Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Audry McAvoy, was posted to Courage to Resist, September 25, 2009
The Army is allowing the first commissioned officer to be court-martialed for refusing to go to Iraq to resign from the service, his attorney said late Friday. First Lt. Ehren Watada will be granted a discharge Oct. 2, "under other than honorable conditions," attorney Kenneth Kagan said. Watada told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin he was happy the matter has finally been closed. "The actual outcome is different from the outcome that I envisioned in the first place, but I am grateful of the outcome," he said.
Fort Lewis spokesman Joseph Piek wouldn't confirm Watada's type of discharge, citing privacy rules. But he said late Friday that Watada's manner of resignation is described in Army regulations as "resignation for the good of the service in lieu of general court martial."
Watada, 31, refused to deploy to Iraq with his Fort Lewis, Wash.-based unit in 2006, arguing the war is illegal and that he would be a party to war crimes if he served in Iraq.
The Honolulu-born soldier was charged with missing his unit's deployment and with conduct unbecoming an officer for denouncing President Bush and the war — statements he made while explaining his actions.
His court-martial ended in mistrial in February 2007.
The Army wanted to try him in a second court-martial, but a federal judge ruled such a trial would violate the soldier's constitutional protection against double jeopardy. The judge said a second court-martial would violate Watada's Fifth Amendment rights by trying him twice for the same charges.
Watada's attorney said the soldier had handed in his resignation before, but the Army refused to accept it.
"This time, however, it was accepted, apparently only when the Army realized it could not defeat Lt. Watada in a courtroom," Kagan said.
Watada's father, Bob Watada, welcomed the news.
"I'm happy, very happy for Ehren. I'm happy for our family," he said.
Watada has been lionized by anti-war activists for contending that the war is illegal. If convicted, he could have been sentenced to six years in prison and be dishonorably discharged.
Kagan said he felt history would treat Watada "more favorably" than the U.S. Army.
"It has been our distinct honor to have represented a hero and a patriot," Kagan said.
This review, by Steven Lendman, was posted to Global Research, July 7, 2009.
Marjorie Cohn is a Distinguished Law Professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego where she's taught since 1991 and is the current President of the National Lawyers Guild. She's also been a criminal defense attorney at the trial and appellate levels, is an author, and writes many articles for professional journals, other publications, and numerous popular web sites.
Her record of achievements, distinctions, and awards are many and varied - for her teaching, writing, and her work as a lawyer and activist for peace, social and economic justice, and respect for the rule of law. Cohn's previous books include "Cameras in the Courtroom: Television and the Pursuit of Justice" and "Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law."
Her newest book just out, co-authored with Kathleen Gilberd (a recognized expert on military administrative law), is titled "Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent." It explores why US military personnel disobey orders and refuse to participate in two illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also explains that US and international law obligate them to do so.
Cohn and Gilberd write:
"Rules of engagement limit forms of combat, levels of force, and legitimate enemy targets, defining what is legal in warfare and what is not. (They're also) defined by an established body of international (and US) law" that leave no ambiguity.
Nonetheless, in past and current US wars, virtually no "Rules" whatever are followed. Soldiers are trained to fire at "anything that moves," place no value on enemy lives, and often treat civilians no differently from combatants. It results in massive civilian casualties, dismissively called "collateral damage." It also gets growing numbers in the ranks to resist - to challenge so-called "Rules" they believe are illegal and immoral.
"Rules of Disengagement" "discuss(es) the laws and regulations governing military dissent and resistance - the legal rules of disengagement (and offers) practical guidelines (that include) political protest to requesting discharge from the service."
Today, growing Iraq and Afghanistan casualty counts are enormous as well as the disturbing toll on the GIs involved - including long and repeated deployments, often leaving permanent debilitating effects, physical and/or psychological.
US soldiers have a right and duty to dissent and resist, and today it's easier than ever through all the modern ways of communicating, including blogging, sharing stories, photos, videos, and "developing new ways to speak out to fellow soldiers and civilians online and in the media."
"Rules of Disengagement" goes into courtrooms where military personnel "have spoken out, arguing that (today's) wars are illegal (and immoral) under international (and US) law." It's a "practical guide" providing "specific discussion(s) of applicable regulations and laws" for readers "to form their own conclusions and consider their own options." Above all, it's a way for honorable young men and women to dissent, resist, and disengage from two illegal, immoral wars, in hopes many others will follow their example. Resisting Illegal Wars
Every US war since WW II has been illegal. Article 51 of the UN Charter only permits the "right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member....until the Security Council has taken measures to maintain international peace and security."
