Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by John Bermingham, wasa posted to Courage to Resist, October 19, 2009
U.S. army deserter Rodney Watson has become the first fugitive from service in Iraq to enter church sanctuary in Canada. Monday morning, the 31-year-old told reporters he has been living in refuge at the First United Church in Vancouver since Sept. 18. "I don't believe it will be just for me to be deported," said Watson, flanked by church ministers and supporters. Watson lost his refugee claim on Sept. 11, and was expecting to be deported back to the U.S., where he faces jail for refusing to do a second tour of duty in Iraq.
Ric Matthews, minister with the First United Church, said Watson has an apartment at the church, and is fed on-site. Watson cannot leave the grounds of the church. Matthews said the church agreed to let Watson take refuge because it doesn't support the Iraq War, or the way the U.S. military treated Watson — who signed up to be a military cook, but was ordered to find explosives.
"We expect the authorities will continue to respect this place as a place of sanctuary," he said.
Sarah Bjorknas of the War Resisters Support Campaign Vancouver said three out of the five military deserters who have been deported from Canada since 2008 have been jailed.
A statement by Vancouver NDP MP Libby Davies said she'll continue to ask the Tory government to honour two non-binding votes in Parliament to allow army deserters to seek asylum in Canada.
"The government has chosen to ignore the will of the majority view of Canadians," said Bjorknas.
This interview was originally published on the Law is Cool blog, August 14, 2008
Rich Droste: My name is Richard Drew Droste, the second. I’m age 22. I’ve lived in Canada since March 7th Law is Cool: What brings you to Canada? Rich Droste: It’s a long, long. long journey and a long and winding and road that led me to Canada. I joined the army at the age of 17 for many reasons — mostly to escape the lifestyle I was living, the promise of education, the pursuit of something more grand than what I was living. I was homeless at the time, living in my car for the previous two years, still trying to get my own education and just maintain a working lifestyle. They provided me with so many benefits of what I now know is half-truths obviously but didn’t at the time. And at the age of 17, I was able to make that one decision to give my life for the country that I barely knew anything about but you’re not old to make any other adult decision in the US at that age, right? So I joined as a combat engineer time at this time, believing that there was this huge terrorist threat on our nation, believing that America could not wrong type mentality, you know, I followed CNN and Fox ‘News’ pretty much for my whole life and, you know, if you don’t look for an outside source you’re not going to find it. And if you’re happy in your bubble why burst it, right? So the further I get into the military I become more educated with what’s really going on all across the world and not just in Iraq or just Afghanistan but also the human trafficking and prostitution rings around military institutions across the world. The fact that we’re standing up for human rights and freedom to me and seeing these things happen in Korea while I was stationed there was my first big question against the military and I basically got told to shut and try not to fix anything that your pay grade can’t handle, you know. They say they don’t support it if you ask them and they’ll be quoted saying they don’t support it but during the day there’s regulations and only US soldiers and citizens can go inside these clubs and these bars that contain all this human trafficking and prostitution. All of their money for those rings are coming from soldiers’ pockets. It shows that there may not be verbal support but there’s definitely financial support, right? And that was my first big problem. Around my second year in the military I became a Conscientious Objector the war in Iraq because of the illegalities, the unhumane activities that are happening there. The just unusual behavior — the way we treat men, the way we treat women. Law is Cool: What does it mean to be a Conscientious Objector for those of us who don’t know? Rich Droste: Within the military, there’s a system so if you want to be a non-combatant, this is supposed to be a legal thing. You can file this Conscientious Objector packet which states that you are against the dualities of the war that the efforts working for and then you can work as a noncombatant inside the US military such as a cook, a medic, an X-ray technician, whatever it may be, there’s numerous jobs and there supposed to supply you with that. Well around a year after I filled out that paperwork, it was mysteriously lost. And I was told this with a wink from the person I was asking. So it just goes to show they weren’t trying to put that much effort into helping me with this Conscientious Objector packet. Around my third year, six month, which meant I only had about six months left on my original contract, I found out I was getting stop-lossed and sent to Iraq. By this time I had already stated I was an objector and I would have no part in this war, if anything I would like to end this war — you know what I mean — I’m not going to fight in it. And they said you go to this war, you go jail, your only other option is to re-enlist , signing on a new contract, and get a non-combatant job, right? So those are my options. I decide through friends and people that were looking out for me honestly that had no role over what happens to me they advised me to re-enlist for a different job and I did. I thought it was a smart thing to do. So I re-enlist to be a computer networker, well a systems operator analyst, it’s all computer networking, IP configuration, connecting servers, routers and such. Law is Cool: What was your reason for choosing that kind of a job? Rich Droste: It was — it was mostly just maintaining networks for the generals and superiors that are going over there anyway. Which I didn’t know when I signed up for the job. The reason I signed up for the job was because I thought it was a communication job. So I could communicate. Law is Cool: But you probably wouldn’t be in the front lines with something like that? Rich Droste: Absolutely. And by my understanding, I wouldn’t be participating in any combatant side of the military. Well my last week of training, I’m about to graduate this new course, and I find out that I’m going to 4th RTB which stands for Ranger Training Battalion. So not only am I training combatants, I’m training elite combatants to go fight in this war and I told them I wouldn’t have any part of it. So there I got to try to fill out another Conscientious Objector packet. It’s denied because I don’t meet the quote-unquote “criteria.” I ask them what the criteria is, they can’t give me an answer. Then I go to mental health and explain my reasoning behind all this. They try to put me on sleeping aids and anti-depressants saying I’ll get over it, I just need rest, and to lighten up. And I was told to “suck it up and drive on.” And that was their cure-all answer for that. And then I went to a chaplain which is a preacher, a priest, and he finds your religious denomination. At this time, I was still very much agnostic which is I believe in a higher power but I think there’s too much out there for the human mind to comprehend really. And I’m talking to him and he tried to explain to me that God justified this war and wouldn’t harm us or call us sinners for our wrong doings to the Iraqi people — civilian and terrorist alike because humans are humans, regardless of their decisions, right? And uh, so that’s what he tried to convince me. I talked to him numerous occasions and I couldn’t get anything out of him or any help. After I went up and down the chain of command and tried to get this non-combatant job and after so much so much dedication I actually went AWOL four days after my original ETS date — so I fulfilled my original contract and I came to Canada. Law is Cool: Now why Canada? Why not Mexico? Rich Droste: There we go, yeah. That’s a great question and that’s something I wish more potential resisters would know is when I was going through this I was looking for other instances where soldiers experienced similar grounds, same thing that happened to me, because I knew it was happening all across the military . So I looked up online. What better source, right? So I find there’s all these soldiers and there’s so many thousands living in the States and there was anywhere from 200 to 500 living in Canada. I found that there was about 50 that applied for refugee status in Canada. And the things that they were doing, the political aspects, the education . . . I didn’t come here to hide. I came here very well knowing that I could be deported and sentenced in the United States for my ‘wrong doing’ and that’s — I’m fine with that. I accept that. I came here to educate the people. I came here to open people’s views and even if they don’t understand it, even if they disagree, at least they’re not ignorant to the matter.
This article, by Ed Corrigan, was published in The Hamilton Spectator, October 16, 2009.
Members of Parliament Gerard Kennedy and Bill Siksay introduced a private member's bill last month in support of Iraq War resisters. Bill C-440 would make binding on our government very specific directions -- to immediately stop the deportation of Iraq War resisters and to allow them to apply for permanent resident status from within Canada.
Since then, conservative pundits have likened veterans of the Iraq War who have refused to participate in atrocities on Iraqi civilians, and conscientious objectors who cannot morally let themselves kill another human being, to anti-abortion extremists who shoot doctors. Some have even suggested the bill should be contorted to include sanctuary for the criminally indicted U.S. financiers that caused the current recession.
For any rational Canadian, these comparisons are ludicrous at best. Along with Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's spokesperson's hyperbole about "rapists and murderers," they are part of a campaign by the Harper minority to distract from, distort and deny the reality that Bill C-440 responds to a demand by the majority of Canadians in every part of the country, reflected in a similar motion that has already been debated and passed twice in Parliament.
Nonetheless, these criticisms have been levelled and they deserve a response.
The term "conscientious objector" doesn't refer to anyone who objects to anything for any random reason; conscientious objector specifically and only means a member or former member of the military holding certain sincerely held beliefs.
The bill only covers soldiers who refused to participate in wars not sanctioned by the United Nations. Iraq is such a war.
