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Denied Re-enlistment for Speaking Out

2011 September 18

Army Reservist Gave Half His Life to the Military; Now
They’re Telling Him to Get Lost – And Keep Quiet About It

Albert Melise has spent half his life in the United States Army and Army Reserve. He was a soldier who followed orders and did his job. Eight years ago those orders took him to our prison at Guantánamo Bay. According to a series of interviews he gave to reporter Jason Leopold of Truthout.org, his job there included “chaining down” detainees for interrogation, as well as softening them up by turning down their cell temperatures and piping in excruciatingly loud music.
            Before long, reports Leopold in his August 25, 2011 article, Melise was “torn up about the job he was forced to perform at Camp Delta and began to drink heavily…to deal with his own pain and suffering: ‘When you see people broken down so much, you tend to drink a little to cope with what you’re seeing,’ Melise said during the interview. ‘I couldn’t deal with what they were putting me through.’”
            Later transferred to Guantánamo’s Camp Echo, he was in a position to treat the prisoners under his control more humanely. One of them was David Hicks, who later told Truthout “that Melise was one of the guards to whom he owed his life.”
            Now, as a result of his Truthout interviews, Melise has been barred from reenlisting in the Reserves, allegedly for revealing classified information, though the officers making the charge have declined to specify what that information is. In fact, the officer who initiated the bar, told Melise that it was for “speaking to the press.”
            Melise had planned to reenlist for at least a year, which would have made him eligible for a pension. A “counseling form” given to him stated that if he continued to speak to the media he could also be given a dishonorable discharge, which would mean that he would “lose all Army benefits which he had earned during nearly two decades of service, including the GI bill funding he depends on to pay for nursing school.” Under considerable psychological duress, he eventually signed discharge papers which he says were given to him already filled out and indicated that he was resigning for “personal reasons.”
            There’s much more to this disreputable story. Leopold’s article is worth reading in full, as much as anything for its articulation of one of the powerful reasons that so many former soldiers are unwilling or afraid to speak out about their experiences. Melise, to his great credit, says that he has no regrets about his decision to do so. “I told the truth and I was punished for it,” he told Leopold, “I gave half my life to a service that is now turning its back on me. I don’t feel I did anything wrong, and I stand by that.” In a country in which so many of us take few risks while so few take them for us, we need to find a way to stand by those who are willing to risk telling us the truth.

NOTE: I also strongly recommend Jason Leopold’s excellent earlier article about the David Hicks case, which includes additional information about Albert Melise’s experiences at Guantánamo.

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