In addition, Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 (the war powers clause) authorizes only both houses of Congress, not the president, to declare war. Nonetheless, that process was followed only five times in our history and last used on December 8, 1941 after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
Yet many judges won't apply "the law to the wars, and then to service members' refusal to take part" in them. They say it's "not their role, not a matter under their jurisdiction, or not 'relevant.' " In case studies the authors use, court-martial judges, juries, and the public increasingly accept these arguments but also recognize that "men and women of conscience have put their futures on the line for their opinions and actions against illegal wars (and) orders."
It hasn't shown up in court-martial decisions except in more lenient sentences, indicating growing respect for those brave enough to resist on matters of conscience and their opinions regarding the law. Pablo Paredes for one.
The Navy petty officer third class and weapons-control technician refused duty on the USS Bonhomme Richard as it deployed to the Persian Gulf on December 6, 2004 to take part in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was charged with unauthorized absence and willfully missing his ship's deployment. On May 10, 2005, Paredes avoided jail and a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge when the court-martial judge dismissed the former charge, convicted him on the latter one, sentenced him to two months restriction, three months of hard labor without confinement, and reduction in rank from E-4 to E-1.
Lt. Cdr. Robert Klant denied expert testimony on the war's illegality, but let Cohn testify as an expert witness, at the sentencing hearing. At its conclusion, Klant astonished attending spectators by saying:
"I believe the government has successfully demonstrated a reasonable belief for every service member to decide that the wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq were illegal to fight in." Paredes benefitted from that view. Others have as well, but not often or easily. Modern Conscientious Objectors (COs)
They're persons who refuse to perform military service, and request noncombatant status or discharge on grounds of religious, moral, ethical, or philosophical beliefs with regard to wars and killing. Objecting on the basis of conscience is 'a long and honorable" tradition going back to the beginning of the republic. It was used frequently during the Vietnam war.
Objectors help others by expanding the right to resist and dissent. Under DOD regulations, "the military must grant CO status to any service member who (consciously opposes all) war(s) in any form, whose opposition is founded on religious training and beliefs, and whose position is sincere and deeply held." This position "must have developed or become central to the CO's beliefs after entry into the military," and applicants must provide "clear and convincing evidence that he or she is a CO."
US Army Reserve Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia was the first Iraq War veteran to refuse further involvement on matters of conscience after serving in it earlier from April - October 2003. Following leave, he failed to rejoin his National Guard unit and filed for discharge as a CO on grounds that the invasion and occupation were illegal and immoral. The Army then charged him with desertion to send a strong message to others who resist.
His May 2004 court-martial was a kangaroo-court show trial, widely broadcast to all military personnel worldwide on internal Pentagon television, radio and newspaper outlets. At trial, the military judge disallowed prepared defense testimony under Army Field Manual 27-10, the Constitution, and established international law.
Mejia was found guilty of desertion with intent to avoid hazardous duty. He was sentenced to a year in prison, reduction in rank to E-1, one year's forfeiture of pay, and a bad conduct discharge after which Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience, its highest honor.
After the verdict, international law expert Francis Boyle was allowed to testify during the sentencing phase - but under strict limitations imposed by the judge. He cited relevant domestic, international, and military law, reviewed crimes of war and against humanity under them, and explained the culpability of commanders and government officials to the highest levels for abusing and torturing prisoners.
Mejia served nine months in prison and in August 2007 was elected chairman of the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Hundreds of others have filed for CO status while many more go AWOL or refuse deployment to combat zones. The military never makes it easy, yet the illegitimacy of two illegal wars and the immense hardships on young GIs and their families makes growing numbers resist and dissent. Still many others aren't aware that they qualify for CO status.
Current CO stereotypes stem from the Vietnam era when they were viewed as subversives and cowards. Other myths are that wars must be ongoing for those in the military to apply, the process is lengthy, discharges, if granted, won't be honorable, and federal benefits will be lost as well as eligibility for government jobs. "Needless to say, these myths are not true," but exist to discourage applicants and impede the process.
Various civilian organizations provide good information on CO rights, regulations on them, and procedures on how to apply. Also, the "CO process is one of the most legally protected of discharge proceedings - COs have greater rights than those who seek discharge for family hardship or similar reasons." Yet command hostility exists and rights are often denied. "Success rates vary among the services." Some COs are discharged for other reasons. Many applications are rejected. Some go AWOL as a result, and others do or don't succeed through court intervention. Imperial America doesn't make it easy, so applicants have to persist all the harder. Winter Soldier
Iraq and Afghan veterans willing to come forward provide the most compelling evidence of "war crimes beyond imagination." Yet those familiar with Vietnam, WW II, and other US wars have heard it before. John Dower's powerful WW II book, "War Without Mercy," documented how both sides in the Pacific war depersonalized the opposition, abandoned the rules of war, and fought with equal savagery.