There are good reasons why the majority of Canadians, including Conservative voters, supports these U.S. soldiers who are opposing the Iraq War.
First, Iraq War resisters are refusing to kill, injure or generally do harm to others. Many of them have seen firsthand the U.S. military's treatment of all Iraqi civilians as the "enemy" -- a practice prohibited under international law -- as both morally and tactically bankrupt. When these soldiers have raised objections, their superiors have told them to shut up and just follow orders. Refusing to participate is the only effective method of objection under such conditions.
Second, Iraq War resisters are breaking no Canadian laws. Leaving the military service of another country is not an extraditable offence here nor should it be. Canada welcomed U.S. deserters during the Vietnam War, we're still a sovereign country and we can and should do it again.
Despite the Harper government's desire to model Canada after George W. Bush's America, it has no mandate or authority to turn Canada into an enforcement agent for the martial law of any other nation.
Third, the Harper government's deportation of these soldiers to jail in the United States is an endorsement of the Bush legacy and an attack on free speech. Iraq War resisters are not being punished for desertion, which 94 per cent of time results in an administrative discharge, but targeted for speaking out. Even with President Barack Obama in office, as many as 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq until 2011. Since president Bush left the White House, soldiers such as Cliff Cornell have received harsh sentences of 12 months or more for voicing their opposition to the war.
The Harper minority would not have to go to such lengths to defend its position if it was clear about its true motivation: support for Bush's invasion of Iraq. For hard line neo-conservatives such as Kenney and Prime Minister Stephen Harper who staunchly endorsed Bush and pushed our Parliament to send troops into combat in Iraq in 2003, the deportation and punishment of soldiers resisting participation in this war is a logical extension of the Bush doctrine.
Admitting this truth would mean ignoring consistent public opinion polling that confirms more than 80 per cent of Canadians stand by the decision not to go to war with Iraq (even 59 per cent of Americans agree with our decision). It would also require dismissing the 64 per cent of Canadians who think Iraq War resisters should be welcomed in Canada because the resisters have done the right thing.
After the massive human rights abuses in the Second World War and the Nazi persecution of the Jews, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg described the waging of aggressive war as "essentially an evil thing ... to initiate a war of aggression ... is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
The chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Tribunal and Associate United States Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson wrote: "No political or economic situation can justify" the crime of aggression.
"If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us."
Introduction of a bill that will change the law to let Iraq War resisters live here as the majority of Canadians desires is long overdue. For Harper, who admitted during the 2008 election that the Iraq War is "absolutely an error," permitting the resisters to stay would be a wise change of policy on this disastrous and unpopular war.
This paper, by Shaun Randol, was published in Nebula vol. 6, no. 1, March 2009
The conscientious objector “has never been eulogized by well-meaning persons, who understand neither the conscientious objector himself nor the national interest in a time of war, and he has, on the other hand, been roundly abused and reviled by a large part of our citizenry as a coward and a slacker. Apparently, there is no compromise ground: he is diabolically black to his critics while to his defenders his raiment is as the snows” (Kellog 1919: 1).
Ruminating over war is as ancient as the bloody craft itself. Philosophers through the ages, from Plato (1992) and Kant (1903) to James (1906) and Walzer (2004) have wrestled with the subject. Wondering how supposedly rational beings could partake in such madness, Erasmus queried, “how can I believe them to be otherwise than stark mad; who, with such a waste of treasure, with so ardent a zeal, with so great an effort, with so many arts, so much anxiety, and so much danger, ... purchase endless misery and mischief at a price so high?” (1521). Hindus examine the same moral quandary. In the opening chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, the protagonist Arjun faces on the battlefield:
In both the armies relatives,
Fathers-in-law, and companions...
Teachers, fathers, sons, grandfathers,
Maternal uncles, and grandsons,
And many other kinsmen, too.
Thus, in the middle of the battlefield, “Arjun cast away / His bow and arrows and sank down / His mind overcome with sorrow” (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 1).
Soldiers of today face the same dilemmas when deciding whether or not to engage in war. The United States military calls those who opt out of war making “conscientious objectors.” The Department of Defense defines conscientious objection simply as, “a firm, fixed, and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms, by reason of religious training and/or belief” (2007). This paper briefly reviews current conscientious objector (CO) rationality as related to the Iraq war, and seeks to give some historical context to the recent spate of CO applications. Many Iraq war COs are blazing a new path in this pacifist tradition by staking out juridical claims as justification for their positions as conscientious objectors.
Ideally, for state policy, war is a last resort. Yet neither states nor great scholars can determine the conscience of the individual when it comes to deciding to participate in the same enterprise. Committing oneself to a violent action is a very personal matter; it is a decision that rests ultimately in the conscience. “In conscientious objection,” opines author Norman Thomas, “...(is) a challenge to the basic ideas of men and their instinctive obediences on which the philosophy of the modern state and the practice of modern war are built” (1927: 3). Indeed, in some cases, participating in war ceases to be, or never is, an option. “Pacifism” and “conscientious objection” to violence are two distinct anti-war positions founded on very similar ideas. On the one hand, pacifism is “moral opposition to war” and encapsulates a broad range of positions, from absolute pacifism to selective or pragmatic grounds against a particular conflict (Borchert 2006). Pacifists often work towards achieving peace. Conscientious objection, as mentioned before, is simply an objection to participation in war. The manifold rationalities for choosing pacifism are often the same as those given for conscientious objection. Thus, a few themes emerge in pacifist and CO literature for the legitimization of these positions, including:
religious (faith denounces use of violence as a policy tool)
anti-war (against war in general)
political (against the ruling party’s politics)
socialist (international brotherhood mentality)
humanitarian (killing people is morally wrong)
individualist (for those who do not fit cleanly into another category)
absolute pacifism (Kantian, Gandhian, MLK - moral basis)
epistemological pacifism (impossible to know sufficiently to warrant killing humans)
pragmatic pacifism (traces empirical failure of war to accomplish anything)
nuclear pacifism (social and ecological considerations of modern warfare)
(Borchert 2006: 67-8; Wright and Dixon 2008; Thomas 1927)
In recent American conscientious objection movements, the justifications for objection often fit neatly into one of the above categories. Yet, in studying numerous CO cases in relation to the current conflict in Iraq, I have discerned a further category. Many of today’s Iraq war COs cite the illegality of the American invasion as their justification for seeking this status. Thus, a classification of “juridical” or “legal” must be amended to the above list. WWI and WWII – Some Perspective (in Brief)
Conscientious objectors were present in all of the U.S.’s 20th century major conflicts. For example, of the 2,810,296 enlisted soldiers in the United States military, 3,989 personnel filed as COs during World War I (Thomas 1927). A strain of international brotherhood, or the socialist category listed above, underpinned the philosophy of a large portion of these COs, more so than in any other American conflict. While the overwhelming majority of these COs were Christian pacifists (10-11), they often questioned the moral limits of state control over the individual; after all, for them, god as an authority takes precedence over the state. With the Christian faith raising the question of the limits of state authority, in the end, many COs decided that the state should exercise control over the common good, not the consciences of men (8-9). It was up to the individual to decide if he should fight or not.
To be sure, many WWI COs based their decisions on precepts of their faith. Maurice Hess, for example, professed his willingness to endure imprisonment, torture and death “rather than to participate in war and military service.” Hess, like many of his fellow COs, was willing to endure persecution as a true soldier of Christ, and not of the American government (Thomas 1927: 26). Yet perhaps just as often Christianity was invoked, so too was solidarity with the global, working class.
Carl Haessler exemplified much of the WWI CO population, invoking the language of international camaraderie when choosing not to fight. At his court martial, Haessler, a former Rhodes Scholar and philosophy professor, stated, “...America’s participation in the World War was unnecessary, of doubtful benefit (if any) to the country and to humanity, and accomplished largely, though not exclusively, through the pressure of the Allied and American commercial imperialists” (Thomas 1927: 24-5). Combining his religious and political convictions to justify his resistance to fighting, Roger Baldwin eloquently proclaimed, “I do not believe in the use of physical force as a method of achieving any end, however good.” He felt himself representative of a larger struggle “against the political state itself, against exploitation, militarism, imperialism, authority in all forms...” (27-8). At a time when socialist principles enjoyed a broad audience in the United States, those asked to fight for their country decried imperialist exercises in the name of solidarity with their working class, Christian comrades afield.
