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2011-12-21

Iraq Combat Veteran Dan Choi Forcibly Ousted, Barred from Bradley Manning Hearing at Ft. Meade

Guests

Lt. Dan Choi, an Iraq combat veteran and supporter of Army Private Bradley Manning, who has been accused of leaking classified U.S. documents to WikiLeaks. He is also an openly gay servicemember who was discharged in 2010 under "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."

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Former U.S. Army Lt. Dan Choi attended the pretrial military hearing for accused Army whistleblower Private Bradley Manning this weekend but was barred from returning on Monday. Military security handcuffed Choi, pinned him to the ground and ripped off his rank. The military says Choi was heckling, but Choi maintains he never disrupted the proceedings. He is an Iraq War combat veteran, supporter of Manning, and an openly gay servicemember who was discharged in 2010 under the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy. "What Bradley Manning did, as a gay American, as a soldier, a good soldier—in fact, the only soldier in his entire chain of command who did the right thing, and suffers the consequences unjustly—there’s no choice but for patriotic Americans to sit there and support Bradley Manning in the dignity and full honor of the uniform of service," Choi says. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We’re joined here in the studio by former Lieutenant Dan Choi, who attended the trial this weekend but was barred from returning on Monday. Lieutenant Choi is an Iraq combat veteran and supporter of Bradley Manning. He’s also an openly gay servicemember who was discharged in 2010 under "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."

Welcome, Lieutenant.

LT. DAN CHOI: It’s great to be with you, and it’s great to be with you in the uniform of my country.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Can you explain, Dan, what happened on Monday at the trial?

LT. DAN CHOI: I went to the main gate with Dan Ellsberg, and we were stopped for about 10 minutes, delayed from entering the base. They knew that we were going there for trial. I had been there the few days beforehand, in full uniform. This is the uniform that I was wearing. And I was accosted as to why I’m wearing the uniform if I was discharged, that I’m not allowed to wear the uniform. And I argued with them, said, "Take a look at the Army Regulation 670-1, as well as Schacht v. The United States, 1970. I have the right to wear this uniform." And he said, "I’m not trying to fight you." And I said, "Well, I will pick a fight with you, because I know the law, and it’s my right to be there to support Bradley Manning." He let us in—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Why did they say that you can’t wear the uniform? What kind of law were they invoking?

LT. DAN CHOI: I think—well, the real reason, I think, is they’re angry that anybody who’s a combat veteran of the Iraq War, who served in our military, who’s proud of their service, would dare sit in support of Bradley Manning. And it was a way for the military public affairs office to control the message and the images that go out to the public. I think that’s the real reason. And so, as I’ve noticed throughout many times, throughout not only this ordeal and this event, but throughout my military service and watching the military now from the outside, they do find other ways to punish those who they disagree with.

AMY GOODMAN: So, on Monday, exactly what happened when you tried to go in? They handcuffed you?

LT. DAN CHOI: When I tried to go in, they said that I was heckling the hearing, which was impossible because I wasn’t in the hearing that morning. The past two days I was absolutely quiet and peaceful, adding to the decorum and the dignity of the event. But they said that I was heckling, and so they ejected me. They said, "Get out of here."

AMY GOODMAN: Get out of the base.

LT. DAN CHOI: Yes. Major Sides and a U.S. marshal named John, they said that I was disruptive, at which point they handcuffed me, and then they high-tackled me to the ground, pinned me down. And I have a picture of—and actually x-rays that I took the night of—that show that I was bruised in my left leg. I was given this because of my wrist sprain.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re wearing a wrist brace.

LT. DAN CHOI: Yes. I was—I’m actually supposed to wear it on both, but it’s really the right wrist that was damaged the most. And this is my rank, that doesn’t go back on anymore. So—

AMY GOODMAN: Because?

LT. DAN CHOI: Because they assaulted me. And when they ripped off the rank, it was—I don’t know if it was intentional. I wasn’t watching everything.

