When Army Specialist Marc Hall found out he was going to be redeployed to Iraq under the “stop loss” program, he put his feelings to song. “Stop Lossed” soon found its way to the Pentagon, and Hall wound up in jail awaiting a court martial – for rapping.
Hall, aka hip-hop artist Marc Watercus, enlisted in the Army in 2006 and served in Baghdad with the 3rd Infantry Division from October 2007 to December 2008. He was stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga., in July 2009, when he learned his unit would return to Iraq. So he poured his frustration into a profanity-laced rap. “It’s how I get my frustrations out,” he says, “instead of acting on them.” A CD of his song made its way to Col. Thomas Beane, Chief of the Army’s Enlisted System Division, who in September 2009, sent it to Hall’s commanders at Fort Stewart.
“My First Sergeant called me into his office to discuss [the CD],” Hall wrote in a letter to supporters. “I explained that the rap was a freedom of expression thing. And that it was not a physical threat, nor any kind of threat whatsoever. I explained that it was just hip hop. He told me that he kind of liked the song.”
On Dec. 12, 2009, Hall, 34, was arrested and charged with 11 counts of communicating threats under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a catch-all provision covering actions “to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces.”
Though Hall had a clean, even exemplary record, he had made no secret of his unhappiness with being stop-lossed and, as a soldier on base, he was in a position to carry out the threats in his song. Still, more than four months had elapsed since Hall’s song had reached the Pentagon, and it was probably no coincidence that, only days before his arrest, he had filed a grievance about his inadequate medical treatment. In March, the Army shipped Hall to jail in Kuwait to await trial – far from his lawyers, friendly witnesses and supporters.
The case turned on the question of how to interpret the words of a song, but here the Army’s case seemed weak. As any student of postmodernism or common sense knows, words can function on more than one level and meaning varies with context.
Members of the military retain many of their First Amendment rights. They may not encourage violence or join any organization whose purpose is violence – excepting the military – but with some restrictions, they may say, write, publish and read what they want. Hall had written and produced his CD on his own time, out of uniform, and not as a representative of the Army. And if his lyrics (below) were violent and raw, so is much of the music soldiers listen to and so are the cadences they march to.
At Hall’s Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent to a grand jury proceeding, the Army’s witnesses tended to strengthen his case more than theirs. He was joking, said his battle buddies. No one took it seriously. It was no big deal. “Those who do understand hip hop didn’t take it as a threat,” Hall says, adding, “Those who don’t understand hip hop run the military.”
A court martial was set for some time in April. But Hall, who was spending his days filling up sandbags in a military jail in Kuwait, had had enough. He applied for a discharge in lieu of a court martial, pled guilty to one of the charges against him, as required, and on April 17, was released from the Army with an other-than-honorable discharge and loss of most of his benefits.
Now back in the United States, he plans to appeal to upgrade his discharge and to apply for treatment of a service-related disability. It seems only fair, he says. “I did my time. I just expressed myself.”
The Army maintains that this was never a First Amendment issue, and to some extent, Hall, his lawyers and supporters agree, charging that the Army meant to make an example of him.
“I think that [the military’s top brass] care only about people accomplishing the mission,” says David Gespass, president of the National Lawyers Guild and Hall’s civilian lawyer. So when Hall became increasingly distrustful of the mission and his role in it – he joined Iraq Veterans Against the War in September 2009 and filed for Conscientious Objection in January – the Army, according to Gespass, was “less and less concerned with his well-being and more and more concerned about what they could do to deal with him in a way that would ensure that others would not go down the same path.”
“Stop Lossed” by SPC Marc Hall
Now this is real days
When s – t hit the airwaves
Somebody gotta say
F – k you colonels, captains, E-7s and above Think you’re so much bigger than I am I’ve been too good of an American Stop-lossed, Stop movement, Got me chasing If I do drugs, I’ll get kicked out, But if my time is out I can’t get out So the good die young I heard it out your mouth So f – k the Army And everything you’re all about
Like Obama says “Somebody be held responsible”
But some of y’all gonna be held in the hospitals whenever possible To pursue my own journeys in life, through my own main obstacles Since I can’t pinpoint the culpable. They want me cause misery loves company I’m gonna round them all up Eventually, easily, walk right up peacefully And surprise them all Yes, yes ya’ll up against the wall Turn around, I gotta a motherf – king magazine with thirty rounds On a three round burst, ready to fire down Still against the wall I grab my M-4 Spray and watch all the bodies hit the floor I bet your never stop loss nobody no more In your next lifetime of course, no remorse Yeah You don’t stop till the Army is the only military branch That still got the stop loss in effect So the only thing I got to say Is prepare for the consequences When people want to get out, let them get out.
Listen to Hall rap here.
In this new book, longtime organizers and movement educators Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes examine the political lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, including the convergence of mass protest and mass formations of mutual aid. Let This Radicalize You answers the urgent question: What fuels and sustains activism and organizing when it feels like our worlds are collapsing?
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