World War II saw the galvanization of the American spirit, mobilizing the entire country to fight a two-front war. Volunteerism amongst the “Greatest Generation” to fight the “Great War” was high, pressuring the decisions of conscientious objectors who may have otherwise opted out of fighting in any other conflict. While WWII saw its fair share of COs, the way many of them approached the issue differed than their brethren from the previous war. Rather than adopt a wholly, non-participatory stance, many opted for the title of “conscientious cooperator.” At the time, “it was an honor to serve god and country,” said WWII CO Desmond Doss (Benedict 2007). WWII COs were not “political objectors” because they felt the war was justified; yet, largely due to religious convictions, these soldiers could not bring themselves to personally kill another human.
Harry Truman presented the Congressional Medal of Honor to Desmond Doss, the only conscientious objector ever to receive the nation’s highest military honor. Invoking the Christian tenet of “thou shall not kill,” Doss, like many of his fellow COs, filed for conscientious “cooperator” status, deciding to serve as a medic rather than a soldier. “I was saving life... because I couldn’t imagine Jesus out there with a gun,” Doss recalled. Like many of his contemporaries, Doss told his superiors that in battle he would be right beside them helping the effort, and that he was “willing to go to the front line to save life, not take life” (Benedict 2007). In short, because the U.S.’ engagement WWII was seen as just, COs dropped the mantle of international solidarity and justified their stance on Christian faith. Vietnam
More often than any other American (or foreign) invasion/occupation, the debacle in Iraq is compared to the Vietnam War. The mainstream press has certainly jumped on this “Iraq as Vietnam” bandwagon. USA Today highlighted the comparison before the invasion (Moniz 2003). “Bush Accepts Iraq-Vietnam War Comparison,” ran one headline in The Guardian (Tran 2006), and writing for the Washington Post, Thomas Ricks drew similar comparisons (2006). Intellectuals got on board too: Ronald Bruce St. John, a widely published expert on Mid-East affairs, penned an article titled, “Sorry, Mr. President, but Iraq Looks a Lot like Vietnam,” for a think tank publication (2004). Whether there is a parallel to be drawn, in terms of military strategy, tactics, the anti-war movement, press coverage and propaganda, or any number of fronts, is a topic for another paper. What is of interest here is whether there are similarities to be teased out of the conscientious objector movement. For instance, are the rationales behind the filings for CO status similar between the Vietnam and Iraq conflicts?
The American military did its best to dehumanize the Vietnamese people. In the eyes of American soldiers, the “inhuman” Vietnamese were “gooks” or “slopes,” and everyone, even the children, innocent or not, were VC (Viet Cong) or VC-sympathizers. The military “concocted such phrases as ‘kill-ratios,’ ‘search and destroy,’ ‘free-fire zones,’ and ‘secure areas,’” in order to “mask the reality of their combat policy in Vietnam,” recalled Army CO Edward Sowders (Davis 2002). More than just a policy, this denigrating mindset underscored the very psychology of those running the war. “The Oriental does not put the same high price on life as does the Westerner,” pontificated General William Westmoreland. For the Oriental, “life is plentiful, life is cheap in the Orient...,” and in Oriental philosophy, “life is not important” (Davis 2002).
Issues of race and class dominated the discourse of resistance amongst conscientious objectors. Largely, those who fought in Vietnam were people of color and the white, working class poor. “Why do poor people have to go into the military for a college education, or for a job?” asked CO Michael Simmons (2008). Ironically, while the opposition to a supposed, imperialist endeavor in Vietnam sought to unite the working class in the U.S. with those around the world, there were divisions within the peace contingent at home. No “white” peace groups would help Simmons, for example, because, it was thought, his being black would “dilute” the “white, upper-middle class” driven CO action in the U.S. (2008). With race and class divisions apparent at home it was difficult to link the war-resister campaign to a larger, international movement.
A number of individuals, because of their celebrity stature, stood above the rest when they took the torch of war resistance. Martin Luther King, Jr. perhaps the most eloquent of this group, fought against the popular current of Vietnamese-dehumanization to reveal the war for what he saw it as: a war against the poor. Seeking “worldwide fellowship” Dr. King sought to close real and perceived racial and class divisions in his opposition to the war. In order to get on the “right side of the world revolution,” King corrected his own habit of not speaking against violence at home without speaking against violence abroad (April 30, 1967). Class conscious and a “preacher by calling,” Dr. King listed seven reasons he was against the war in Vietnam:
Poverty connection – the war took away from programs for the poor at home;
Only the poor are sent to fight;
Violence cannot be used to solve problems, at home and abroad;
America can be better;
Felt the burden of the Nobel Peace Prize;
Believed deeply in the peaceful ministry of Jesus Christ and his teachings;
International solidarity and brotherhood (April 4, 1967)
Disappointed in the militaristic and racist policies of his home country, King decried American policies that spend more on military than social programs. A country, he said, that behaves as such approaches nothing less than “spiritual death” (April 20, 1967).
A truer conscientious objector, in that he outright refused military service, was Muhammad Ali. Considering his chosen profession as a boxer, Ali was not exactly a pacifist. Much like Dr. King though, Ali viewed the war in Vietnam through the prisms of class and race. As fierce as he was in the boxing ring, Ali pulled no punches in voicing his opposition to participating in a war on the other side of the globe. “I couldn’t see myself taking part in nothing where I would help and aid in any way, shooting and killing these Asiatic, dark, black people, who haven’t called me ‘nigger,’ haven’t lynched me. They haven’t deprived me of freedom and equality. They haven’t assassinated my leaders,” he cried out (Jacobs 2002). How, he wondered, was he expected to free the people of South Vietnam while his own people were being abused at home in Kentucky? Indeed, Ali harbored resentment against “white power,” segregation, and inequality. “No nation, no people can be free when they have no land. And we are a whole nation of twenty-two million without a toothpick factory” he once professed (2002).
Ali, a converted Muslim, also cited religious principles for declining to join the United States military. Acknowledging his faith allowed Ali to obey the law of the land as long as it did not conflict with Muslim precepts; he once boldly affirmed the “draft is another thing that’s against my beliefs” (Jacobs 2002). Declining to join the army (after being drafted) Ali declared he would rather face death than denounce Islam or violate the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, a powerful leader in the Nation of Islam.
Despite their extraordinary positions as leaders in American life and culture, King and Ali represented the views of a large swath, if not the majority, of Vietnam War resisters, including conscientious objectors. Their objections were illustrated by combining religious doctrine and concerns over American, neo-imperialist ambitions in South East Asia. If these COs had to be compared to previous, American COs, their ideas would find intellectual and spiritual comfort with those opposed to fighting in WWI—not with those fighting in the Middle East today. Vietnam era conscientious objector Bill Evers illuminates the generational and intellectual gap between his compatriots and today’s war resisters: “I have had to learn that my experiences are ancient history to the students I see in the college classroom today,” he laments (Evers 2006: 6). By contrast, Iraq War COs, many of whom continue the tradition of citing religious beliefs as a condition for their position, have also carved out a new approach in this pacifist tradition. Iraq
Since March 2003, tens of thousands of American soldiers have gone AWOL (absent without leave), but not all have done so because they are anti-Iraq war. 25,000 soldiers have deserted their posts so far, and the number rises each year. To put this in perspective: “At the height of the Vietnam War in 1971, 33,000 military personnel ...had deserted” (Ehrenreich 2008; Wright and Dixon 2008: 139). The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports between 2002 and 2006, 425 conscientious objector applications had been processed (2007). Further, “of the 425 applications... 224 (53 percent) were approved; 188 (44 percent) were denied; and 13 (3 percent) were pending, withdrawn, closed, or no information was provided.”
Religious sensibilities often motivate the conscientious objectors of Iraq. Christian soldiers, like Mark Wilkerson, quote passages from the Bible in which Jesus intones the promise of peace or praises peacemakers, and they take to heart the dictum, “love thy neighbor” (2008: 175; Tonn 2004). And despite being denied his conscientious objector status, army medic Agustin Aguayo refused to deploy to Iraq. To do so, he argued, “would be taking part in organized killing and condoning war missions and operations, even though I object, on the basis of my religious training and belief, to participating in any war” (2008: 169). These are just two examples of how the Christian faith still plays a significant role in steering soldiers toward conscientious objection.
