Thursday, February 08, 2007

Is Iraq Becoming a Penal Colony for U.S. Felons?

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Now here's a novel way to solve the crime problem: recruit felons for the military and then send 'em to Iraq:

Would you give a gun to a guy who admitted to dousing another man's car with gasoline and setting it on fire? That's what the military did in the case of Army Reservist Bob Gidding.

Gidding is a convicted felon who pleaded guilty to a charge of felony arson. He was sentenced to five months in prison and three years probation. He was also barred from owning or possessing a handgun.

But the judge allowed Gidding to ship out for active duty before serving his prison sentence. He wound up serving in Iraq. The Army Reserve went along with it, even though Gidding had told his commanding officer he had been convicted of a felony after joining the reserve.

"They should have arrested him, packed his bags, and sent him back," retired General Paul Monroe told me. Instead, they shipped him out for a second tour of duty and promoted him to military police officer, a job that required him to carry a loaded rifle. And today, Gidding is still an Army Reservist waiting for his next deployment.

As we looked more deeply into this case, we discovered that the U.S. military knowingly allows people convicted of felonies and other crimes to serve. In fact, the Army says soldiers who commit a felony after they've enlisted can continue to serve if a military adjudicator lets them stay.

Pentagon consultant Eli Flyer told us that Army records show it enlisted close to 1,000 people with felony records last year alone. Flyer said the last time the Pentagon matched its personnel records with federal criminal records was 1995. Looking at those records he found that one enlistee with repeated criminal convictions was given clearance for top secret information and another was cleared to serve on a nuclear missile team. Their clearance wasn't revoked until years later.

Waaay cool.

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