CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) -- A military board has recommended dismissal for a Marine sergeant who criticized President Barack Obama on his Facebook page, including allegedly putting the president's face on a "Jackass" movie poster.
The Marine Corps administrative board said after a daylong hearing late Thursday at Camp Pendleton that Sgt. Gary Stein has committed misconduct and should be dismissed.
The board also recommended that Stein be given an other-than-honorable discharge. That would mean Stein would lose his benefits and would not be allowed on any military base.
The board's recommendations go to a general who will either accept or deny them. If the general disagrees with the board, the case could go to the secretary of the Navy.
Stein's lawyers argued that the 9-year Marine, whose service was to end in four months, was expressing his personal views and exercising his First Amendment rights.
"We're truly surprised and disappointed but it was an honor to fight for a hero like Sgt. Stein and every other Marine's right to speak freely," Stein's defense attorney Marine Capt. James Baehr said.
Stein addressed board members during Thursday's hearing, tell them he loved the Marine Corps and wanted to re-enlist, Baehr said.
Baehr expressed hope that the recommendation would be rejected by the general, saying the case will go forward. "The issues are too important for this to end today," he said.
During the hearing, the prosecutor, Capt. John Torresala, said Stein went as far as superimposing images of Obama's face on a poster for the movie "Jackass."
Torresala argued that Stein's behavior repeatedly violated Pentagon policy that limits the free speech rights of service members, and said he should be dismissed after ignoring warnings from his superiors about his postings.
The government submitted screen grabs of Stein's postings on one Facebook page he created called Armed Forces Tea Party, which the prosecutor said included the image of Obama on the "Jackass" movie poster. Stein also superimposed Obama's image on a poster for "The Incredibles" movie that he changed to "The Horribles," the prosecutor said.
Torresala also said anti-Obama comments by Stein that were posted on a Facebook page used by Marine meteorologists were prejudicial to good order and discipline, and could have influenced junior Marines.
The military has had a policy since the Civil War limiting the free speech of service members, including criticism of the commander in chief.
Pentagon directives say military personnel in uniform cannot sponsor a political club; participate in any TV or radio program or group discussion that advocates for or against a political party, candidate or cause; or speak at any event promoting a political movement.
Commissioned officers also may not use contemptuous words against senior officials.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a former Marine, wrote a letter to Stein's commanding officer stating the sergeant should not face dismissal for an opinion shared by a majority of Marines. Hunter said he was referring to Stein's statement that he would not obey unlawful orders. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., also expressed support for Stein.
Stein said his statement about Obama was part of an online debate about NATO allowing U.S. troops to be tried for the Quran burnings in Afghanistan.
In that context, he said, he was stating that he would not follow orders from the president if it involved detaining U.S. citizens, disarming them or doing anything else that he believes would violate their constitutional rights.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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