Any day now, Marc Hall -- a Fort Stewart soldier and Hip Hop artist -- will be whisked off to Iraq for a military Court Martial, out of reach of the public eye and his own civilian defense lawyers. His crime: writing an angry hip hop song about stop-loss.
President Obama has publicly pledged to phase out stop-loss, the practice of involuntarily extending soldiers' contracts. However, with two ongoing wars, the practice is still being used to fill the ranks, with 13,000 soldiers currently serving involuntary extensions of their contracts.
Hall, who had already served a tour in Iraq, learned this summer that he had been stop-lossed and would face redeployment. Self-described as the "first Hip Hop President of the World," Hall wrote a hip hop song in July condemning the military's policy of stop-loss and mailed it to the Pentagon. Meanwhile, he began expressing objections to his command about going on another deployment that would prolong his contract that had been set to expire later this month.
On December 12th, Hall was thrown in jail by his command, on the pretext that the song he had written is considered a threat, and he is facing charges under Article 134 of the UCMJ, which covers communication threats. "The charges are connected to song lyrics allegedly written by Spc. Hall that allege deadly threats against his chain of command and fellow Soldiers, specifically shooting them," reads a statement released the by the Fort Stewart Public Affairs Office. "I explained to [my first sergeant] that the hardcore rap song was a free expression of how people feel about the Army and its stop-loss policy. I explained that the song was neither a physical threat nor any threat whatsoever. I told him it was just hip-hop," explained Hall, in response to the charges.
Hall's song can be found here: http://www.couragetoresist.org/x/content/view/800/1/
"Marc has never been a violent person. He never meant any harm," said his mother, Brenda McElveen. "He was frustrated because he was supposed to get out and went to chain of command and said he could not stand another deployment at that time. They say he is communicating a threat in a song. That music is a way that a lot of young kids who are black express themselves these days."
Hall had been traumatized by his previous deployment, and his mother says he is unfit for another one. "Marc saw a lot over there that he did not anticipate seeing. I think it was a bit much for him. I think it took a toll on him mentally. When he came back, he wasn't himself. He wasn't like he usually was. He was so glad to be home, so glad that it was over with. But then they turned around and told him he had to go back. It's hard for all of us. It just does something to you."
Hall's supporters say that the song was just a pretext to arrest Hall for his objection to deployment and likely refusal. He was jailed five months after mailing the CD that is now being cited as proof of the threat he posed, and only after repeatedly objecting to his imminent deployment. "It was only after he expressed some reservations about being deployed that they even began prosecution. From what I know about it, they have really retaliated for his opposition to the war, as opposed to being anything that has to do with real fear that he was somehow going to go around killing these people," said David Gespass, a member of the National Lawyers Guild and founding member of the Military Law Task Force.
The Army's latest decision to deploy Hall to Kuwait in the next few days is an unusual twist in a case that has already attracted widespread criticism from GI rights lawyers. Once in Kuwait, Hall will be driven into Iraq to meet up with his is old unit to be placed in confinement and court martialed there Kevin Larson of Fort Stewart Public Affairs says that the trial will be held in the Middle East because that is where important witnesses are. "It makes sense from the standpoint of witnesses. Most of the witnesses are deployed," he says. Larson did not know how common it is to fly soldiers across the world for a court martial.
Yet, GI lawyers say that this move is a draconian attempt to prevent Hall from having a fair trial and to ensure that the process is punishment in itself, on top of the formal punishment he will be dealt through military court.
"They are sending him to Iraq just to punish him," says Jim Klimaski, an NLG lawyer who has been advising Marc Hall. "Not that they need to do that to conduct a court martial. They are trying to find any which way to inflict punishment on Marc."
The Kuwait court martial will make it near impossible for Hall to have a civilian lawyer present. Hall's supporters also say that it is highly unlikely that his current military lawyer will be available to deploy at a moment's notice. "He will get a new military lawyer who is probably very busy and won't have time to build a proper defense," says Klimaski. "They are trying to stack the deck. It is illegal to ship him to Iraq or Kuwait, but who is going to contest it? You would have to go to Iraq to contest it. They know that they are not going to have a civilian lawyer out there. They are just trying to punish him without due process."
"The Army has transferred Spc. Hall to another command, one stationed on the other side of the world in a combat zone, for the sole purposed of denying him a fair and public trial stateside," says Jeff Paterson, Project Director of Courage to Resist, a GI resistance support organization that has been active in supporting Hall. "Spc. Hall is facing politically charged accusations that could focus public attention to the issues of stop-loss, the limits of free speech and artistic expression, and objections to the Iraq War."
As President Obama calls for 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, bringing military presence to over 100,000 in that country, with over 124,000 troops still stationed in Iraq, Hall's supporters suggest that he is being used as an example to warn other troops against speaking out.
"They are doing this because the war is going to go on forever. They have to establish the ground rules and the control," says Klimaski. "Who wants to go back, time and again, to a war zone? You are going to have people in the military who start resisting against what they are being told to do."
"Hall already went to Iraq once. He said he was done. He wanted to go home."