefs, his supervisor, Army Major Paul Welborne, broke up the gathering and threatened to retaliate against the soldier by charging him with violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The complaint also alleges that Welborne vowed to block Hall's reenlistment in the Army if the atheist group continued to meet - a violation of Hall's First Amendment rights under the Constitution. Welborne is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
"During the course of the meeting, defendant Welborne confronted the attendees, disrupted the meeting and interfered with plaintiff Hall's and the other attendees' rights to discuss topics of their interests," the lawsuit alleges.
The complaint charges that Hall, who is based at Fort Riley, Kansas, has been forced to "submit to a religious test as a qualification to his post as a soldier in the United States Army," a violation of Article VI, Clause 3 of the Constitution.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation said Defense Secretary Robert Gates is named as a defendant in the lawsuit because he has allowed the military to engage in "a pattern and practice of constitutionally impermissible promotions of religious beliefs within the Department of Defense and the United States military."
The lawsuit seeks an injunction against Welborne from further engaging in behavior "that has the effect of establishing compulsory religious practices" and asks that Gates prevent Welborne from interfering with Hall's free speech rights.
"This landmark federal litigation is just the first of a galaxy of new lawsuits that will be expeditiously filed against the Pentagon in a concentrated effort to preserve the precious religious liberties guaranteed by our beautiful United States Constitution," Weinstein said Monday. "Today, we are boldly stabbing back against an unconstitutional heart of darkness, a contagion of fundamentalist religious supremacy and triumphalism noxiously dominating the command and control of the technologically most lethal organization ever created by humankind: our honorable and noble United States armed forces."
Jason Leopold is senior editor and reporter for Truthout. He received a Project Censored award in 2007 for his story on Halliburton's work in Iran.