Later examples include:
Winter Soldier 1971 - the Vietnam My Lai massacre killing around 500 civilians was a mere skirmish compared to death squad campaigns like Operation Phoenix that contributed to an estimated 80,000 deaths from around 1968 - 1971. Numerous other stories documented mass murder, torture, rape and other atrocities - the same kinds committed earlier and today;
Winter Soldier 2008 - "traumatized" veterans today tell similar horrors stories to ones from past wars, including Vietnam, Korea, and WW II; Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) offer testimonies as ammunition for their three unifying principles:
immediately ending the Iraq and Afghan wars and occupations and withdrawing all troops;
paying reparations to Iraqis; and
providing proper medical care for all US war veterans.
Short of these, all imaginable atrocities will continue, including mass killings, torture, rape, destruction, and much more. Wars are ugly business, and laws or no laws, the worst of abuses happen routinely by a military command teaching rank and file soldiers to commit them with impunity. And they're besides the harm done to GIs, many of whom are never the same from the experience - if they survive. Vietnam destroyed an entire generation of American youths, and today's wars are doing it again.
The rules of engagement are stipulated in various laws of war - the Constitution, Hague and Geneva Conventions; UN Charter; Nuremberg Charter, Judgment and Principles; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Supreme and lower Court decisions; US Army Field Manual 27-10; and the Law of Land Warfare (1956). They state that nations must abide by the laws of war. No exceptions are ever allowed, and failure comply constitutes a crime of war and/or against humanity.
At the Nuremberg Tribunal, chief US prosecutor Robert Jackson cited wars of aggression as the "supreme international crime against peace differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." Yet this standard indicts America on all its wars since WW II.
And young GIs are affected. Winter Soldiers 2008 say "they were subject to amorphous and contradictory rules of engagement - often free-fire zones where they could shoot at anything that moved (including noncombatants). These rules, or lack thereof, led to the commission of atrocities and war crimes," not occasionally but often.
Aside from the 2001 Afghanistan bombings and March 2003 "shock and awe" attack, the worst of them took place in April and November 2004. In retaliation for the killing and mutilation of four Blackwater mercenaries, the first and second Fallujah Battles waged some of the fiercest urban combat since the 1968 Battle of Hue in Vietnam. Several thousand or more were killed, mostly civilians. Major war crimes were committed. Illegal weapons were used. Vast destruction was inflicted. The city was held under siege. Free-fire zone rules applied. A "shoot-to-kill" curfew was imposed, and according to Adam Kokesh: "we changed our rules of engagement more often than we changed our underwear."
Winter Soldiers 2008 speak out publicly over what they saw and did in their tours, including in testimonies to Congress. "So far (none of them) have been prosecuted for their testimony, though some active duty witnesses were harassed by superiors." Dissent and Disengagement
Resistance includes refusing illegal orders, objecting on the basis of conscience, requesting a discharge, demonstrating, picketing, dissenting as the Constitution allows, attending rallies, petitioning Congress, going underground, taking refuge abroad, speaking out publicly, and through the media. It's acting according to one's principles and morality and not backing down when the going gets tough.
Lt. Ehren Watada's case is instructive. In June 2006, he refused to deploy to Iraq and publicly said why - that "as an officer of honor and integrity, (he could not participate in a war that was) manifestly illegal....morally wrong (and) a horrible breach of American law." He became the first US military officer to face court-martial for his action and was charged with:
one specification under UCMJ article 87 - missing movement;
two specifications under article 99 - contempt toward officials (for making public comments about George Bush); and
three specifications under article 133 for conduct unbecoming an officer.
If convicted on all charges, he faced possible dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and seven years in prison. A military equivalent of a grand jury convened on August 17, 2006 to review the charges and rule on their justification. Watada called three expert witnesses in his defense:
former UN Iraq Humanitarian Coordinator (1997 - 1998) Denis Halliday who resigned under protest because he was "instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide (and already) killed well over one million individuals, children and adults;"
US Army Colonel Ann Wright who resigned her commission as a State Department foreign service officer in March 2003 to protest a "war of aggression (in) violat(ion) of international law;" and
Professor Francis Boyle, international law and human rights expert, activist, and author of numerous books, papers, and articles on these topics.
On August 22, the Army reported on the proceeding and recommended all charges be referred to a general court-martial. It began in February 2007 under very constricted rules - denying a First Amendment defense, disallowing one's questioning the legality of the war, and refusing to allow expert testimony, including from Cohn.
However, legal issues couldn't be excluded as they directly related to charges brought, so the prosecution introduced them at trial. In addition, Watada firmly stated before testifying that he refused to deploy because of the war's illegality.
Unable to stop him from saying this, judge John Head declared a mistrial. He'd lost control of the proceeding, knew Watada was on solid ground, and had to prevent his evidence from being introduced to avoid the embarrassing possibility of an acquittal on one or all charges. If it happened, the war's illegality would be exposed and its continuation jeopardized.