Conscientious objectors opposed to the Iraq invasion on religious grounds were not only Christian. Abdullah Webster, for one, affirmed, “My faith forbids me to participate in an unjust war.” A convert to Islam, Webster maintained his religion “prohibited him from participating in any aggressive war, or in any oppression or injustice to Muslims or non-Muslims” (2008: 153). Yet, Aidan Delgado’s religious objection to the war presents the most fascinating religious, CO case study. A student of Buddhism, Delgado sought to leave the army and the Iraq war based on Buddhist teachings. A man who, previous to his deployment would not consider killing animals or insects, let alone people (2007: 33), Delgado could not stand the constant “dehumanization of the enemy.” The regular bombardment of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment from the American military, including slurs such as “towelheads,” “ragheads,” “terrorists,” and “hajii” are reminiscent of the ugly bigotry of the Vietnam era’s epithets “Charlie” and “gook.” Delgado and other religiously-minded COs could not handle such negative disposition.
Delgado’s position was strengthened by his assignment to Abu Ghraib prison. For instance, on hearing that unarmed prisoners were shot and killed at Abu Ghraib (4 dead, 12 injured), he recorded in his diary: “I feel the last ounce of my attachment to [his unit] wither and disappear. I’m not one of these people. I’m not one of them anymore. What happened today was wrong: shortsighted and trigger happy at best, and downright vicious, at worst. From here on out, I don’t want any part of what we’re doing at Abu Ghraib” (Delgado 2007: 152-3). Like his fellow, religiously-focused COs, Delgado could not abandon his religious principles, despite strong feelings to stay with his brothers-in- arms. In a written report surely characteristic of the hundreds of others religious CO applications, Captain George T. Ferguson IV, wrote of Delgado:
He stated that it is not a preference but rather an imperative that he leaves because military service places him in a moral quandary. [Specialist] Delgado also believes it is rigorously important for him to make a public statement. He believes a religious sentiment is not something you can put off, he works everyday to support our organization that is not congruent with his beliefs (Delgado 2007: 130).
To be sure, a goodly number of Iraq war COs (Debartolo 2003; Jashinski 2008) also espouse humanitarian and pacifist reasons for voicing their opposition to America’s war efforts overseas. “I have come to the conclusion that there are no valid arguments for the destructive forces of war” stated army CO Kevin Benderman. Moreover, humanity “should evolve to a higher mindset” of conflict resolution because “war is the ultimate destruction and waste of humanity” (Benderman 2008: 150, 152). In the same vein, Marine CO Stephen Funk proclaims, “I refuse to kill. I object to war because I believe that it is impossible to achieve peace through violence.” Indeed, Funk confesses, “I would rather face the military’s punishment than act against my beliefs” (2008: 153). Still others, disturbed and appalled by the atrocities they witnessed or committed, turned away from war-making to embrace humanitarian ideals (Wright 2008: 181-2, 185-7). “I left the war in Iraq because the American Army made no distinction between [combatants and civilians]” remarked one (Key 2008: 180). Having seen the military from the inside, first hand, Sunny Raleigh of the Navy found war to be disheartening and morally objectionable” and determined that “...peace is the only method for solving any conflict” (2006: 4).Thus, for many, seeing the horrors of war up close is enough to provoke a change in sentiment.
Beyond the usual, religiously-slanted or humanitarian-based justifications for becoming a conscientious objector, the number of COs in the Iraq conflict legitimating their position on the basis of international law is surprising. For its uniqueness and the evolution in thought it represents, the juridical claim in contemporary American CO discourse is worthy of attention.
In just a cursory review of Iraq war conscientious objectors, an exceptional number appeal to international law to justify their stance: in my rudimentary research, I could not find a single case from previous conflicts in which a CO made the same claim. Beyond lacking “any high ground in the topography of morality,” Pablo Paredes sings a typical refrain: “I am convinced that the current war in Iraq is illegal” (Paredes 2008: 146). “If you were given an order to participate in an unlawful occupation that is resulting in the deaths of thousands of innocent people with no justifiable cause, would you be able to live with yourself if you carried out that order?” asked Army CO Brandon Hughey (Wright and Dixon 2008: 179-80). Ghanim Khalil, a believer in Sufism, expressed his dismay at American policy toward Iraq: “Just because you sign a contract doesn’t mean that you’ll go along with everything you’re told, especially if the orders are illegal under international law” (Khalil 2003). “Refusing and resisting this war was my moral duty, a moral duty that called me to take a principled action. I failed to fulfill my moral duty as a human being, and instead, I chose to fulfill my duty as a soldier,” stated CO Camilo Mejia. Afforded “moral clarity” while on leave from Iraq, Mejia realized “I was part of a war that I believed was immoral and criminal, a war of aggression, a war of imperial domination” (Mejia 2008: 142).
As of late March, 2008, there were a known 225 American military COs seeking refuge in Canada. Jeffry House, a lawyer representing many of them, explained why so many had fled to America’s northern neighbor: “They tend to say they aren’t opposed to all wars in principle—just to the one they were ordered to fight. ...a war of aggression” (Ehrenreich 2008). In defending these COs in Canadian courts, House’s argument:
...relied largely on his reading of international law. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees lays out a slender possibility for relief. Mere disagreement with the ‘political justification for a particular military action’ is not sufficient. The action must be ‘condemned by the international community as contrary to basic rules of conduct.’ Only in that case can punishment for desertion or draft evasion ‘be regarded as persecution.’ (Ehrenreich 2008).
House appears to be acting in accordance with a general trend. “Many international attorneys and military personnel see the war in Iraq as an illegal act of aggression, which is a war crime. This belief is at the heart of the actions of most of the resisters,” claim Wright and Dixon (2008: 139). While the Afghanistan engagement met criteria of just war under international law, Iraq, understood in the light of the Nuremberg Principles or the Geneva Conventions, “would be a war of aggression, a war crime” (xii). Thus, while those who join the military know they may be ordered to war by the country’s leadership, “when given an order to perform an illegal action, servicemen and women are duty bound to refuse” (138). Many are doing just this.
Other COs in Iraq focus on the legal issues surrounding more specific elements of, or tactics used in the broader war. Rick Clousing, an army interrogator, for example, was concerned about brutality of tactics, and the ambiguous legality of particular, interrogation actions (Wright and Dixon 2008: 170-3). “The mentality is to shoot anyone who gets close to you, and especially those who look like insurgents. I know that killing people just because they are of a different race is wrong no matter what the rules of engagement are. That is why I left” declares Marine Chris Magaoay (182). Indeed, the ambiguous nature surrounding official orders of who should or should not be shot was a factor contributing to the decision of many to opt for CO status (184-5). “I believed that if I returned to Iraq and followed military procedures and orders, that I would eventually kill innocent people. I believed it was my human right to choose not to do so, and my military duty to resist this war,” professes Army CO Darrell Anders (183).
Beyond the perceived unjustness of the Iraq invasion on the macro (a state making war on another without provocation) and micro (deciding between civilians and combatants) levels, soldiers are vitriolic in their indictment of American leadership. A lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Ehren Watada, for example, denounces “...elected officials [who] intentionally manipulated the evidence presented to Congress, the public, and the world to make the case for war” (2008: 164). Officers swear an oath to the Constitution, not to an individual, Watada reminded military veterans present at his 2006 lecture. Officers swear to fight “against all enemies, foreign and domestic, [but] what if elected leaders became the enemy? Whose orders do we follow? The answer is the conscience that lies in each solder, each American, and each human being. Our duty to the Constitution is an obligation, not a choice” he argues (Wright and Dixon 2008: 165). In sum, the citations of illegality for the Iraq war, be it in the broader realm or at the individual level of engagement, represent an interesting, emergent trend in the conscientious objector movement in the United State military.
Decidedly absent from the discourse amongst Iraq War COs, are sentiments of international brotherhood. The dearth of solidarity is one characteristic distinguishing today’s generation of COs from their Vietnam era predecessors. The other, the insistence of citing domestic or international law, is another, more illuminating contrast. The tendency to reference juridical reasons for the anti-war stance is not only unique amongst modern CO discourse; it marks an interesting evolution in the mindset of generations coming of age in a highly networked, globalized world.
One reason for the increase in juridical reasoning for conscientious objectors in the Iraq war may be that Generation X, Y, “Millennial” (or whatever the latest generation of youth is termed), is more open to and aware of the rest of the world than previous generations have been. In an era where news and images of other people is instantly accessible via television and the internet, awareness to the interconnectivity of the world paired with access to more knowledge from more sources may be contributing to a hesitancy to rush into war without international, legal (i.e. United Nations) support. While further inquiry is warranted, the COs of the Iraq war could very well be setting a precedent for future generations of American conscientious objectors.
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This paper, by Robin Long, was written while he was incarcerated at the Mirimar Brig and posted to the Blog Free Robin Long, 12 March, 2009.