AMY GOODMAN: They ripped the rank off your shoulder?

LT. DAN CHOI: As they were throwing me to the ground, and I was handcuffed, at which point they said I was assaulting them. I was yelling, "I have a right to be here. There’s no charge. There’s no reason why you should be assaulting me and using excessive force. There’s no reason why you should be invidiously prior restraining me. There’s no reason. I know my rights. This is an open trial." And they said, "You’re assaulting us, and we’re kicking you out." So then they said, "You’re not allowed to go back for the entire duration of the pretrial."

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, I just want to turn to the statement that the military issued, the statement which defended its decision for handcuffing Lieutenant Dan Choi and ejecting him from Fort Meade, where Bradley Manning’s pretrial hearing was taking place. The statement said, quote, "Mr. Choi violated the terms of the hearing by being disruptive, and calling out ranks and names of individuals in uniform supporting the procedures. The security detail directed him to refrain from such conduct. When he continued his disruptive behavior, he was asked to leave, which he refused. During the process of escorting him from the facility, Mr. Choi was combative, which required the security personnel to restrain him for his own safety, and the safety of the escorts. Mr. Choi was escorted off the installation and advised he could not return to Fort Meade for the rest of the day." Dan, can you...

LT. DAN CHOI: We’ve heard some of that same language before used on Bradley Manning, that for his own safety, we have to strip him naked for months and have him sleep in the cold without any covering, while being watched and humiliated. We’ve heard the same arguments used and recycled again. And looking at the military now, the way that they treat me—I’ve been through a lot in the military, being discharged under "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and the oppression of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." But I’ll tell you, sitting in that trial over all this entire ordeal this weekend, America has not seen a lower moment.

And when you talk about the reason why there’s a trial, to begin with, whether the American people have a right to the truth, you see the public affairs state-run media organization telling the American people absolute misleading half-truths about what happened. I wasn’t in the hearing. I wasn’t heckling anybody. I’ve never heckled anybody. I’m a public speaker. I find it very difficult when people do heckle. But I have been adding to the decorum of the trial, and I don’t see why they did that to me. So they’re finding ways to spin, spin, spin, and that’s exactly what this show trial is all about.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about why, Lieutenant Dan Choi, you’ve chosen to stand up for Bradley Manning? When did his case come to your attention?

LT. DAN CHOI: Well, Bradley Manning and I actually served in the same unit, the 10th Mountain Division. This is my combat patch. And we’re not at the same time in the same unit, but I deployed with some of his same supervisors. So, to sit there in trial and to see Master Sergeant Adkins essentially plead the Fifth and see some of the other commanders worried more about their rank and status and privilege and what happens to their pension after they get discharge or a demotion, you sit there in disgust, because you realize that the oath that Bradley Manning, Master Sergeant Adkins and everybody up and down the chain of command, including President Barack Obama, took, did not say that "I promise to gain a certain rank or a certain stature." They said, "I promise to defend the Constitution." And when you see our Constitution under attack—and to quote Barack Obama, "the rule of law," a nation of laws, under attack, habeas corpus and the right to a fair trial—what ever happened to "innocent before proven guilty"? Just because you’re in the military doesn’t mean that you give up what it means to be American. And so, when I stand for Bradley Manning, I don’t stand for him because we share the identity as gay Americans, but I support him because he’s a good soldier. We are trained in the Geneva and Hague Conventions, the rules of law, the law of land warfare, as well as the United States Code on war crimes. It is an ethical responsibility, and therefore a dereliction of duty, when you see a war crime, to stay silent.

