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Officer in Trouble for Bush Criticism

Military: The Air Force colonel could be court-martialed for saying president let the Sept. 11 attacks occur.

June 05, 2002|From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A U.S. Air Force colonel who called President Bush "a joke" and accused him of allowing the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to happen because "his presidency was going nowhere" has been suspended and could face a court-martial.

The letter from Lt. Col. Steve Butler, who was vice chancellor for student affairs at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, was published May 26 in the Herald of Monterey County.

"He did nothing to warn the American people because he needed this war on terrorism," Butler wrote. "His daddy had Saddam and he needed Osama. His presidency was going nowhere ....This guy is a joke."

Butler, who called Bush's alleged silence "sleazy and contemptible," was suspended from his position May 29 pending the outcome of an investigation into his remarks, Air Force spokeswoman Valerie Burkes said Tuesday. He remains assigned to the Defense Language Institute.

Butler, who entered active duty in April 1979, was a navigator during Desert Storm, Burkes said. His wife, Shelly, told the Herald that Butler plans to retire in a few weeks.

Military law specifically prohibits "contemptuous words against the president" and other political leaders.

The prohibition against anti-government speech goes back to 1776, when soldiers were forbidden from using "traitorous or disrespectful words." The rules were updated several times and "traitorous or disrespectful" changed to "contemptuous." The president, vice president, Congress and state governors also were specifically banned as targets of badmouthing.

In 1950, Congress enacted the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the prohibition against contemptuous language survived intact as Article 88, and, for the first time, applied only to commissioned officers.

The maximum punishment under Article 88 is dismissal, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for one year.

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