A Legal Blog for the rest of us!

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Today, ABCNEWS.com ran a story regarding the warning memorandum issued to Chaplain James Yee, which I told you about here. The story reads:

The letter, received on April 6, informed Yee that as a soldier he is ordered — with threat of punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice — to refrain from any speech violating what sound like fairly vague and malleable criteria.

"Speech that undermines the effectiveness of loyalty, discipline, or unit morale is not constitutionally protected," Whitaker wrote. "Such speech includes, but is not limited to, disrespectful acts or language, however expressed, toward military authorities or other officials."

(Read the letter sent to Yee.)

Yee is also barred from any "(a)dverse criticism" of the Department of Defense "or Army policy that is disloyal or disruptive to good order and discipline."

Yee's attorney, Eugene Fidell, told ABCNEWS: "The punch line is, 'Pal — you're walking in a minefield and we're not going to tell you where the mines are, proceed at your own risk.' "

Fidell says the letter defines prohibited speech so broadly, Yee is effectively barred from saying anything about his ordeal since "adverse criticism" of the "Army policy" that resulted in his detention would certainly qualify in the list of forbidden topics.

Well, maybe... but, the Army isn't treating him any different than any other soldier either. The memo, after every item, cites the source of the warning. The particular orders in the memo correspond almost verbatim to the cited regulation. Chaplain Yee is simply being warned of the restrictions on speech that apply to any soldier. Mr. Fidell's statement that his client doesn't know "where the mines are" is simply not true. Chaplain Yee spent 4 years at West Point. He knows exactly when to keep his mouth shut and when it's OK to open it. Besides, he has the Johnnie Cochrane of the military world to talk for him. Click here to see the memo for yourself.