Sentencing expected Thursday for 'birther' Army doctor

Doctor who supports 'birther' movement was found guilty of failing to deploy to Afghanistan

December 15, 2010|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

An Army physician who was convicted of refusing to go to Afghanistan because he questioned whether Barack Obama was eligible to be president said Wednesday that he was wrong to disobey orders and would be willing to deploy to a war zone "tomorrow."

Lt. Col. Terrence Lakin, of Greeley, Colo., who has become a hero of the "birther" movement, now faces the possibility of up to 3 1/2 years in a military jail and dismissal from the Army after being found guilty Wednesday. If dismissed, he would forfeit his annual salary of nearly $90,000 and a pension.

An eight-person military panel at Ft. George G. Meade is expected to begin deliberating Lakin's punishment Thursday.

Speaking on his own behalf during sentencing proceedings, Lakin said of his questions about Obama's birth, "I understand they cannot be answered by the Army."

Lakin's stance, first made public when he refused to report to Ft. Campbell, Ky., in April, has made him a hero to the "birther" movement. Supporters say Obama, the first black president, was not born in Honolulu in August 1961, and so fails to meet the constitutional requirement that the president be a "natural born citizen."

While such conspiracy theories have largely been squelched, Lakin's refusal of a deployment earlier this year generated fresh attention for the cause.

In contrast to the somber and quiet atmosphere in the bland courtroom, more than a dozen of his supporters applauded an airing of Lakin's video and remarks made in court that bolstered their position. They were repeatedly ordered to quiet down by the judge, Col. Denise R. Lind.

Birthers from across the country gathered for the court martial hearing, including a North Dakota hydrologist and a doctor from South Dakota, according to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.

While the Obama campaign released his Hawaii birth certificate during the 2008 campaign and news organizations reported on its authenticity, a small segment of conservatives continues to insist that the president is not a U.S. native. Orioles slugger Luke Scott renewed the controversy earlier this month by declaring that Obama "was not born here" and has "dodged" questions about his birth.

Lakin said he understands now that refusing to meet with a superior officer twice when he was ordered to do so was in no way connected with his beliefs about Obama and said he would deploy "tomorrow" because "that's my duty." He also said that the Army was the wrong place to force the issue.

Lakin's statements Wednesday contrast with videos posted on YouTube and to his website, where Lakin said he had "no choice" but to disobey orders and would deploy only if Obama's original birth certificate were released and proved authentic.

More than 50 people filled the military courtroom at Fort Meade in Jessup, including family members, supporters, and media, when Lakin was being questioned by his attorney.

"I want to continue to serve in the military. I think I have done a lot of training and I have a lot of unique skills that the Army can use on the battlefield," he said. His training includes family practice, acupuncture, osteopathic skills, and occupational and environmental medicine.

"I was wrong in trying to push this issue with the military," Lakin said. He said he received bad and conflicting advice on what to do.

He was found guilty earlier in the day of purposely missing a flight out of Baltimore- Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport for his deployment on April 12. On Tuesday, when his court martial began, Lakin pleaded guilty to a three-count charge of disobeying an order to meet with a superior and disobeying an order to report to Fort Campbell.

During closing arguments, Lakin's civilian attorney, Neal Puckett, said Lakin did not have a strategy when he missed his flight. "He chose the last possible moment to make up his mind," Puckett said.

Despite his remarks that he should have followed orders, his supporters said he was correct to raise the question of Obama's birth certificate.

"I think the system has crushed an honorable man. All institutions of our government have failed us. They crushed him. That man in the Oval Office is the Usurper in Chief," said Charles F. Kerchner Jr., who said he would be returning to the proceedings tomorrow. Kerchner said he is a retired naval commander from Emmaus, Pa., and that his lawsuit on the question of Obama's birth certificate recently was turned down for appeal by the Supreme Court.

Lakin's parents and two brothers have also attended the proceedings. His father said Wednesday morning that he did not agree with his son's position but respected his principles.

If dismissed from the Army after serving more than 17 years, Lakin would forfeit not only his annual salary of about $90,000 a year, but an annual pension estimated to be at least half that. He also was close to be being promoted to full colonel.

A Fort Meade spokeswoman said the Maryland base was chosen as the trial site for logistical reasons, not because of any connection to Lakin.

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