The dismissal for misconduct means Spc. Marc A. Hall will avoid criminal charges but lose all military benefits earned over at least four years of service, including an earlier tour in Iraq.
Lt. Col. Eric Bloom, an Army spokesman, said today that top brass decided to discharge Hall instead of taking him to trial in part because he admitted his guilt.
"He understood the threats he made to his fellow soldiers," Bloom said. "With the loss of his benefits, the time he's already done in jail and his reduction in rank, that's justice served."
Hall has been jailed since Dec. 11, two days before his brigade with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga., was scheduled to leave for Iraq. He was charged with the military offense of communicating a threat after telling his battalion commander that he might shoot or otherwise attack a fellow soldier, according to Army lawyers. He had served in Iraq in 2007-08.
But it was a CD recording of a rap song that Hall wrote and sent to the Army's personnel office in July of last year that gained notoriety for the case.
At that point, Army lawyers said, Hall knew his unit was scheduled to deploy - just two months before he was to finish his four-year enlistment contract. An unpopular Army policy known as "stop loss" requires that soldiers who are assigned to a unit at the time it deploys will be kept in the ranks for as long as the duration of the yearlong tour.
On the recording, Hall denounced the Army for the policy and rapped about opening fire with his military-issue M-4 rifle.
"I got a (expletive) magazine with 30 rounds, on a three-round burst, ready to fire down," Hall rapped. "Still against the wall, I grab my M-4, spray and watch all the bodies hit the floor. ... I bet you never stop-loss nobody no more, in your next lifetime of course. No remorse."
Hall's civilian attorney, David Gespass of Birmingham, Ala., said that although some of Hall's words may have seemed threatening to the Army, he's convinced the soldier never intended to harm anyone.
"The song was a way for him to sort of vent," Gespass said. "He was, I think, less and less happy about the idea even of having a weapon and using it."
Gespass said soldiers appearing as witnesses at Hall's Article 32 hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury, testified that "they thought he was a joker and they didn't take him seriously."
Although he felt Hall would likely have been acquitted by a court-martial, Gespass said he and Hall's military lawyer feared the soldier would have remained deployed in Iraq after his trial and decided the best thing for him was a discharge.
"We are really happy that he's coming home," Gespass said. "We think it's the best solution for all concerned."
Critics have called the case a free speech issue, saying Hall should not be punished for venting his anger about being sent back to Iraq right before he was supposed to get out of the Army. His lawyer also has denied that Hall is violent, calling the rap a "fantasy" instead of a threat.
Bloom said that Maj. Gen. Terry Wolff signed off Friday on a plea deal for Hall to admit guilt and be discharged from the Army instead of face trial in Baghdad, as military lawyers requested. Had he lost at trial, Hall could have spent up to 15 years in jail.
Still, the case was far from sealed: Army lawyers concede that Hall never took physical action against any troops. His threat came the month after Maj. Nidal Hassan allegedly killed 13 people in a shooting spree at Ft. Hood, Texas - a period when the Pentagon was taking extra precautions about potentially violent soldiers.