N 2004, when military resister Jeremy Hinzman applied for refugee status in Canada, the Conservative government stepped in to his Refugee hearing and stated evidence challenging the legality of the War in Iraq can’t be used in his case. However, the U.N Handbook for Refugee’s and the Nuremburg Principles states: a soldier of an Army that is involved in an illegal war of aggression has a higher international duty to refuse service. Said soldier also has the right to seek refugee protection in any country that is signatory to the Geneva Convention. By refusing to allow him- and by precedent ALL other claimants the right to use that argument, they closed the door on that legal avenue for refugee protection.
THE US invasion of Iraq was clearly an illegal war of aggression. The US was not under attack, or the immanent threat of attack from the nation of Iraq, nor was the war approved by the UN Security Council. By taking the stance it did, the Canadian Government implicitly condoned the invasion & continuing occupation of Iraq. Is that what Canadians want? A majority of Americans want it to end and have come to realize it a mistake, at best. Canadians have long known it to be wrong. Why is the minority Conservative government still holding on to the idea, and still deporting war resisters? Why are they separating families and aiding in the imprisonment of morally strong men and women?
IN June 2007, Canada’s Parliament voted on a non- binding resolution to allow war resisters and their families permanent resident status. That vote passed, and in agreement with that vote, a poll of Canadian opinion showed overwhelming support for the resolution. In defiance of parliaments intent and the will of the people, the Conservative minority government, led by Prime Minister Steven Harper and Immigration Minister Diane Finley ignored the bill. The Government stated: All refugee claimants are given a fair chance to plead their case before the Refugee Board, and special treatment to these Iraq resisters were unfair to other claimants. Further, they stated that we are not legitimate claimants because we are from the US, and that the US has a fair and transparent justice system, and that we wouldn’t be singled out for being political.
ON JULY 14th, 2008, in my final attempt to stay in Canada, where my son and community is, Federal Judge Ann Mactavish stated that I didn’t prove I would be treated harshly by the US military for being a politically outspoken opponent to the War in Iraq and Bush Administration policy. She predicted my punishment would be minimal, 30 days in the brig, perhaps. She then cleared the way for my deportation/extradition. She noted only10% of these cases go to Court Martial.
A MONTH later, I was tried in a Court Martial presided over by a judge, a Colonel in the US Army, who has President Bush in her chain-of-command. (She was later appointed by Bush to oversee trials at Guantanamo Bay, no doubt because of her political credentials.
THE ONLY aggravating evidence the Prosecution presented was a 6 minute video of me stating, among other things, that I believed my President lied to me. A political statement. The fact that this was found admissible in court for the charge of Desertion is beyond me. There were no character witnesses brought against me. The ONLY factors the Prosecution wanted shown in determining my sentence was the fact I was political and exercising my freedom of speech in criticizing my Commander-in-Chief.
IT SEEMS like a conflict of interest to have a judge determine my fate when she has to ultimately answer to the President, while I was claiming that same President was a domestic enemy, who used any reason, and manufactured reasons, to invade and wreak havoc in Iraq.
THE JUDGE came back with 30 months- that’s two and a half years for not showing up for work that I believed to be morally objectionable, criminal, and its by far the harshest sentence given to a resister/deserter of the Iraq War.
I was saved from that by a plea bargain that got me 15 months. I STILL get a Dishonorable Discharge (DD). A DD will keep me from many fields of employment, from any Government position to the civilian world. It will make getting home loans all the harder. This is a FELONY CONVICTION- which will make it very hard, perhaps impossible to return to Canada to be with my young family. It is the worst grade of discharge there is.
PEOPLE THAT committed far worse crimes have been getting off with lighter sentences than me. 1st Infantry Division soldier Spec. Belmor Ramos was sentenced to only 7 months after being convicted of conspiracy to commit murder- 4 Iraqi men. I refused to participate in killings, he stood guard while others executed four unidentified Iraqi men, afterwards dumping their bodies in a Baghdad canal on ’07. During his court martial Ramos admitted his guilt, stating: “I wanted them dead. I had no legal justification to do this.” Where is the justice? The system is neither fair nor impartial. Can it really be transparent when you don’t know who is influencing the judge from up the chain of command? Do you see how the military justice system works? – Condone killings with light sentences, but God forbid someone should call President Bush a liar and a war monger. A persons words and political opinion must be far more damaging to the good order of the military if they are anti war and critical of the President, than a soldiers criminal actions in an occupied foreign nation…..
PEOPLE HAVE used the argument that I signed a contract, quite often. I’d like to quote from a letter one o the Founders of our United States wrote to General Washington concerning his thoughts on contracts in April, 1793: “When performance, for instance, becomes impossible, non performance is not immoral. So if performance becomes destructive to the Party, the law of self-preservation overrules the laws of obligations to others. For the reality of these principals I appeal to the true fountains of evidence: the head and heart of every rational honest man.”- Thomas Jefferson. For me to continue in my military contract would have been destructive to me as a person with my views, morals and ideals. Let alone the Iraqi’s, who have died in the hundreds of thousands ….
THE CONTRACT I signed was to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, from all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to obey the LAWFUL orders of the President and those officers over me. I did not sign to be a strong arm for corporate interests or oil. The so called Liberation of Iraq has turned into nothing more than a constant and protracted struggle by the people of Iraq, against forces, seen and unseen, that are trying to impose their will on them in a public war for private power and profit. True freedom is the ultimate expression and condition of a people to control their OWN destiny, not the manufactured variety being offered here. True democracy is not found at the point of a gun. It rises up from within the mass of the people.
IT WASN’T about WMD’s, or we would have found some. It wasn’t about “regime change” or we would have been in Darfur, or Indonesia, or a dozen other countries. It wasn’t about 9/11 because they were from Saudi Arabia. It dosn’t say anywhere in my contract that I would be going to foreign soil, half way around the world, to invade a country that was of no threat to the United States. To risk my life, not in defending the people or Constitution of the United States but creating more enemies for them by being in an occupying force. Iraq, however unhappy under our former ally/client Hussein, was never a real threat. The destabilized nation of Iraq has become a breeding ground and awesome recruiting tool for Al Queda. It has cost the American people an enormous price. Im not talking just te trillion dollar financial burden, but the human cost of the war. The deaths of so many of our brave youth, the missing limbs, the PTSD, the suicides. The invasion has made far more enemies for the United States and made the world a far more dangerous place.
THE ORDER to go to Iraq was not a lawful one. It violates our Constitution. Article IV states that ANY treaty the US is signatory to shall be the supreme law of the land. Last time I checked, the US is signatory to the Geneva Conventions. There are certain laws in that treaty for declaring war, last time I checked, “regime change” wasn’t one of them. A country must be under attack or immanent treat of attack. Neither was true in the case of Iraq. President Bush had no right to interpret the Constitution as he saw fit, on the grounds it was a new world after 9/11, and the 107th Congress had no right to pass HJ Res. 114, which “allowed” the President to invade Iraq. The Constitution was being ignored by the whole lot of them and they were derelict in their duty to uphold it.
THE STAND that the Conservative government of Canada has taken has separated a family, an act totally un-Canadian. I have a young son, a Canadian citizen, and a Canadian partner with MS, left to raise our son while I’m locked in a brig for refusing to participate in a war Canada , in 2003, under a different Government, wouldn’t send troops to. Back then, they saw the holes in Bush’s “intelligence”. By deporting me, and not giving me a chance to leave willingly, I have been barred from entering Canada for at least 10 years. My flesh and blood is there!
The Conservatives are destroying Canada’s tradition of being a refuge from militarism and an asylum from injustices that goes back to the times of slavery. Are they truly representing the people? Who are they working for, really?
THE DAYS of Bush have ended. This new Obama administration has a different view and a different policy. Its now time for Mr Harper to change his view. He should listen to Parliament and the solid majority of his citizens!
Please support the movement to allow War Resisters to stay in Canada and pardon the ones in the US. I ask anyone who reads this: please! Help me return to Canada to be with my partner and son. I want only to live in peace and be in his life.
STOP THE WAR. Peace, love, light.
Incarcerated Prisoner of the US Military
PO BOX 452136, San Diego, CA, 92145
This article, by Nathaniel Hoffman, was published in the Boise Weekly, August 12, 2009
Robin Long ran away twice in order to find himself.
The first time he ran--during his junior year at Timberline High School--Long wandered the United States for more than a year, hitching rides, working odd jobs and eating at soup kitchens.