One thing about the gay community—I know you brought this up to Ed, and we’ve been talking about this quite a bit with gay groups—I’m a little bit shocked and disappointed that a lot of the gay groups have not spoken up for Bradley Manning. One thing about the gay community, our community is the only community in the entire world that bases its membership, the price of admission, on integrity and telling the truth about ourselves, essentially declassifying something that people deserve to know, that’s important to our soul, our community, exactly who we are. And when we hide that, that’s what damages not only the safety, but the reputation and the security, of our entire society. So, when we think about that, the gay community, no race, no nationality and no religion stipulates that you must have integrity for membership. What Bradley Manning did, as a gay American, as a soldier, a good soldier—in fact, the only soldier in his entire chain of command who did the right thing, and suffers the consequences, unjustly—there’s no choice but for patriotic Americans to sit there and support Bradley Manning in the dignity and full honor of the uniform of service.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: What do you think the effect was, though, of the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy on Bradley Manning while he served in the military?

LT. DAN CHOI: Well, the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy, and the current ban on transgender servicemembers and transgender service, is absolutely oppressive at its core.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: There’s a ban, an outright ban?

LT. DAN CHOI: Yes. And so, that’s why—I know in the past interviews we’ve said "queers in the military," and that’s actually not true, because people with certain gender identities or gender expressions are not allowed in the military yet, "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" repealed based on sexual orientation only. So, "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" forced me, as well as 14,000 others, out of the military. And having to hide the truth of who you are upsets you and disrupts you at your core, because it goes against everything that you’ve learned. The very first day at West Point, we learned the Honor Code: "You will not lie. You will not tolerate liars." How simple is that? But for gay people, they said, "But you must lie. You must deceive. When people ask you about a girlfriend, you must say, ’I’m just a confirmed bachelor,’ or, you know, 'I have a girlfriend,' and pronoun switch." That lying, that enforced lying, goes against all of the codes and the conduct creeds that we learned in the military.

AMY GOODMAN: Now that "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" has been lifted, will you reapply to the military?

LT. DAN CHOI: You know, it gets harder and harder every time the—every time I go through this. And I have to admit that it’s been a roller coaster, and I’ve been asked many times—by you, you know, in some of the interviews we’ve had. And I don’t hate America. I think America is still worth protecting and fighting for. But I do feel that it is our responsibility as soldiers and as veterans to speak up against unjust wars. And I do believe that we need moral soldiers to join the military. And this is a message to all of the gay activists, the queer activists out there who disagree with the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." I think we do need people of all sexual orientations, if there was a just war, to protect our country. That’s what equality means. Equality doesn’t mean that we prevent, as a community, some of our members from joining certain professions. I was trained to protect our country, if need be. And there are such things as just wars. We just haven’t been on the right side of them recently.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: You don’t count Iraq as a just war then?

LT. DAN CHOI: No, I don’t. I think it was an illegal war, and I am ashamed of what happened. Furthermore, as we move forward as a country—you know, it’s very interesting that the Bradley Manning trial only started—the pretrial circus, show, theater, only started after the withdrawal of troops. It’s very interesting why he was held for a year and a half without charges—still, actually, without formal charges. And it makes me wonder where we’re going as a country to heal from the Iraq War and "Collateral Murder" and all of the videos that Bradley Manning did the righteous and moral and fulfilling his duty to prevent future war crimes. We realize that when we’re thinking—

AMY GOODMAN: If in fact he did what the military says he did.

LT. DAN CHOI: If in fact he did. But if he did, he is a hero, absolutely. And he deserves a medal, not incarceration. So I will tell you this. When we move forward as a country, talking about a just peace or a transcendent peace, we have to realize that without truth there cannot be justice. And without justice, there cannot be peace.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Lieutenant Dan Choi, Iraq combat veteran, supporter of Private Bradley Manning, also an openly gay servicemember who was discharged in 2010 under "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." Bradley Manning has been in prison for the last year and a half. He is undergoing a military pretrial hearing right now at Fort Meade, Maryland, where Lieutenant Dan Choi was just ejected from.

This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute to talk about war, just and unjust, to talk about what happened in Iraq. We’re going back to 2005 to the Haditha massacre, because documents now have come out, found in a Baghdad junkyard by the New York Times, of testimonies of soldiers involved in the murders of civilians in Haditha. Stay with us.

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