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!
Disclaimer: In accordance with title 17 u.s.c. section 107, this material is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.
The Sir! No Sir! Blog has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is the Sir! No Sir! Blog endorsed or sponsored by the originator. Links are provided to allow for verification of authenticity.
This was posted to Courage to Resist, October 21, 2009
Last week Army private Tony Anderson was released from the Ft. Sill stockade after serving a full year in prison for refusing to fight in Iraq. Tony, now 20-years-old, was court martialed last November and sentenced to 14 months of confinement and given a dishonorable discharge from the military for "desertion with intent to avoid hazardous duty" and "disobeying a lawful order." He was released two months early for good behavior. Tony refused to deploy to Iraq in July 2008 on the grounds of conscientious objection to war. Courage to Resist supporters contributed $2,200 to pay for Tony's civilian legal defense led by attorney James Branum of Oklahoma.
"I know in my heart that it is wrong to willfully hurt or kill another human being. I simply cannot do it. I don't regret following my conscience," he said at his trial as he struggled to compose himself. "I know there must be consequences for my actions and I must accept this fact."
By Courage to Resist. September 4, 2009 (updated regularly)
Consolidated and up-to-date list of easy action items
We have a lot of information about GI resistance and how to help objectors spread out over hundreds of pages on couragetoresist.org. However, sometimes folks just want to know what needs to be done and how to do it, including:
Cliff Cornell in currently jailed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Expected release: March 2010
Cliff traveled to Canada in 2005 to resist Iraq deployment. “I don’t want to be killing innocent people,” he explained at the time. He was deported from Canada in February 2009 and was convicted of desertion at Ft. Steward, Georgia in May. More information about Cliff.
Anthony Michael Anderson, PO Box 305, Fort Sill OK 73503-5305
Tony Anderson is currently jailed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Expected release: November 2009
Tony was sentenced to 14 months in the stockade for resisting Iraq deployment. “I know in my heart that it is wrong to willfully hurt or kill another human being. I simply cannot do it. I don’t regret following my conscience,” he said at his trial. More information about Tony.
Travis Bishop, Address TBA, Fort Lewis WA
Travis is currently jailed near Fort Hood TX awaiting transfer to Fort Lewis WA.
Note that Travis is still in need of donations to cover his defense costs. Please see info below.
Expected release: July 2010
Travis, with the Army's 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, was sentenced to 12 months in the stockade for resisting deployment to Afghanistan. Travis explained that he had serious doubts about his views on war for a long time, but was unaware of his right to file for a conscience objector discharge until just before he was scheduled to deploy. Amnesty International has declared him to be a “prisoner of conscience”. More information about Travis. Also: freetravisbishop.wordpress.com
Leo Church, Address TBA, Fort Lewis WA
Leo Church is currently jailed at Fort Lewis WA.
He is not a exactly a "war resister", but is deserving of support.
Expected release: May 2010
Leo is currently serving eight months for going AWOL in order to help his three young children who became homeless with their mother while he had been at basic and advanced initial training. More information about Leo. Also: freeleochurch.wordpress.com
Dustin Stevens is not currently in jail, but on restriction at Fort Bragg NC.
The correspondence limitations described below do not yet apply.
He has been charged with desertion and is facing possible court martial.
We recently helped expose the outrageous treatment of dozens of soldiers at Fort Bragg, NC with “Echo Platoon - Warehousing soldiers in the homeland” by Courage to Resist's Sarah Lazare and Dahr Jamail, Tom Dispatch. August 10, 2009. Now the most outspoken of the "Ft. Bragg 50" needs our support!
About directly corresponding with and supporting jailed military objectors
Know that your correspondence will be read and reviewed by the military; however, general political content is not usually a basis for censorship.
Do not send stamps, photos, magazines, newspapers, etc. Photocopied articles and photocopied photos, when accompanied by a personal letter, are usually OK.
You may send a money order (payable to the jailed resister). This money will be deposited into their “safe keeping” fund administered by the stockade. From this fund, they may purchase postage stamps (to write you back) and phone cards (to call family and friends).
You may send a book; however, you must order books from amazon.com (or bn.com) and have them shipped directly to the resister. Consider asking the jailed resister if they have any specific title requests, or general categories of interest (mystery, political history, sci-fi, etc.) prior to ordering.
