The US army doubled its use of "moral waivers" for enlisted soldiers last year to cope with the demands of the Iraq war, allowing sex offenders, people convicted of making terrorist threats, and child abusers into the military, new records released yesterday showed.
The army gave out 511 moral waivers to soldiers with felony convictions last year. Criminals got 249 army waivers in 2006, a sign that the demand for US forces in Iraq has forced a sharp increase in the number of criminals allowed on the battlefield.
The felons accepted into the army and marines included 87 soldiers convicted of assault or maiming, 130 convicted of non-cannabis-related drug offences, seven convicted of making terrorist threats, and two convicted of indecent behaviour with a child. Waivers were also granted to 500 burglars and thieves, 19 arsonists and nine sex offenders.
The new data were released by the oversight committee of the House of Representatives. Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the oversight panel, said that while "providing opportunities to individuals who have served their sentences and rehabilitated themselves" is important, the waivers are a sign that the US military is stretched too thin.
The number of moral waivers in the military, mostly for misdemeanours such as speeding fines, reached 34,476 in 2006, or nearly 20% of all enlisted soldiers, according to the Palm Centre at the University of California. Recruits with felony convictions are more likely than other soldiers to drop out or be released from the military.
More than one felony conviction disqualifies recruits from the army or marines, but the navy and air force can admit those with multiple offences.
© 2008 The Guardian