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Marine sergeant discharged for criticizing Obama: Was that fair?

Troops may express political opinions and are encouraged 'to carry out the obligations of citizenship,' but Marine Sgt. Gary Stein was warned that his Facebook posts crossed a line.

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Marine Sgt. Gary Stein pauses while speaking with reporters in front of the federal court building on Friday, April 13, 2012, in San Diego.

Gregory Bull/AP

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The other-than-honorable discharge given to Marine Sgt. Gary Stein for writing “Screw Obama” and other criticisms of the president on Facebook means he will lose all of his military privileges, including access to military health care and education benefits, as well as the right to shop in the tax-free grocery and department stores on base.

Is this a fair punishment for a Marine who has served in the military for nine years – a tenure which also included a tour in Iraq during the particularly violent years of 2005 to 2006? Some service members who have been found to have deserted have received “general” discharges, after all.

The problem, analysts say, is that Sgt. Stein was warned repeatedly about his Facebook posts. Troops are encouraged “to carry out the obligations of citizenship,” and are allowed to express “a personal opinion on political candidates and issues.” They can also put political bumper stickers on their cars, sign petitions, donate to political parties, and attend rallies, debates, and conventions.

They cannot, however, take part in any political activities as official representatives of the US military.

For his actions, Stein, who also wrote that he would refuse to follow President Obama’s orders, was not court-martialed. He could have been given a “general” discharge. Though this may sound fine to many civilian ears, it also carries with it negative intimations and is quite different from the “honorable” discharge that the majority of troops get.

General discharges may, for example, be given when “significant negative aspects” of a US military member’s conduct outweigh the positive contributions during his service. This could also affect the ability of troops to use their GI Bill and other benefits.

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