2: Donate to resister defense funds
Courage to Resist has hosted many individual resister defense funds since 2006, including Army objectors Agustin Aguayo, Cliff Cornell, Robin Long, Ryan Jackson, Tony Anderson, and Victor Agosto. These funds have ensured that those courageous soldiers had civilian legal counsel and support while in jail.
The following individual resister efforts are in need of your support:
"To Commanding General - Free Army conscientious objector Dustin Stevens and end the illegal pre-trial punishment of Dustin Stevens and the Fort Bragg 50! ...These soldiers are subjected to many months of unjust and illegal punishment prior to their day in court. We respectfully request that the Army improve living conditions, reassign sadistic supervisors, end all informal punishments, and expedite resolution for these soldiers..."
"To Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada - I am writing from the U.S. to ask that you abide by the House of Commons resolution to create a program to allow war objectors, including U.S. resisters, to apply for permanent resident status in Canada and to cease all deportation and removal proceedings against them..."
"To the German Government - AWOL U.S. soldier André Shepherd applied for asylum in Germany. His tour of duty as a U.S. soldier in Iraq made him convinced that he could no longer participate in a war which breaks international law... we appeal to you, grant André Shepherd asylum..."
The following announcement, was posted to the Free Leo Church Website, by (the Refusenik Attorney Extraordinaire), James Branum, August 27, 2009.
his website was launched on behalf of Leo Church, an imprisoned soldier from Fort Hood, who was convicted of going AWOL and related offenses. Leo went AWOL because of his serious family hardship, yet instead of helping him, Fort Hood threw Leo in prison for 8 months, took away his rank, and took away 2/3 of the pay his family so desperately needs.
Leo Church and his family have asked me to take on his post-trial case, to seek to gain some degree of clemency for his actions (either a reduction in his sentence and/or restoration of his pa). They also want to speak about what has happend to their family and to warn others about how Fort Hood and the U.S. Army treats families in crisis.
You can read more about Leo’s case (including how to write him) [click here to go to the website].
This article, by Leo Church, was published on his blog, August 2008.
For over eight months I waited in Ft. Hood, Texas for my lawyers to barter for my freedom and the prosecutors to decide what they found to be fair for my case. My problems started not long after I finished Basic and A.I.T. when I received a call from Angie, the mother of my children, Alyssa and Kaitlynn, saying that the three were homeless and living in a van in Arlington, Texas.
I asked my company for permission to leave to get them and was blatantly denied. Seeing that I had no other choice I left to pick up my children and then immediately returned to Ft. Hood, back to my company. When I returned I was charged for leaving without permission and given an Article 15, and my pay was cut in half.
Things only got worse from there. I had no one to watch my children. Even though I was not allowed to have my daughters living with me in my barracks room, when I asked for help from my captain I was told to just have them live with me and come to work with me. Unfortunately, the wait for BAH at the time was 6 months. Knowing that I was not allowed to have them in my room over night and it being inappropriate to take them to my company to work, I left to take my children to Amarillo, Texas so I could find them a safe place to live.
Having only my mother to turn to, but knowing that she could not keep them 24 hours a day for me to be able to return to Ft. Hood, I stayed and found myself a civilian job. I knew my obligation was to the Army and my company, but my children were my obligation long before I ever considered enlisting and they needed their father.
I was doing the best that I could for my daughters and when I was picked up for being A.W.O.L. in 2007, Angie came and picked up Alyssa and Kaitlynn, and informed me that I would not see them again, at least not until I was done with the Army. Flown back down to Ft. Hood and once more at my company, I was threatened with 15 to 20 years in prison for leaving my company, regardless if it was for my children or not. So, again I found myself leaving, this time not for my children, but for me.
I was scared and alone, and had no one to help me as it had been since the first day I arrived at Ft. Hood. Over the last year, away from the Army, I had finally started to build the foundation for my life. A beautiful home, an excellent job, a wonderful wife, Amanda, and my only son on the way, I could not have been happier. But, my desertion charge had been discovered and I was once more picked up and returned to Ft. Hood.
With everything that was going on, from me leaving, even though it was to care for my family, because I could find no support from the Army, Amanda and I had to place our son, Austin in a loving home thru adoption. We did not want him enduring the strife that we had endured and for him to end up being fatherless, because I would be living in prison. I have never known my father, never had the warm experience with my father like going out to throw a football, or go camping, or enjoy the guidance I needed to receive in my life. He just wasn’t there.
