What do General Stanley McChrystal and Helen Thomas have in common?
Both were fired for exercising their right to free speech.
No doubt, McChrystal and his aides made a bone-headed blunder by ridiculing their Washington bosses to a reporter from Rolling Stone magazine, and Thomas' off-the cuff remarks about Israelis were offensive to many. But did these two deserve to be canned for expressing their opinion?
In the United States, we're fortunate to enjoy the right to free speech, no matter how unpopular or inappropriate that speech might be. Yet the country now appears headed down a slippery slope where speaking one's mind is a fireable offense.
In McChrystal's case, the original sin wasn't his disrespectful interview. It was President Obama's mistake for hiring him in the first place, along with Congress' rubber-stamp of approval - despite McChrystal's dubious ethical track record.
During the Bush presidency, McChrystal headed the Joint Special Operations Command. This secretive command was responsible for overseeing the notorious Camp Nama prison in Iraq. Camp Nama operated before anyone ever heard of Abu Ghraib - and the conditions there made Abu Ghraib look like a five star resort by comparison. True to its acronym, Nama was rumored to stand for "nasty ass military area." According to The Atlantic, at least two prisoners were tortured to death. Detainees were also administered electric shock by stun guns and were used for target practice in a popular game of jailer paintball.
McChrystal visited Camp Nama on several occasions while the prison was under his command. As head of Special Ops, McChrystal was complicit in the Camp Nama atrocities that happened under his watch, even if he wasn't physically present when the torture occurred.
While McChrystal's reputation remained unscathed by the little-known Camp Nama abuses, the Pat Tillman cover up was another matter. McChrystal signed off on a posthumous Silver Star medal (the 3rd highest decoration for valor) for Tillman, even though he knew Tillman's death was fratricide and not a result of enemy fire.
For months McChrystal misled Tillman's family and the country about the circumstances of Tillman's death. By definition, the Silver Star is given for valor under enemy fire, not dying from friendly fire, yet McChrystal still signed the authorization. A man so famously detail-oriented and controlled would never sign his name to an official document without reading every word. For him to claim in an investigation before Congress that he "didn't read the citation well enough" to recognize it omitted how Tillman died, represents dangerous incompetence at best and a downright lie at worst.
Either of these controversial issues where McChrystal colored outside the lines should have given President Obama cause for pause before nominating him to be Commander of the US and NATO Joint Coalition Forces in Afghanistan. Congress, too, is complicit in this error by failing to do its due diligence prior to voting unanimously to approve his confirmation.
McChrystal should have been fired long ago for issues of honesty and transparency, not for complaining about everyone but Santa Claus to a magazine reporter.
Let's make up our minds. On this day in which we celebrate our nation's independence, let's decide whether everyone deserves free speech - no matter how much we disagree with that speech - or if no one does.