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Marine should be discharged in Facebook case, recommends board

Sgt. Gary Stein, 26, is shown in this undated file photo.

April 6, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A Camp Pendleton Marine who publically criticized President Barack Obama could be one step closer to being kicked out of the military.

The Marine Corps administrative board has recommended 26-year-old Sgt. Gary Stein be given an other-than-honorable discharge because he committed misconduct. That would mean Stein would lose his benefits and would not be allowed on any military base.

Stein started a page called Armed Forces Tea Party on Facebook that encouraged service members to exercise their free speech rights. The Marine Corps decided to take action after a post in which Stein said he would not follow what he called unlawful orders from the president.

Stein said he was removed from his job at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego last month and given a desk job with no access to computers. He said his statement about Mr. Obama was part of an online debate about NATO allowing U.S. troops to be tried for the Quran burnings in Afghanistan.

In that context, he said, he was stating that he would not follow orders from the president if it involved detaining U.S. citizens, disarming them or doing anything else that he believes would violate their constitutional rights.

The military has had a policy since the Civil War limiting the free speech of service members, including criticism of the commander in chief. The policy states military personnel in uniform cannot sponsor a political club; participate in any TV or radio program or group discussion that advocates for or against a political party, candidate or cause; or speak at any event promoting a political movement.

Stein's defense attorneys argue that the 9-year Marine was expressing his personal views and exercising his First Amendment rights. They say the Pentagon policy is vague and military officials do not understand it.

But Marine Corps Capt. John Torresala told a military panel on Thursday that Stein acted irresponsibly and disregarded repeated warnings that his anti-administration postings violated Pentagon policy. Prosecutors say Stein sold "Nobama" stickers online and even shared images with Mr. Obama's face on a poster for the movie "Jackass."

A general will now decide whether to accept the board's recommendation. If the general disagrees with the board, the case could go to the secretary of the Navy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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