On Dec. 11th of this year, I stood before the judge at Ft. Hood in a General Court-Martial and pleaded my case, that had I received the help I needed I would have been able to stay at my company and serve by my fellow soldiers, but I found no mercy. The judge convicted and sentenced me to 15 months in prison with a Bad Conduct Discharge. The prosecutors had only asked for 14 months with no fines and no BCD. Thankfully my previous lawyers had arranged for me to have a pre-trial agreement that capped possible jail time at 8 months.
Still, 8 months is too much. I have lost so much because of the Army; I don’t have custody of my daughters and I had to give up my son for adoption, all because of the Army. My wife is struggling to make ends meet now without me. And I am stuck in this jail.
It is because of everything that has happened to me that I’ve decided to speak out.
This link, wass posted to Facebook, by James Branum, August 27, 2009
Hi! Let me tell you about Leo and why we NEED your signatures. In 2006 Leo joined the Army to hopefully better himself and be apart of something bigger. Unfortunately, after Basic and AIT he received a call from the mother of his children telling him that her and his two daughters were homeless and living in a van. Knowing that he had to act, he asked his company for permission to leave to go and pick them up, but was blatantly denied. Seeing he had no other choice, he left and got his children and then immediately returned back to his company at Ft. Hood, Texas. When he returned he was given what is called an Article 15, where for 45 days he was given extra duty and half of his pay was cut. With his income slashed he found it difficult to pay for childcare and when he asked his captain for help, he was told to just bring his children to work (at the company on post) and for them to live in his barracks room with him. Family is NOT allowed to be in your barracks room with you after 10pm, so he was facing more trouble if he were to be caught with them in his room. He tried to file for BAH (Basic Housing Allowance), but the waiting list was six months and his company was not willing to help speed up the process. Knowing that the situation was inappropriate for his daughters, he left once more to take them to his hometown, Amarillo, Texas. As his mother was unable to watch them 24/7 for him to be able to return to his company in Ft. Hood, he stayed and got a job so he could take care of Alyssa and Kaitlyn. In 2007 he was picked up on an AWOL charge and returned to Ft. Hood where he was informed that he was going to face 15 to 20 years in prison. Scared and without anyone to direct, or help him, as his company just didn't seem to care, he fled once more, this time for himself. In Dec. of 2007 he was once more picked up on the AWOL charge and returned, again to Ft. Hood. For 8 months he waited, working at his company, and doing what they asked. On August 11th, he stood before the judge at a General Court Martial and was given a sentence of 15 months with a Bad Conduct Discharge (aka, a felony). The prosecutor only asked for 14 months with no fines or B.C.D. During the time that he was away from Ft. Hood, living a life, he managed to buy a house, find a permanent job, and settle down with a wonderful woman. Now, the system has stripped him and his wife of their life, when all of this would have never had to be had the system helped him when he needed them the most!!! THE MILITARY IS SUPPOSE TO BE ABOUT FAMILY! TO HELP THEIR FELLOW SOLDIERS! SO WHERE WERE THEY?!?!?!?!?
There is a man currently serving time with Leo that went over seas and when he came back, sexually assaulted a woman. This man was given a Other Non Honorable discharge and 8 months in a military prison. Just because this man went over seas he was given clemency and a slap on the wrist. When all Leo was trying to do was get help to help him with his family!
PLEASE HELP US TO MAKE A STAND!!
PLEASE HELP US TO FREE LEO!!
This announcement was posted to the Free Travis Bishop blog, August 24, 2009
Travis Bishop, a sergeant in the United States army, is serving a one-year prison sentence for refusing to serve with the army in Afghanistan because of his religious beliefs. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned for his conscientious objection to participating in war.
Travis Bishop’s sentence was imposed by a court-martial on 14 August, even though the US army was still considering his application for conscientious objector status. In a statement made at the court-martial, Travis Bishop explained that he discovered he could apply for this status only days before his scheduled deployment to Afghanistan. He went absent without leave on the day of his deployment to give himself “time to prepare for my [conscientious objector] application process”. He was away from his unit for about a week, during which he drafted his application and sought legal advice. He returned voluntarily, and on his return to the unit he submitted his application.
