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."
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.
The following brief note was posted to Antiwar.com today:
Shortly after his inauguration, President Obama signed an executive order calling for a 120 day halt to all legal proceedings at Guantanamo Bay while they conduct a review… a first step in the long effort to close the detention facility. But the top military judge at Guantanamo Bay, Colonel James Pohl, says he found Obama’s arguments “unpersuasive” and is going to deny the request to delay the current arraignment. The argument from the administration was that the “interests of justice” would be served by the delay. On the contrary, Col. Pohl declared that “the public interest” in a speedy trial was more important. The White House is reportedly exploring its options, but Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says there are “no ifs, and or buts” about adhering to Obama’s executive order and that there would “be no proceedings continuing down at Gitmo with military commissions.
If Col. Pohl is typical of the quality of what few judges remain at GITMO to administer the Kangaroo court, he should familiarize himself with Articles 88 and 92 of the UCMJ.
If he had ever bothered to read them, he would realize he has one of two options, resign on the spot, or be court-martialled for insubordination. Personally, I hope he chooses the latter and is interred at GITMO for a few weeks pending his trial.
Our dear prosecutor should heed Geoff Morell's comment, at the end of the article "there are “no ifs, and or buts” about adhering to Obama’s executive order and that there would “be no proceedings continuing down at Gitmo with military commissions." and realize his time has passed and the Bush crime family is no longer in charge.
Hey Col. Pohl, please remember to exit the stage of military jurisprudence with as much dignity as possible.
This article, written by Chris Kenning, was originally published in the Louisville Courier-Journal, June 21, 2008.
In a nondescript barracks at Fort Knox, Pfc. James Burmeister awaits his fate for deserting his unit while on leave from Iraq.
The 22-year-old is set to face a court-martial at the Kentucky post -- one of only two U.S. processing centers for Army deserters.
Now his mother, Helen Burmeister, is doing everything she can to keep her son out of jail. She will demonstrate outside the post today in hopes of persuading the military to let her take her son home.
"I’m hoping to take him back to Oregon with me," said Burmeister, who says her son struggles with post-traumatic stress, injuries from a roadside bomb and questions about U.S. tactics. "He needs to get all this behind him."
Burmeister is among the 4,698 U.S. Army soldiers who deserted in fiscal year 2007, a number that risen 92 percent since 2004.
"Our leadership is concerned about desertion rates," said Lt. Col. Anne Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman, "but not to the point we’ve taken drastic measures."
Many people who desert -- roughly defined as being absent without leave for more than 30 days with the intent to stay away -- are junior soldiers who leave after basic training for family problems, while others are combat veterans or those who object to the war, officials say.
Army officials don’t actively pursue them, arguing they’re too busy fighting a war. Most deserters turn themselves in to remove the felony warrant that is issued, or are caught during routine traffic stops.
The consequences vary. They can be as light as a reprimand and return to their unit, or as harsh as a court-martial resulting in a bad-conduct or dishonorable discharge that results in up to five years in jail. Most get an "other than honorable" administrative discharge.
Last year, the Army convicted 108 soldiers of desertion. The decision of whether to prosecute is often left to unit commanders.
Soldiers who have gone AWOL or deserted -- the vast majority do so in the United States, not while overseas -- are processed through either Fort Knox or Fort Sill, Okla.
Fort Knox officials wouldn’t provide numbers, but it’s likely that 40 to 60 soldiers accused of desertion pass through the Kentucky post each week, said J.E. McNeil, director of the Center on Conscience and War, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., that helps those on deserter status.
While there, they live in barracks with soldiers in similar trouble, working patrol or cleaning duty and meeting with their military and private attorneys. They are confined to base but nothing prevents them from leaving, military officials say. "The point is you’re there (so you can) get on with your life," McNeil said.|
Fort Knox spokesman Ryan Brus declined to discuss Burmeister’s case, but confirmed that he was charged with "desertion with intent to shirk important service." If convicted, he could receive a reduction in rank to private, forfeiture of two-thirds pay per month for a year, 12 months of confinement and a bad-conduct discharge.
Even if he is simply discharged, "he’s worried he’ll lose his benefits, but at this point, it’s not worth it," Helen Burmeister said.
Burmeister was unavailable for comment, and the military would not discuss his service history or any medical issues. But his mother and friends said in interviews he joined the Army in 2005, hoping to help rebuild Iraq. Once there, he found himself manning a machine gun atop a Humvee.
He was disturbed by tactics that he told his family included a baiting operation designed to lure insurgents, an approach detailed in articles by The New York Times and Washington Post in 2007. The Army has said it doesn’t discuss specific methods.
In February 2007, while assigned to the 18th Infantry Division in Iraq, his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb. He suffered shrapnel to his face and hearing loss.
While on recovery leave in Germany, he decided to fly to Canada instead of returning to duty in Iraq.
"He was just a regular young guy who was shaken up, and didn’t know what to do," Sonia Vani, a Canadian friend of Burmeister, said in a telephone interview from Ottawa. She said he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and had a seizure, possibly from a brain injury.
But he eventually decided to return, and since March, he’s been at Fort Knox. Earlier this week, his mother came from Oregon in hopes of persuading the Army to grant him an administrative discharge with a loss of benefits, but so far the Army hasn’t granted that request.
"He did go to war, did what he was asked, now it’s time to let him go," Helen Burmeister said.
Anita Anderson of Lexington, an activist who helps deserters, said many young men who deserted have jobs and a new life and were apparently never reported as deserters.
Her son, Darrell Anderson, went AWOL in 2005 after deciding he couldn’t continue to fight without killing innocent civilians. In 2006, he returned after 20 months in Canada and turned himself in at Fort Knox. He was given a less-than-honorable discharge with a loss of benefits.
Since then, he has worked as a security guard in Oregon and a busboy in California and now works at a grocery store in Lexington. He still struggles with post-traumatic stress, but said he doesn’t regret his decision to go AWOL.
"It wasn’t the easy choice, it was the hard choice," he said. "I lost my GI Bill, my veteran’s benefits … but I did what’s right, and I’ve still got my pride."