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Legal experts: Marines would be right to dismiss sergeant critical of Obama

April 6, 2012 |  2:17 pm

6a00d8341c630a53ef016764bb9High-level military law experts appear to agree with a Marine Corps board that Sgt. Gary Stein deserves to be booted out for posting disparaging comments about President Obama on the Internet.

"It's not so much what he said but the fact he waded into the political arena to say it in a way that seemed to convey official status," said Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale.

Gary Solis, who teaches military law at Georgetown University, said that Stein "is lucky he's not facing a court martial. He knew the rules and he broke them. The nation is not ready for sergeants denouncing its senior political leadership."

After a 14-hour hearing, an Administrative Separation Board at Camp Pendleton voted 3-0 on Thursday night that Stein should be dismissed with an other-than-honorable discharge for posting a series of anti-Obama comments on websites, including a Facebook page he created titled "Armed Forces Tea Party."

Among other comments, Stein wrote, "As an active-duty Marine, I say screw Obama." He also superimposed a picture of Obama on a poster for the raunchy reality-show “Jackass.” He sold bumper stickers that said “NOBAMA 2012" and called Obama a coward and a financial and religious enemy.

Lawyers representing Stein’s commander said that he had broken several rules that prohibit military personnel from partisan political activity or making public criticisms of the commander-in-chief.

"Regardless of what you think about his politics or policies, this is a sitting president, who is our commander in chief," said Capt. John Torresala. "This is not a Marine who thinks about the institution…He needs to go. He has an agenda. Let him follow it on the outside."

But Capt. Nicholas Grey, representing Stein, told the board that dismissing Stein would be vindictive and overly harsh for an offense "where there's no blood, no financial loss, just words."

The board members -- two officers and a sergeant-major -- offered no explanation for their recommendation.

The final decision about whether Stein will be dismissed, and with an other-than-honorable discharge, rests with the commanding general of Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. That kind of discharge would make Stein, 26, who served for nine years, ineligible for veterans benefits.

Stein’s civilian attorneys, including from the American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative U.S. Justice Foundation, this week filed a lawsuit in San Diego federal court in an effort to keep the Marine Corps from discharging him. That suit is pending.

Stein offered no comment about the board's vote.

But as he left after the hearing Thursday night, he told his lawyers, "I hope we can put this on the Tea Party website."


Sky diver dies in crash landing into Central California vineyard

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Gary Stein. Credit: Associated Press