Travis Bishop has served in the US army since 2004. He was deployed to Iraq from August 2006 to October 2007. According to his lawyer, he had doubts about taking part in military action since then, but it was only in February 2009, when his unit was ordered to deploy to Afghanistan, that he considered refusing to go. In the period before he was due to be deployed, Travis Bishop’s religious convictions became stronger, and led him to conclude that he could no longer participate in any war.
At the court martial, Travis Bishop was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for going absent without leave, suspension of two-thirds of his salary and a bad conduct discharge. He is imprisoned in Bell County Jail in Texas. His lawyer has pledged to appeal against the conviction. BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Amnesty International has recognized as prisoners of conscience a number of US soldiers refusing to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan because of their conscientious objection. They included Camilo Mejia (see http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/092/2004/en), who was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for his objection to the armed conflict in Iraq in 2004, and Abdullah Webster (see http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/137/2004/en), 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 (see
http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/123/2005/en), 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 (see
http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/041/2007/en) 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-martialed 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.
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 recognized 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 particular 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. RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible:
Stating that Amnesty International considers Travis Bishop to be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for his conscientious objection to participate in war;
Explaining that, although Travis Bishop went absent without leave, he did so to complete an application for conscientious objector status and seek legal advice, thereafter returning to his unit to submit the application;
Urging that Travis Bishop be released immediately and unconditionally.
Commanding Officer of Travis Bishop’s Unit
Lieutenant General Rick Lynch
III Corps HQ
1001 761st Tank Battalion Ave.
Bldg. 1001, Room W105
Fort Hood, TX 76544-5005
Salutation: Dear Commanding General
Colonel James H. Jenkins III
Headquarters, 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade
Building 10053, Battalion Avenue
Fort Hood, TX 76544-5068
Salutation: Dear Commander
Travis Bishop’s lawyer
James M. Branum
Attorney at Law
3334 W. Main St., PMB #412
Norman, OK 73072
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY.
Check with the AIUSA Urgent Action office if sending appeals after 5 October 2009.
This article, by Alice Embree, was published in the Rag Blog, August 16, 2009
In the second court martial in two weeks, another Fort Hood soldier was sentenced on August 14th for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan.
Sgt. Travis Bishop was brought before special court martial proceedings, found guilty and sentenced to one year in prison. His rank and pay were reduced. He is expected to be held in the Bell County Correctional Unit before serving his sentence in a military jail. His discharge status will be determined later. Because Sgt. Bishop has a prior honorable discharge, his GI benefits may not be reduced.
Sgt. Bishop faced four charges: willful disobedience of a Non-Commissioned Officer, absence without leave and two counts of missing movement. The charges were more serious than those faced by Spc. Victor Agosto on August 5th. Agosto's case was resolved in a summary court martial and he is serving a one month sentence in the Bell County Correctional Unit.
The courtroom resembled a civil courtroom with the judge in black robes. An Army defense attorney was seated with Bishop and his civilian defense attorney, James Branum. The panel, however, was hardly a peer panel. The jury seats were filled by eight Colonels, Lieutenant Colonels and Majors who had to be warned once not to fall asleep while the Judge read instructions.
A Fort Hood Public Affairs representative told Bishop supporters during a recess that Bishop was being tried in the same courtroom where Army Staff Sgt. Shane Werst had faced a court martial for shooting an unarmed Iraqi citizen. "Five privates turned a dime on him," he said. Despite testimony that soldiers were ordered to plant a gun on the Iraqi citizen to make the death appear to be self defense, Werst was acquitted May 26, 2005. Bishop's sentence for not deploying is a sobering contrast.
Bishop's court martial began on Thursday and Bishop's defense attorney and supporters had expected the arraignment, designation of a jury panel and testimony of one witness to be brief. Instead, the trial began in earnest and lasted five hours. At one point on Thursday, supporter Cynthia Thomas was asked by a Killeen police officer and an Army MP to leave the courtroom and explain her relationship with the defendant. Thomas asked if she were being detained and to speak to her attorney. She was not stopped from returning to the courtroom.
The prosecution brought Captain Chrisopher Hall in to testify that the absence of Travis Bishop from his unit had caused hardship to his unit. The defense presented four witnesses who testified to Travis Bishop's sincerity of beliefs. Bishop filed a request for Conscientious Objector status in late May and the request is still pending.
