Thursday, February 12, 2004
TNR Online | Dubious Honor (print)|
George W. Bush has a stock response to questions surrounding his service in the Texas Air National Guard in the 1970s: "I did report," he has said. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have been honorably discharged."There you go. George W. Bush and John Allen Muhammad both served and were discharged honorably. Nothing to see here. Move along.
But that's not quite true.
Going missing from military service and then squeaking out with an honorable discharge has a rich history among politicians. Current U.S. Representative Bobby Rush, a Democrat from Illinois, served in the army through the mid-1960s, becoming progressively more involved with radical antiwar groups. In 1968, after Martin Luther King's assassination, he went AWOL from his unit to help found the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers. Weeks later, he was honorably discharged.
In the military, the status quo presumption is that all soldiers will receive an honorable discharge; if the government wants to change that, "it has to put together a case to overcome that presumption," according to Michael Noone, a professor of law at Catholic University and a retired Air Force judge advocate. Often, even with evidence of misconduct, the commanding officers don't want to bother with the lengthy hearings that securing a dishonorable discharge would require.
Perhaps more striking is how often serious questions of misconduct have been flat-out ignored. John Allen Muhammad, convicted last November for his participation in the D.C. sniper shootings, served in the Louisiana National Guard from 1978-1985, where he faced two summary courts-martial. In 1983, he was charged with striking an officer, stealing a tape measure, and going AWOL. Sentenced to seven days in the brig, he received an honorable discharge in 1985.