The second time he ran, Long took a stand against the Iraq War, shirked U.S. Army orders, fled to Canada and became the first U.S. Iraq War resister deported back to the United States. He ended up in a military lockup in San Diego for a year.
In Canada, Long found a community of Iraq War resisters and a cause, according to his attorney, James Branum, who represents many Iraq War resisters.
"He really found his own voice there," Branum said. "He's a lot more confident and assertive and speaking out for what he believes in, more than he was before."
Long has argued that the U.S. war in Iraq is illegal under international law, that former President George W. Bush deceived the public and the military with false evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and that there was no connection between the Sept. 11 attacks and Iraq.
"When I joined the Army in 2003, I felt honored to be serving my country. I was behind the president. I thought it was an honorable venture to be in Iraq. I was convinced by the lies of the Bush administration just like Congress and a majority of Americans," Long wrote in a Nov. 6, 2008, letter to just-elected President Barack Obama. "But just because I joined the Army doesn't mean I abdicated my ability to evolve intellectually and morally. When I realized the war in Iraq was a mistake, I saw refusing to fight as my only option. My conscience was screaming at me not to participate."
Long was the first of at least five runaway soldiers who have been deported from Canada. A handful of high-profile cases are still in process in the Canadian immigration courts, and the Canadian Parliament has voted twice to grant Iraq War resisters sanctuary.
Upon his forced return to the United States, Long was arrested, court martialed, pled guilty to desertion with intent not to return, and received a relatively lengthy 15-month sentence in the naval brig at Miramar in San Diego. He was released last month after serving 12 months of his sentence.
Long's deportation from Canada and his involvement with anti-war groups has earned him some notoriety as a prominent Iraq War resister. In Canada, he is a poster child in the roiling debate over whether to offer sanctuary to U.S. military deserters.
"I guess you'd call me a celebrity because I stood up for what I believe in and I served 15 months," Long told BW during a recent visit to Boise.
Robin Long was never fond of rules. In 2001, sometime during his junior year in high school and soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, the 17-year-old dropped out. He left the strictness of his mother's house for the freedom of the road, hitching rides across America.
"I wouldn't call myself homeless because I chose to be that way," Long said, during a lengthy interview last month in Boise.
Long went to California and Florida and came back to Boise where he met a trucker at a truck stop. The trucker hired him on for a few months and convinced him to get a GED and attend a U.S. Department of Labor Job Corps training program in Bristol, Tenn.
Long entered Job Corps in January 2003, taking courses in welding. But soon after he enrolled, Army recruiters visited the Job Corps center and chatted him up, convincing him to sign onto the delayed entry program. Delayed entry is a form of enlistment that gave Long a year to finish his welding courses before starting basic training.
"You think these guys are cool," Long said. "Young kids don't think that a recruiter can ever lie to them."
Long was recruited just as plans to invade Iraq solidified. Recruiters fanned out across the United States, boosting military rolls, and venues like Job Corps proved fertile ground for recruitment.
In March 2003, the U.S. invasion began. On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush declared victory in the war.
In October 2003, though Long said he had expressed moral objections to the war in Iraq to his recruiter, a staff sergeant, Long enlisted in earnest.
This was a key moment in Long's story. Per Army protocol, he was briefly discharged from the delayed entry program and then reenlisted in the Army. He could have walked away at that point, but Long said the recruiter sweet-talked him into continuing with the Army, saying that he would not go to Iraq.
"I was prepared to fight for my country, but not in Iraq," Long said.
An eight-hour bus ride landed him at Fort Knox in Kentucky, home of the Army Armor Center and also of the Army's recruitment command.
Long said he had long been interested in the military and that he was eager to serve his country. But his initial experience in basic training soured him even more on the path he'd chosen. Long immediately felt that much of his training was aimed at dehumanizing the enemy. He was marched around the base to cadenced chants of "blood, red, blood," was lectured to about "the enemy" and was repeatedly told that he would be going to the desert to "kill rag heads."
"I never put two and two together that going to the military and killing people was the same thing," Long said.
In May 2006, after he had fled to Canada, Long spoke to BW, further explaining his growing objections to the war:
"Also, the people who were coming into my unit had just come from Iraq, and they were telling me horrific stories. A couple people had pictures of people that had [been] run over with tanks, and a lot of people were proud of what they were doing and a lot of people were grossed out by the total disrespect for human life ... And another thing was that my superiors were telling me, 'You're going to the desert to fight rag heads.' It wasn't like I was going to Iraq to liberate the people. It was like I was going to the desert to kill rag heads. They were trying to make people less human."
Long continued to wrestle with what he believed was the immorality of what he was being asked to do, while still following orders. His assignment was to train second lieutenants--"butter bars"--in how to command a tank. One day, one of the butter bars--who outranked him--hit him in the face with a snowball, and Long was encouraged to punch the guy in the face, which he did.
In training exercises, Long often played the part of Iraqi forces and even of the media. He felt that a "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality ruled the war games. During one of these war games, after a group of American troops "mowed down" a large gathering of "Iraqis," including two American service members who were among the group, the advice offered was to get closer before shooting so they don't kill Americans by accident. Long was also shot at in war games while playing a reporter.
"It's OK to just shoot the media when they get in your face," Long said.
By 2005, Long was sure he could not fight in Iraq. He heard about conscientious objector status for the first time, but when he asked about it, he was ignored and then discouraged. An Army chaplain asked if he was opposed to all wars, and Long said that if the United States was attacked and his family was in danger, he would not be opposed to fighting. But he also told the chaplain that he would not be "the strong arm for corporate interests." Or for oil.
He was advised that his personal stance against the Iraq War would not qualify for conscientious objector status. In April 2005, Long was given a high-priority notice to support the Second Brigade, Second Infantry Division, based at Fort Carson, Colo., in Iraq. He was to report to Fort Carson on May 2, his 21st birthday.
Long said he and his "battle buddy" at Fort Knox were the only two soldiers called up to Fort Carson. After the call up, Long had the same dream four nights in a row: An 8-year-old Iraqi boy, who reminded him of his brother, was running at Long with an AK-47. Long dropped his gun and was shot. He told his commanding officer about the dream and the officer was incredulous, Long recalled.
"A fuckin' dream ... you're telling me about a fuckin' dream," the officer told him.
Long was given PCS, or Permanent Change of Station, leave and came back to Boise for 10 days to get ready for his deployment.
The Army had made at least one positive change in Long's life. His service had helped reunite Long with his family. He hadn't spoken with his mother for about three years before she attended his graduation from basic training, and they remained in touch. Long stayed with his mother while in Boise, but inside, he was still not sure whether he would report to duty for Iraq."I didn't want to bring shame upon myself or my family," Long said. He considered going to Iraq and not shooting his gun.
His mother, who declined to be interviewed for this story, dropped him off at the Boise airport. He had a ticket to Colorado Springs. But instead of flying to Fort Carson, he called a friend and hid in his basement in an East Boise subdivision for a few months.
Long became a deserter. At one point during his hiding, U.S. marshals came to the door, but they were just there for his friend who had missed jury duty. A short time later, Long hitched a ride to Canada.
"If I go to Canada--that's what they did in the '70s--I won't have to stay here in hiding anymore," Long said.
According to media accounts, more than 25,000 U.S. soldiers have deserted military duty since the Iraq War began. Lt. Col. Nathan Banks, a Pentagon-based Army spokesman, said that less than 1 percent of the Army is AWOL, and that the numbers are not a problem for his branch.
"We are more focused on the global war on terror than the fact that we have individuals that choose not to serve at this current time," Banks said.
The Army does not have a program to apprehend deserters; most are picked up on other charges by local law enforcement and handed over to the military. Banks said that nine out of 10 deserters have financial problems or face failures as a soldier, rather than claim moral qualms with the war.
Some estimates put the number of war resisters who've fled to Canada at a few hundred. Fewer than 50 of these have applied for refugee status, according to Karen Shadd, a spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the nation's immigration agency.
Shadd said that immigration cases are private in Canada unless made public by the petitioner. Five Iraq War asylum cases, including Long's, have been heard in public and all of them rejected, with Canadian immigration officials arguing that none of the deserters were in need of Canada's protection.
Shadd said that the Canadian government has a fair asylum policy and does not want to make a special case for Iraq War resisters because it could be interpreted as unfair by asylum seekers from other countries.
Long's deportation and conviction, however, have factored in the cases of other Iraq War resisters in Canada. In at least one case, Long's 15-month sentence and dishonorable discharge was cited as evidence of politically motivated prosecutions in the United States, giving one Canadian judge pause.