Charles Luther, a defense witness with a background as a lay Baptist minister, spoke of Bishop's religious beliefs. The defense attorney established that psychiatrist, Lt. Col. Adams, to whom Bishop had been referred, approved Bishop's Conscientious Objector claim and that it was one of only two claims in his ten years that Adams had approved.
In a surprise moment at the end of testimony, the Prosecution decided to call Lt. Colonel Ronald Leininger to the stand. Leininger was the Brigade Chaplain to whom Bishop was referred for pastoral counseling. Bishop has described his deep disappointment in speaking to someone he thought would be attentive to his religious beliefs. Bishop said the Chaplain reduced his interview time and interrupted the interview repeatedly by receiving phone calls.
In the statement issued by the Chaplain after his visit with Bishop, he focused almost no attention on Bishop's religious beliefs. Instead, he wrote that Bishop had been coached by Iraq Veterans Against the War and other antiwar activists. He went further to say that the affiliation that best described Bishop's religious heritage was "Conservative Evangelicals" who the Captain said are "generally pro-military service with no pacifist tendencies in doctrine or practice. In fact, they make good soldiers."\
Bishop has received letters of support from a number of pastors who cite their church's doctrine and practice supporting conscientious objection to war.
The court was recessed as the panel considered the verdict for about one hour. They found Sgt. Bishop guilty. In the sentencing phase, the civilian defense attorney, James Branum, asked for a three months sentence in light of Sgt. Bishop's sincerity and previous good conduct, including a fourteen month deployment in Iraq. In particular, Branum focused on the fact that soldiers are never given information about their rights to Conscientious Objection. Branum said that a soldier who changes his or her belief about war doesn't understand that there are options.
Maj. Matthew McDonald, who served as the judge, discounted the relevancy of whether Bishop was notified about his right to file for CO status. McDonald was quoted in the Killeen Daily Herald (8/14/09) as saying: "If every soldier in the Army who disobeyed an order could claim it was because they weren't notified of conscientious objector status, we probably wouldn't have a military any more."
Prior to sentencing, Bishop's testimony was forceful and moving. He cited several articles that protect a soldiers rights and noted that soldiers often are not informed of their rights, but that doesn't relieve the Army of its responsibility to honor those rights. Bishop said that the right to pursue a claim of Conscientious Objection requires protection. He said that he was unaware that he could pursue a claim of Conscientious Objection until right before his deployment.
"The truth is, as soon as I discovered this process [C.O.] existed, I acted upon it. I left because I did not feel that I would have a sympathetic, understanding command structure to fully take my problems to, and also to give myself time to prepare for my C.O. application process, and the legal battle I'm currently fighting. These are not excuses. These are explanations. My hope is that you truly treat them as such during your sentencing deliberations."
After being sentenced to the maximum jail term allowable under a Special Court Martial, Bishop had time to handwrite a note:
"To everyone who still cares: I can not say that a year in prison doesn't scare me. I am terrified... But still, though I am terrified, it would be scarier still to know that my fellow soldiers who feel as we feel would never find out what we are trying to accomplish... Everyone who hears or reads this should know that I love you all, and my life is forever changed because of you. Victor and myself are starting something and it is now up to all of you to continue on. With all my heart. Travis."
As Bishop was escorted from the Justice Center to a waiting van, supporters who were active duty soldiers or veterans stood at attention and saluted. Hands cuffed together, Bishop flashed a peace sign in return.
This article, by Alice Embree, was posted to the Rag Blog, August 7, 2009
Three knocks on the door of the small conference room signaled the beginning of Specialist Victor Agosto’s summary court martial. Captain Santos said, “Enter.”
Victor saluted her and said, “Specialist Agosto reporting as ordered.”
A summary court martial is a scripted affair in which the presiding officer serves as judge, prosecutor and defense attorney. At this hearing Victor Agosto’s charge was his refusal to obey orders to deploy to Afghanistan and the tiny room was packed with civilian supporters. An Associated Press reporter would soon give the story a national audience.
Specialist Victor Agosto has been stationed with the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 69th Air Defense Artillery, Rear Detachment. He had served a thirteen-month deployment in Iraq. On the day of his court martial he had been in the Army four years and one day. His contract would have been up at the end of June, but the unpopular stop/loss clause was invoked, his termination date revised and he was told he would be deployed to Afghanistan.
