Michael New, the 22-year-old Army medic who faces a bad conduct discharge for refusing to wear the United Nations uniform, may well lose his fight to clear his record. He was court-martialed and convicted in January, and it seems unlikely the Army court will reverse that decision. At issue is his refusal to wear the powder-blue U.N. beret and patch, as ordered. Other soldiers before him have been out of uniform, and the Armed Forces have prosecuted some of them. But only now has a young Texan been found out of uniform because he was wearing the American uniform.
Even the Army’s own lawyers have conceded, in a stipulation of fact dated January 9, 1996, that “The United Nations insignia and accouterments. . . has [sic] not been approved . . . as required and mandated under the provisions of . . . Army Regulation 670-1, ‘Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia.'” The Army’s argument is that a direct order from a superior officer, whose ultimate authority comes from Bill Clinton’s presidential order, supersedes these regulations.
Michael New’s fellow enlistees in 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division are now in Macedonia carrying U.N. identity cards (they are permitted to carry their American identification, but are only required to carry the U.N. card). Even more importantly, while Army spokesman Mike Doubleday told a Washington Post reporter that “The U.N. has operational control, but never command” of these American forces, the U.N. commander sees it differently. Brigadier General Juha Engstom (a Finn) told the Army newspaper the Marneland Crusader in November that, “This is a very unique and historic opportunity. Before Macedonia, a non-American or non-NATO officer has never before had command of an American battalion abroad, so this is really a challenging job and I like it very much.”
It is that issue of command—for which the uniform is symbolic—that has interested and angered so many Americans. According to New’s pro bono lead attorney, former Marine Colonel Ron Ray, he and New’s father have been invited to discuss the case on hundreds of radio talk shows. (Ray has counseled Michael New himself not to talk to the press, while New is still enlisted.) Ray says he has received 14,000 letters, all but a handful in support of New, and that the Michael New Defense Fund had raised $150,000 as of March.
In the Capitol, New has some strong support in the House, especially from Representatives Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland, Tom DeLay of Texas, and James Traficant of Ohio. And according to Ray, Representative Robert Dornan of California will hold hearings this spring. New has had less luck in the Senate. Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, New’s own senator and a man who has earned standing ovations for vowing that neither his sons nor any other American’s will fight under U.N. command, has yet to do anything to help him.
By refusing to wear the U.N. beret, Michael New has raised questions about the legality of donning a foreign uniform, the status of an American enlistee serving under foreign command, and the legitimacy of the war powers President Clinton has assumed. These are questions that Congress must finally answer—and if we are lucky, with something other than silence.