The town of Nelson, B.C., is now known as Resisterville for the growing number of Iraq War resisters and the numerous Vietnam War alums and draft dodgers who live there. But Long did not know that when he arrived. He bummed around Canada for six months before hearing about the War Resisters Support Campaign, a group that provides financial support for U.S. military deserters in Canada and helps them with their legal options.
It was in Nelson that Long met a French Canadian woman named Renee Arthur. He returned with her to the town of Killaloe in Ontario for two winters. The couple had a son, who is now 3 years old.
In Canada, as he awaited a resolution to his amnesty application, Long discovered an environmental and peace activist community. He sat in a tree to protest the clearing of a cedar grove for a parking lot. He bought an '82 VW Vanagon and converted it to run on waste vegetable oil. And he started a small company called Food Not Lawns to convert people's lawns into vegetable gardens.
Renee Arthur has multiple sclerosis, and Long worked to provide her with healthy organic food, apprenticing on an organic farm. Long also began to speak out on the war. He was interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, calling the war in Iraq illegal and asserting that President Bush had lied about Iraq.
He wore dreadlocks and an anarchist-style black sweatshirt with a sew-on patch.
He lost his immigration case. Then he was caught.
In 2007, Long returned to Nelson to seek work. He picked fruit for a time, but in October, while in Nelson, Long was questioned by a Canadian police officer and detained on national immigration hold. Having lost his bid for amnesty, Long was no longer welcome in Canada, but he still had the option of appeals.
Long bailed out from a Vancouver jail but was required to check in every month, prohibiting him from returning to Ontario where his son lived. In June 2008, the Canadian immigration authorities said he had not checked in with them--Long said he did--and on July 4, 2008, he was arrested again. After a series of hearings, Long was escorted through the Peace Arch to Whatcom County, Wash., on July 15 and handed over to the Washington State Police, who delivered him to Fort Carson to face court martial.
It was the first time that a U.S. Army deserter from the Iraq War had been deported from Canada, and Canadians were not happy. The Canadian Parliament had passed a nonbinding resolution a month prior asking the conservative government to grant U.S. war resisters sanctuary in Canada. The government ignored the resolution, which has since passed a second time, after two members visited Long in the brig and read some of his writings on the floor of the Canadian Parliament.
"Our prime minister, Stephen Harper, is not respecting the will of the people or the will of parliament," said Olivia Chow, who represents downtown Toronto in Canada's parliament and visited Long in the brig. "He's anti-democratic, which makes a mockery of the claim of fighting in Iraq for democracy, by him rejecting parliament's decision to not deport war resisters."
Long's deportation garnered a brief in The New York Times.
"I believe I was a headliner," Long said. "I made every paper in the United States pretty much, when I got deported."
Long believes that his deportation and the handful of Canadian deportations since were meant to be an example to U.S. soldiers that Canada would not welcome them.
At his military trial, Long again went his own path. Army attorneys assigned to defend him urged Long to beg for mercy. He declined.
"Instead of making me look good, we put the Iraq War on trial," Long said.
Branum, an attorney based in Oklahoma who specializes in G.I. cases with moral opposition to the war, attempted to elevate Long's case to a moral argument against the Iraq War.
"We mostly focused on the issue of morality, that a person has a right to morality or at least should have that right," Branum said.
Long was charged with intent to shirk hazardous duty in Iraq, which carried a five-year maximum sentence. He pled down to desertion, and the Army agreed to a 15-month maximum sentence, which he was prepared to serve.
Branum said the plea deal allowed Long to open up about his feelings about the war.
He called to the stand Col. Ann Wright, a former high-ranking Army official who resigned in protest of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and he called other war resisters to testify as well.
"I talked about Jesus. I talked about Thoreau," Branum said. "Even if you disagree with Robin, our society has benefited from the civilly disobedient."
Branum also suggested a Nuremberg defense, that Long was legally correct to oppose immoral orders from the state. And he argued that the prosecutions and strong sentencing of war resisters were politically motivated.
"Robin, from Day 1, wanted to speak the truth to the Army," Branum said.
The Army prosecutors argued that Long's desertion and public profile were bad for morale and they showed video of his CBC interview to the judge, dreadlocks and all.
Long and other Iraq War resisters argue that since the United States is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, the Iraq War was launched in violation of both international and U.S. law.
As Long writes in an essay called "The Contract":
"The order to go to Iraq was not a lawful one. It violates our Constitution. Article IV states that any treaty the [United States] is signatory to shall be the supreme law of the land. Last time I checked, the [United States] is signatory to the Geneva Conventions. There are certain laws in that treaty for declaring war, last time I checked, 'regime change' wasn't one of them. A country must be under attack or immanent threat of attack. Neither was true in the case of Iraq. President Bush had no right to interpret the Constitution as he saw fit, on the grounds it was a new world after 9/11, and the 107th Congress had no right to pass HJ Res. 114, which 'allowed' the President to invade Iraq. The Constitution was being ignored by the whole lot of them and they were derelict in their duty to uphold it."
In 2006, BW asked him about his oath to serve. "I never really ... I guess I was kind of not being mature," Long said. "I was 19 years old at the time I was swearing in. It also says to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and at first I thought, when they told us we were going over there, I thought, it was an honorable thing. I thought hey, there really are weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein really is a bad man in power. I really thought it was an honorable thing. But as the war kept progressing, then is when I started to see that things were not really adding up."
Long was one of two deserters serving time at Miramar, where he said many prisoners are sex offenders.
"I had to make sure people wouldn't steal pictures of my son," he said.
In addition to his incarceration, Long was stripped of his rank and given a dishonorable discharge. His discharge remains on appeal. As he tours the country speaking out in opposition to the war, Robin Long remains in the Army, getting military medical benefits, though he is no longer being paid.
He argues that his desertion was not dishonorable and that the unfavorable discharge status--a felony--affects his ability to return to his family in Canada and his ability to get work in the United States.
In Long's open letter to Obama, he asked for a better discharge status: "I ask you to please consider granting me presidential clemency or a pardon. I have given this to many different organizations and people to ensure that you receive a copy. I am so happy that you were elected President. I feel real change coming. You are the light after the storm, 'Hurricane Bush' if you will."
He has not heard back but continues the appeal.
His wife is unable to move to the United States because she receives full medical benefits for her MS in Canada and would not be able to get treatment here, Branum said.
After his release from the brig in San Diego, Long moved to San Francisco where he is living communally with other activists and studying massage therapy. He is being sponsored on a trip to Israel and Palestine in October to speak to Army resisters there and meet with high school students. But ultimately Long would like to return to Canada, to be reunited with his son and the community he found there.
"Canada has a long history of being a refuge from injustice," Long said.
This book review, by Jon Letman, was distributed by the Inter Press Service News Agency, August 17, 2009
KAUAI, Hawaii, Aug 17 (IPS) - Six months into Barack Obama's presidency, the U.S. public's display of antiwar sentiment has faded to barely a whisper.
Despite Obama's vow to withdraw all combat forces from Iraq before September 2011, he plans to leave up to 50,000 troops in "training and advisory" roles. Meanwhile, nearly 130,000 troops remain in that country and more than 50,000 U.S. soldiers occupy Afghanistan, with up to an additional 18,000 approved for deployment this year.
So where is the resistance?
In independent journalist Dahr Jamail's "The Will to Resist: Soldiers who refuse to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan" (Haymarket Books), Jamail profiles what may ultimately prove to be the United States' most effective anti-war movement: the soldiers themselves.
During the early years of the Iraq war, Jamail traveled to Iraq alone and reported as an unembedded freelance journalist. Over four visits, Jamail documented the war's effects on Iraqi civilians in "Beyond the Green Zone" (2007).
Although he is a fierce critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of the U.S. mainstream media which he says served as a "cheerleader" for war, Jamail admits he was raised to admire the military. However, after covering the war from Iraq between 2003 and 2005, Jamail was enraged by what he calls "the heedless and deliberate devastation [he] saw [the U.S. military] wreak upon the people of Iraq."
Back in the U.S., traveling the country speaking out against the war, Jamail met scores of soldiers who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and found that he shared with them a "familiar anguish" which drove him to further explore their motivations as soldiers. In doing so he opens the door to a growing subculture of internal dissent that is increasingly bubbling up and spilling over the edge of an otherwise ultra-disciplined, highly-controlled military society.
"The soldiers I spoke with while working on this book are some of the most ardent anti-war activists I have ever met," Jamail told IPS. "Having experienced the war firsthand, this should not come as a surprise."
