Army caught up in reservist’s Obama conspiracy theory
By MEGAN MCCLOSKEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 30, 2009
Army Maj. Stefan Cook sought out a notorious lawyer in February, formally volunteered for an Afghan deployment in May and was granted orders to deploy in June.
But the Army reservist’s intention appeared not so much to fight for America as to fight against President Barack Obama, in furtherance of a bizarre conspiracy theory.
In July, Cook filed a lawsuit against the Army, the defense secretary and the president, claiming that Obama could not lawfully order him to go to war because he is not the legitimate president of the United States.
Cook is one of the so-called “Birthers,” a small group of activists who subscribe to a fringe conspiracy theory alleging that Obama was not born in the United States and therefore cannot legally serve as president. The conspiracy theory, proven false by numerous media investigations as well as officials in the state of Hawaii where Obama was born, first surfaced early in the presidential campaign, but in recent months it has continued to fester on the Internet.
For a moment, at least, Cook’s lawsuit managed to revive the rumor — or at least gain his lawyer, Orly Taitz, a few more minutes of screen time on the cable news networks.
Taitz, a Russian-born dentist who got her law degree online, is the public face of the Birthers. She has been trying to get the conspiracy theory heard in court since before the election. So far, all of the lawsuits brought by the Birthers have been summarily dismissed.
And in Cook’s case, the Army refused to be baited.
Soon after Cook filed his lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of his deployment, the Army ruled that since he volunteered to go to Afghanistan, he was within his rights to change his mind. No lawsuit was needed.
In fact, said Lt. Col. Maria Quon, a spokeswoman for Army Human Resources Command, “he just had to call or e-mail.”
On July 14, the commanding general of Special Operations Command Central formally revoked Cook’s orders. Two days later, a Georgia court dismissed the case.
Lt. Col. Holly Silkman, a spokeswoman for SOCCENT, said the Army couldn’t let Cook’s critical engineer billet be hijacked by further legal wrangling. Cook was scheduled to deploy on July 15, and his position cannot sit empty.
The officer Cook was supposed to replace “is going to have to remain in Afghanistan a while longer,” Silkman said, noting the Army is seeking a replacement. “No one has been identified yet, but it is a priority fill, so we’re working on it and expect to fill it soon. Engineers are in high demand.”
Taitz, unfazed by the facts, claimed victory.
The military has shown its cards “and they have nothing to play with,” Taitz said. “By revoking the orders, it’s clear to anybody. Think reasonably: Why would the military undermine itself by revoking its orders?”
Her conclusion: The Army let Cook out of his orders because officials couldn’t prove in court that Obama was born in the United States and is therefore the legitimate commander in chief.
“That’s ridiculous,” CENTCOM spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Bill Speaks said, calling Cook’s claims “a bizarre conspiracy theory.”
“Suffice to say [that revoking the orders] is certainly not an acknowledgement or validation in any way of his claims,” Speaks said.
Taitz, who in a phone interview compared Obama to Hitler, often strayed from the merits of Cook’s case into broader political rants.
“I have one question: Why would any member of the U.S. military risk his life or take any orders . . . from someone who is refusing to prove he is the legitimate president?” Taitz said. “We can’t stand for the arrogant, obnoxious behavior of Obama. He wants to defraud the whole nation.”
Stripes requested an interview with Cook, but Taitz did not make him available before deadline.
Cook’s legal ploy drew condemnation from Brandon Friedman, vice chairman of VoteVets.org, a political action committee seeking to elect veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to public office.
“That’s not leadership. That’s not the way Maj. Cook was trained and brought up in the Army,” Friedman said. “You don’t leave a unit like that, and you certainly don’t do it because you’re trying to make a political statement.”