Anti-War E-Mail To Soldier Causes Backlash

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An e-mail exchange interpreted by backers of the military as an affront to U.S. troops in Iraq has brought a deluge of criticism to a local company after circulating across the Internet.

As of Monday night, the Web site for Bargain Suppliers, which sells various types of mats, had only a message saying it was experiencing "technical difficulties" and advising customers to contact the firm via telephone or e-mail.

The incident started when someone identifying himself as Sgt. Jason Hess of the Army's 1st Cavalry Division sent the firm an e-mail asking if it ships to military (APO) addresses, which many firms do not.

Someone sent a response saying no but adding, "even if we did, we would NEVER ship to Iraq. If you were sensible, you and your troops would pull out of Iraq."

Some friends of Hess apparently learned of the exchange, which last week began making its way via the Internet to various forums and blogs, and to talk radio.

Sajid Nasir, company vice president, said Wednesday that the employee responsible for the e-mail was being "held accountable."

But he said the flood of e-mails and voice messages about the exchange included nasty language and threats left at the West Allis home that co-owner Faisal Kehtani shares with his parents.

"It's really getting out of control," said Nasir, describing the messages as "angry and vulgar."

"Our main concern is for the safety of the family. That's more important than the business," he said.

When informed of the e-mail exchange, Sgt. Maj. Dennis Webster, executive director of the First Cavalry Association in Copperas Cove, Tex., said it was "disgraceful."

"He's certainly entitled to his opinion. That's what soldiers defend," Webster said. "But there's a matter of respect. A young soldier isn't making those decisions. He's following orders."

Anti-war and free speech advocates have contended those attacking the company weren't being responsible.

"This is a matter of free speech," said Julie Enslow, an organizer with Peace Action Wisconsin in Milwaukee. "It is totally irresponsible for radio stations and bloggers to attack a person for his personal political views."

West Allis police Capt. Kukowski said his department was aware of the controversy.

"We're monitoring the situation, in case somebody decides to retaliate," he said. "But we're hoping people use good judgment."

Hess, who told Fox News that he'd originally sought the mats so that he and his fellow soldiers could sleep more comfortably on the cold Iraqi ground, was not overly concerned about the passions enflamed by the e-mail exchange — he's reportedly found two mat suppliers who will ship to Iraq.
  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

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