Rather than going AWOL or trying to escape punishment, Agosto informed his command in April that he would not be deployed to Afghanistan. He reported for work, but refused all orders that directly supported the war that he found immoral and unjust.
In the court martial hearing on Wednesday, August 5, 2009, Cynthia Thomas testified to Victor Agosto’s character. She told those present that as an Army wife for seventeen years, she had met many soldiers, from privates to officers. “And in all that time I have not met a soldier with more integrity than Spc. Victor Agosto... He’s not impulsive or rash... he carefully considers the consequences of his actions... I have seen him struggle with the question that plagues many of our soldiers and family members. Whether the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are just.”
Cynthia told the court that Victor Agosto “made the very hard decision to follow his conscience knowing that his peers and his command would ostracize him. That he would lose all the benefits he has earned after fulfilling his 4-year contract, and after serving thirteen months in the Iraq war... Victor feels so strongly in following his conscience that he is willing to give up his freedom. The very freedom that our country asks our soldiers to fight for..."
After Cynthia’s testimony, the hearing was moved to a larger hearing room in order to accommodate more supporters who had not been able to get in. Victor Agosto was allowed to present testimony at that time. He spoke of his good conduct medal, of the fact that he didn’t break rules other than those he could not follow in good conscience. He testified that he did not pursue a Conscientious Objector discharge because he believed that some wars were necessary. Agosto said that he believed that the war in Afghanistan was illegal under international law -- that the United Nations Charter prevents countries from engaging in wars unless they are in self-defense or authorized by a United Nations Security Council resolution.
Agosto went on to cite the letters of support he has received, including one from Noam Chomsky. He said that he has received over 2,000 online signatures on petitions of support and several hundred more petition signatures on paper.
After a short adjournment, Captain Santos read Agosto’s sentence -- loss of rank, loss of half a month’s pay, and thirty days confinement. He is then likely to receive an Other Than Honorable discharge that will cost him additional GI benefits.
In an unscripted emotional moment after the sentence was read, Victor Agosto ripped his rank off his uniform and put it in front of the Captain. Later, his attorney said, he received a guard’s help in removing the rank sewn on to his hat.
Supporters waited for about forty minutes for Victor Agosto to be brought downstairs. Guards escorted him to a white van. He was undaunted, unshackled and without handcuffs, flashing a peace sign as supporters did the same and raised fists. Despite a guard’s repeated warnings of “no pictures,” cameras clicked and film rolled.
Victor Agosto’s civilian attorney, James Branum, returned reporters' phone calls all afternoon. He had acted as an occasional advisor, but did not represent his client. Under the strange rules of military
code, if Branum had represented Agosto, a guilty verdict would remain permanently on Agosto’s criminal record.
At 7:00, under a still unforgiving Texas sun, about sixty supporters gathered at the East Gate of Fort Hood. Active duty soldiers in Iraq Veterans Against the War were joined by people from Killeen, Belton, Austin, and as far away as Fort Worth. Protestors stood across from the sprawling military base -- the country’s largest base -- holding signs of support for Victor and chanting. Drivers passing by flashed peace signs, held thumbs up and honked, proving that there is more of a bond than most would suspect between the peace movement and the soldiers and military families ground down by multiple deployments in seemingly unending wars.
James Branum read a statement from Victor Agosto. “I have learned that nothing is more frightening to power than a direct and principled challenge to its authority. The truth is on our side and those who have incarcerated me know it.”
Victor Agosto will serve thirty days in a Bell County Correctional Facility. (His official inmate listing says "offense unknown.") Supporters have scheduled weekly protests 1-2:00 p.m. each Saturday while Agosto is incarcerated. Belton’s New Jail Facility, also known as Loop 121, is located at Loop 121 and Huey Drive.
This letter was written a few minutes before Afghan war resister Travis Bishop was shackeled and taken away after his court-martial at Fort Hood.
To everyone who still cares:
I can not say that a year in prison doesn’t scare me: I am terrified. I just cried in the bathroom so no one could see.
But still, though I am terrified, it would be scarier still to know that my fellow soldiers who feel as we feel would never find out what we are trying to accomplish had I not gone to prison.
Everyone who hears or reads this should know that I love you all, and my life is forever changed because of you.
Victor and myself are starting something big . . . and it is now up to all of you to continue on.
With all of my heart,
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.