Some of the more emotional reunions I have ever witnessed occurred at airports. Few can match the joy of wives (and, sometimes, husbands) and children as they welcome a service member returning safely from overseas.
This past Saturday, such a reunion took place at Baltimore Washington International Airport. But in this case, the highly decorated veteran wasn’t returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead, he had just been released from military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Lt. Col. Terry Lakin had been sentenced to six months in jail and dismissed from the Army because he had the temerity to question whether Barack Obama was Constitutionally qualified to serve as President of the United States and, thus, as his Commander in Chief.
But this is not just another “Birther” story. The issues Lakin raised, and the mockery of a trial he received, go much deeper than that. Bear with me while I tell you a little more about them.
First, you need to know that Lakin served his country honorably and well for more than 17 years. His numerous awards and decorations include: the Army Flight Surgeon Badge, Combat Medical Badge, the Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Achievement Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the National Defense Service Medal with Bronze Service Star, the Armed Forces Expedition Medal, the Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon sixth award and the NATO service medal.
Lakin previously served with distinction in Honduras, Bosnia, El Salvador, Korea and Afghanistan. His problems began two years ago, when he was first exposed to material that made him question whether Obama was Constitutionally eligible to serve as his Commander in Chief. Yes, Lakin got sucked into the whole “Birther” controversy.
For more than a year, Lakin asked — first through his chain of command (this was the Army, after all) and later through his congressional delegation — for proof that would satisfy his questions. Then, something happened that stiffened his resolve: He received orders in February 2010 to report for deployment in Afghanistan. And as part of his orders, he was told to provide a certified copy of his birth certificate to the responsible authorities.
Normally, Lakin would have had no problem complying with either the deployment (he had served with honor in Afghanistan once before) or with the request. He had provided a certified birth certificate when he was commissioned in the U.S. Army the first time, when he applied for a marriage license and when he received his first security clearance. This time, however, he had a concern.
Lakin asked his commanding officer why, if he was required to routinely provide such evidence, wasn’t his Commander in Chief?
As you might guess, Lakin never received a satisfactory answer. So he then did something he later admitted might not have been the smartest decision he ever made: He declined to go until he was shown the proof he had previously requested.
Uh-oh. That’s when the feathers hit the fan. (I suspect soldiers use a stronger term.) Asking a question about your Commander in Chief became disobedience of a lawful order. A court-martial would follow.
Lakin looked forward to his day in court. He hoped to present his case, tell a jury how he came to have such questions, call witnesses, ask for discovery, present evidence: all the things we Americans have come to expect as a normal part of the justice system.
But this wasn’t “the justice system;” it was the U.S. military. And as the saying goes, things are different there. A military judge ruled that the only issues before the court martial were “the facts of the matter.” That is: Did Lakin disobey a lawful order? He was not allowed to explain why he did so; he was not allowed to call any witnesses or present any evidence.
So no one, not even Lakin or his most ardent supporters, was surprised with the result: Guilty as charged. Lakin was sentenced to six months in Leavenworth (it could have been five years), a reduction in rank, the loss of pension and pay and dishonorable discharge. It is a heavy price to pay for what many will consider a legal dispute.
Then, just days before Lakin was due to be released from military prison — and after two years of stonewalling — Obama changed tactics. He asked officials in Hawaii for a copy of the long-form “Certificate of Live Birth” that would prove he was, in fact, a native-born American. So eager was he to get it that he had a staffer fly from Washington to Honolulu to pick it up. Express Mail wasn’t good enough.
In a statement afterward, a spokesman for the Lakin family said, “Had the Obama Administration agreed to allow the document unveiled today and other related documents as requested for discovery in Lakin’s first pretrial hearing, the matter would have been resolved and soldiers assured their military orders were lawful, given by a lawful Commander in Chief.”
The statement added, “A good soldier, having played his part in this issue, would have returned enthusiastically to the service for which he is so ably trained.”
Of course, none of that was allowed to happen.
As many of you know, I wrote extensively about the whole “Birther” issue last week, in a column called Obama’s Birth, Bin Laden’s Death. As expected, nearly 1,000 readers have added their 2 cents to the debate. In fact, many wrote so extensively and so passionately that I should probably say their $2 worth. The debate got hot and furious. And I don’t think it will calm down anytime soon.
But Donald Trump has declared he will not run for President next year. No other viable candidate seems interested in making Obama’s antecedents an issue. Time will tell if the old adage “ignore it and it will go away” will work again, as it has so many times in the past.
In the meantime, if you would like to thank one brave soldier for taking a principled stand — and who paid a pretty high price for doing so — go to www.terrylakinactionfund.com and send Lakin and his wife, Pili, a note of appreciation. You might even consider making a donation to help them pay the mountain of bills they face.
Lakin could probably make a bunch of money on the lecture circuit or writing a book about his ordeal. But until the military process is complete — and that could take years — he has been ordered to keep his mouth shut.
As I said, military justice isn’t what you’re used to seeing on Law and Order. I think it’s the right place to try any al-Qaida terrorists we capture. But I’m not sure it prevailed in this case. What do you think?
Until next time, keep some powder dry.