In "The Will to Resist", Jamail profiles individual acts of resistance that he envisions as the possible seeds of a broader anti-war movement. The book is filled with stories of soldiers who refuse missions deemed "suicidal", go AWOL, flee abroad, refuse to carry a loaded weapon, even arranging to be shot in the leg - and those who in a final act of desperation commit suicide.
Soldiers who refuse to deploy or follow orders risk court-martial, prison time, dishonourable discharge and loss of veteran's medical benefits, yet an increasing number of active duty soldiers and veterans are willing to do so.
Rather than accept a mission almost certain to bring death, some troops simply refuse to follow orders. Jamail describes soldiers in Iraq on "search and avoid" missions who grew adept at giving the appearance of going out on patrol when, in fact, they were lying low, catching up on sleep and trying to avoid being killed.
Jamail quotes one Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as saying, "Dissent starts as simple as saying 'this is bullshit. Why am I risking my life?'"
Soldiers tell Jamail that incidents of refusing orders are unremarkable and "pretty widespread," to which he responds, "It is also understandable why the military does not want more soldiers or the public to know about them."
"Army Specialist Victor Agosto, who served a year in Iraq, has recently publicly refused orders to deploy to Afghanistan," Jamail told IPS, "and the Army, due to the threat of more soldiers and the broader public learning of this, backed away from giving Agosto the harshest court-martial possible, to one of the lightest."
Jamail also dedicates two chapters to soldiers who stand up to systemic misogyny and homophobia in the military. Extensive interviews with female soldiers detail a pervasive culture of institutionalised "command rape," harassment, abuse and assault which, in a number of high-profile cases (and many more unknown) end in ostracism, coercion, demotion, suicide and murder.
Citing studies from professional medical journals that offer a grim assessment of sexual intimidation and abuse within the U.S. military, Jamail writes, "According to the group Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, one in six women in the United States will be a victim of sexual assault in her lifetime. In the military, at least two in five will. In either case, at least 60 percent of the cases go unreported."
As Jamail recounts horrific cases of violence toward women in the military, he notes the irony of frequent claims that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are "liberating" women of those Muslim countries.
Like female soldiers, gay and lesbian service men and women are targeted for harassment and abuse. Jamail meets soldiers who, under the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy, must conceal their true identity, falsely posing as straight while battling internal conflicts about their own roles in the military.
In the blunt language of the soldiers, Jamail describes the military experience as a process of dehumanisation. "The primary objective appeared to be to mistreat and dehumanise your guys [fellow soldiers]," one Marine says. "I could not do it, not to my men and not to those people. I like the Iraqis, I like the Afghanis. Why were we treating them like shit?...That is when I really started questioning what the hell was going on."
For many soldiers however, the pain of war is simply too much to bear and so they choose their own final discharge: suicide. In an emotionally exhausting chapter, Jamail cites statistics from the Army Suicide Event Report which states active duty military suicides have risen to their highest rates since the Army started tracking self-inflicted deaths in 1980, and the numbers are growing.
Documenting the phenomenon of "suicide by cop," Jamail quotes from a Post Traumatic Distress Syndrome (PTSD)-wracked veteran's pre-"suicide" internet article in which he wrote, "…We come home from war trying to put our lives back together but some cannot stand the memories and decide that death is better. We kill ourselves because we are so haunted by seeing children killed and whole families wiped out."
Contemplating the long-term implications of the more than 1.8 million military personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Jamail points out that the United States, for many years to come, will be faced with caring for tens of thousands of veterans whose lives are permanently marred by grave physical and traumatic brain injuries, psychological scars, PTSD, and a host of associated problems ranging from divorce and substance abuse to domestic violence, homelessness and run-ins with the law.
Other soldiers manage to cope somehow and, perhaps in a sense, recover. Following their discharge, some veterans profiled by Jamail seek to make peace with themselves by educating others about the realities they experienced in war.
The most successful and constructive of military efforts to resist war are made by those who turn their experiences into teaching tools and therapeutic exercises like music, video, theater, painting, books, blogs, photographic and art exhibitions, performance art and even making paper out of old military uniforms.
In a chapter titled 'Cyber Resistance,' Jamail contends the Internet "is probably the first time that we have available to us an inexpensive and extremely inclusive means to communicate and thereby advocate sustained resistance to unjust military action, at an international scale without losing any gestation time."
Websites like YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Blogspot and countless alternative news sources have given soldiers and veterans both a voice and the means to connect with those Jamail calls "fence-sitters, members of the silent majority and well-intentioned but resource-less individuals to participate in the promise of a historical transformation."
"While we don't have an organised GI resistance movement today that is anywhere close to that which helped end the Vietnam war," Jamail said, "the seeds for one are there, and they are continuing to sprout amidst a soil that is becoming all the more fertile by the escalation of troops in Afghanistan, the lack of withdrawal in Iraq, and an increasingly over-stretched military."
This statement was published by Amnesty International USA, August 6, 2009.
Amnesty International today reiterated its view that US soldiers who refuse on genuine grounds of conscience to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan should be recognized as conscientious objectors under US law and should not face imprisonment.
One such case appears to be that of Victor Agosto, who yesterday received a 30-day prison sentence for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan. Victor Agosto joined the army in 2005 and served a 13-month tour of duty in Iraq; according to reports, his experience there and what he describes as "self education" about US foreign policy and international law convinced him that "the occupation [in Afghanistan] is immoral and unjust".
In the past few years, the organization has appealed for the release of a number of US soldiers who have been court-martialled and imprisoned for refusing to join their units in Iraq or Afghanistan after developing moral objections to US military operations there.
Victor Agosto received a relatively light sentence after accepting a plea agreement. However, others have been dealt with more harshly, receiving sentences of up to 15 months' imprisonment. The maximum penalty could amount to several years.
Amnesty International recognizes that the military authorities need to have strict procedures when allowing serving military personnel to be relieved of duties. However, the organization believes that the right to refuse to perform military service for reasons of conscience is inherent in the notion of freedom of thought, conscience and religion as recognized under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Adequate provision should be made to respect such rights, even for serving soldiers.
US law recognizes the right to conscientious objection only on grounds of opposition to all war in any form. Thus, soldiers who object to serving in a particular war currently have no way of legally registering for exemption on this ground. Some have their applications for conscientious objection refused; others, knowing such applications to be futile, go "absent without leave".
Currently there are other soldiers who face imprisonment for their beliefs. For example, Travis Bishop is scheduled to be court--martialled at Fort Hood, Texas, on 14 August, for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan. If imprisoned, Amnesty International would consider him to be a prisoner of conscience.
Amnesty International has recognised as prisoners of conscience a number of US soldiers refusing to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan because of their conscientious objection to the armed conflict. They included Camilo Mejía, who was sentenced to one year's imprisonment for his objection to the armed conflict in Iraq in 2004, and Abdullah Webster, who refused to participate in the same war due to his religious beliefs and was sentenced the same year to 14 months' imprisonment. Another, Kevin Benderman, was sentenced in 2005 to 15 months' imprisonment after he refused to re-deploy to Iraq because of abuses he allegedly witnessed there.Agustin Aguayo was sentenced to eight months' imprisonment for his refusal to participate in the armed conflict in Iraq. All four have since been released.
Some of these conscientious objectors have been court-martialled and sentenced despite pending applications for conscientious objector status, others were imprisoned after their applications were turned down on the basis that they were objecting to particular wars rather than to war in general.
In addition, Amnesty International has appealed to the Canadian authorities not to deport US soldiers claiming conscientious objection to serving in the US military. Around 200 soldiers are reported to have fled to Canada, where some have sought refugee protection.
Amnesty International believes the right to refuse to perform military service for reasons of conscience is part of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as recognised in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the USA has ratified.
Amnesty International considers a conscientious objector to be any person who, for reasons of conscience or profound conviction, either refuses to perform any form of service in the armed forces or applies for non-combatant status. This can include refusal to participate in a war because one disagrees with its aims or the manner in which it was being waged, even if one does not oppose taking part in all wars.
Wherever such a person is detained or imprisoned solely for these beliefs, Amnesty International considers that person to be a prisoner of conscience. Amnesty International also considers conscientious objectors to be prisoners of conscience if they are imprisoned for leaving the armed forces without authorization for reasons of conscience, if they have first taken reasonable steps to secure release from military obligations.
Amnesty International opposes the forcible return of any person to any country where he or she would face a substantial risk of becoming a prisoner of conscience.