Why Did Barack Obama Let Terry Lakin Go to Jail?

Former Lt. Col. Terry Lakin knows what despair feels like.  He felt it full-bore on a late December day in 2010.  Having been stripped of his rank, income, benefits, pension, and authority at court martial, this much-honored 17-year U.S. Army veteran was about to lose his freedom.

The good doctor had refused deployment to Afghanistan.  He had been there before in his role as flight surgeon and would have been happy to go again.  He had his bags packed and was ready to leave.  All he asked from his commander-in-chief before boarding the plane was a sign, a nod to the constitutional niceties, a show of his birth certificate.  It was not forthcoming.

Now, Lakin was on his way to Fort Leavenworth's Joint Regional Correctional Facility.  Of all his hardship deployments, Bosnia included, this would be the hardest.  After he bid a tearful farewell to his wife and three young children, his military minders chained his hands together and attached those chains to a band around his waist.  They chained his legs and attached those, too.  They then loaded him into a van and drove him to Reagan National.

There, Lakin endured his ultimate humiliation: a seemingly endless perp walk -- a shuffle really -- through a concourse filled with flags and patriotic bunting and the happy sight of returning soldiers.  None of the display had lost its appeal, but Lakin could not overlook the irony of his being chained and bound amidst it all.

The civilian psychologist who did intake assessments at Fort Leavenworth claimed to know why the soft-spoken doctor refused deployment, or at least he thought he did.  As he put it, Lakin did not believe Obama to have been born in the United States or to be constitutionally eligible to be president.

Lakin corrected him.  As he explained, he did not know where the president was born or whether the president was eligible.  The problem was that no one did.  As Lakin saw it, the oath that he took as an officer in the U.S. Army -- "I, Terrence Lee Lakin, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic" -- all but dictated that he seek the truth. 

After exhausting all military channels, Lakin took the one honorable step that he thought would force the president to respond, even if it meant a court martial.  The psychologist didn't get it.  He could not quite factor "honor" into a mental illness evaluation.

The White House, which was aware of Lakin's ordeal, could have spared him imprisonment had the president done in April 2010 what he did in April 2011.  Under pressure from Donald Trump, President Obama presented at least a facsimile of a birth certificate.  At the churlish little press conference surrounding the event, Obama mocked those who had questioned him.

"We're not going to be able to [address our problems] if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts," said the president.  "We're not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers."

Lakin watched this presentation on his cell block's communal TV with dismay.  After all he had sacrificed, the president considered him, if he considered him at all, as nothing more than a sideshow freak.  That burned.

What burned even more was his later realization that Obama himself had been feeding the story that he was foreign-born.  In May of this year, Lakin, like the rest of us, learned that Obama claimed a Kenyan birth in the bio distributed by his literary agent, Jane Dystel, in 1991.

From early on, no doubt, Barack Obama saw that it paid to be exotic.  Foreign birth gave him a romantic allure and allowed him to distance himself from the bitter clingers of the country he barely deigned to inhabit.

"I chose my friends carefully," Obama wrote in his memoir, Dreams from My Father: "The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets."  These were the people with whom he felt comfortable.

Of course, a Kenyan birth would preclude his becoming president, but in 1991, Obama was not thinking that far ahead.  He was likely thinking marketability.  In the years that followed, various news services would repeat the Kenyan birth claim, and Obama's stubborn refusal to show a birth certificate fed the Kenyan birth narrative that he himself had created. 

At his April 2011 press conference, Obama chided those who "just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts," but Lakin sensed even then there was no greater pretender than the president himself.  Long before his court-martial, he knew that Obama's origin's story, the one on which he built his 2008 candidacy, was a fiction.  There was no "improbable love," no idyllic multicultural family.  His parents never lived together.  They did not even live in the same state.

It was not until the release of David Maraniss' book, Barack Obama: The Story, in June 2012 that the media began to concede that the story Obama had been spinning all along was fabricated.  Buzzfeed's Ben Smith, an Obama supporter like Maraniss, "counted 38 instances in which the biographer convincingly disputes significant elements of Obama's own story of his life and his family history."  By then, of course, it was too late for Terry Lakin.  The media had paid little attention to his ordeal, and then only to belittle him.

Terry Lakin, now freed from prison and military obligations, has finally gotten his chance to set the record straight.  His memoir, Officer's Oath, on which I collaborated, is available for purchase. 

In this memoir, unlike Dreams, there are no composite characters, no fabrications, no deceptions.  I am hoping that the psychologist who assessed Terry will read it.  If he does, he will no longer ask why Lt. Col. Lakin did what he did, but rather why others who had sworn to defend the Constitution -- Congress included -- did not do the same. 

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