Air Force colonel suspended after bad-mouthing Bush in letter to California newspaper

KIM CURTIS, Associated Press Writer Tuesday, June 4, 2002

(06-04) 15:47 PDT SAN FRANCISCO (AP) --

An Air Force colonel has been suspended for writing a letter in which he called President Bush "a joke" and accused him of allowing the Sept. 11 attacks to happen because "his presidency was going nowhere."

The letter from Lt. Col. Steve Butler was published May 26 in The (Monterey County) Herald.

"He did nothing to warn the American people because he needed this war on terrorism," Butler wrote. "His daddy had Saddam and he needed Osama. His presidency was going nowhere. ... This guy is a joke."

Butler, who called Bush's alleged silence "sleazy and contemptible," had been vice chancellor for student affairs at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey. He was suspended May 29 pending an investigation, Air Force spokeswoman Valerie Burkes said Tuesday.

Butler entered active duty in 1979 and was a navigator during Desert Storm, Burkes said. His wife, Shelly, told The Herald that Butler plans to retire in a few weeks.

A woman who answered the phone at his home Tuesday hung up when an Associated Press reporter asked to speak with Butler, and he did not respond to an e-mail.

Military law prohibits "contemptuous words" against the president and other political leaders.

The prohibition dates to 1776, when soldiers were forbidden from using "traitorous or disrespectful words." The rules were updated several times, and "traitorous or disrespectful" was changed to "contemptuous." The president, vice president, Congress and state governors were specifically banned as targets of bad-mouthing.

In 1950, Congress enacted the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the prohibition survived intact as Article 88, but only commissioned officers were subject to penalties.

The maximum punishment under Article 88 is dismissal, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for one year.

The only known Article 88 court-martial took place in the mid-1960s, according to the July 1999 edition of "The Army Lawyer."

In that case, a second lieutenant dressed in civilian clothing during off-duty hours left Fort Bliss to take part in a demonstration against the Vietnam War in nearby El Paso, Texas. He carried a sign that read "Let's Have More Than a Choice Between Petty Ignorant Fascists in 1968" and "End Johnson's Fascist Aggression in Vietnam."

During the Clinton administration, several military officers were disciplined for bad-mouthing the president, according to the article in "The Army Lawyer."

Among them was an Air Force general who was fined, reprimanded and forced into early retirement for referring to Clinton as "gay-loving," "womanizing," "draft-dodging" and "pot smoking."