Under the Fifth Amendment's "double jeopardy" clause, Watada can't be retried on the same charges. It states no person shall be "subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." Watada's triumph by mistrial was a powerful tribute to his convictions and spirit. It's also an inspiration to civil resisters and all members of the military to follow in his footsteps.
On October 22, 2008, US District Court Judge Benjamin Settle agreed with Watada's double jeopardy claim and dismissed three of the five counts against him. In mid-May, beyond the timeline of Cohn and Gilberd's book, the Department of Justice dropped plans to retry him on two remaining counts, but his legal problems continue as the Army is still weighing further action. Fort Lewis spokesman Joe Piek said the base's leadership is considering "a full range of judicial and administrative options that are available, and those range from court-martial on those two remaining specifications, to nonjudicial punishment, to administrative separation from the Army."
If they can't win one way, they may keep harassing Watada and make him pay by attrition. Millions of war resisting Americans may have other ideas, and organizations like Project Safe Haven, Courage to Resist, Veterans for Peace, and Iraq Veterans Against the War are united with others in demanding an end to Watada's persecution as well as two illegal wars and occupations.
They also support "high-visilbility demonstrations, protests and street theater," along with the right to resist and dissent. The law supports them "to speak out on a broad range of issues" using all means of technology to do it. Military regulations also "can be powerful weapons for service members who choose to dissent."
DOD Directive 1325.6 Guidelines for Handling Dissent and Protest Activities among Members of the Armed Forces describes basic rights for "dissident and protest activities" with guidelines pertaining to:
possession and distribution of printed materials;
off-base locations allowed;
publishing underground newspapers and materials;
off-base demonstrations and protests; and
rules for military personnel participation.
Resisters have the law and regulations on their side if they conform to their provisions therein - "consistent with good order and discipline and the national security." But going up against the Pentagon and Department of Justice is never easy, and even winning exacts a great toll.
But fundamentally, "GIs do in fact have the right to express their opposition to the wars verbally and in writing, share that position with the media, state it on the Internet, distribute it to other GIs in newspapers or leaflets, say it from the microphone at national antiwar rallies, and show it by marching in off-base antiwar demonstrations and picket lines" - as long as they're off-duty, off-base, and out of uniform.
Imperfect as it is and getting worse, it's still America, and growing numbers of GIs, their families and friends are resisting two illegal wars and occupations, demanding they end, and the nation returned peace. Those goals are worth everyone's time to fight for, and it's high time more among us did it.. Challenging Racism
For many decades, young recruits are taught to kill by portraying enemies as subhuman. So the Japanese were called "Japs" and portrayed in cartoons as apes or savage gorillas; North Koreans, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were called "gooks;" and Arabs are called "rag-heads," "camel jockeys" and "sand niggers." As a result, extreme racism is a pervasive problem in the military. But it's a proved effective way to motivate soldiers to fight and kill by viewing Westerners as superior to nonwhite enemies globally.
Many Winter Soldiers (2008) "discussed the pervasiveness of racist behavior," admitted using racial epithets, and "engag(ing) in brutality that dehumanized Iraqis and Afghanis." However Vietnam-era history "shows that organizing and protests by African American, Latino, and other minority GIs (with support from other service members)" offer the best chance of achieving real change. But success depends on ending the Pentagon's proven way to teach young recruits to kill, so getting the top brass to abandon it won't be easy. Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault in the Military
Teaching recruits "sexism and sexual imagery" works the same way as indoctrinating racism. Soldiers are taught to equate "strength and discipline in combat (to) sexual prowess," military violence to the sexual kind, and "disobedience, nonconformity, or weakness as feminine."
Today, sexism is so embedded in military culture that female soldiers pay the price. They're discriminated against in training, assignments, promotion, much else, and are frequent victims of harassment and sexual assault - the former through "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors," and other similar behavior; the latter includes "rape and other forcible or unwanted sexual contact...."
In a male-dominated military, this behavior is embedded, ritualized, and symbolic of male power. The highly-publicized September 1991 Tailhook incident is a prominent example but a rare one that made headlines. It involved a group of Naval aviators sexually assaulting 26 women at one of their annual gatherings. They cornered and surrounded them, passed them down a gauntlet, jeered, taunted, grabbed, fondled, and tried to strip them.
Similar incidents are all too common, and for years top brass knew of and tolerated them. They have documented evidence that half or more of women in all branches have been victims of sexual harassment or assault. It shows a profound contempt many military men (including top brass) have for women in the ranks, at the enlisted and officer levels.
Complaints, studies, hearings and regulations do little to halt these practices. Reports surface often about harassment, assaults, rape and other demeaning behavior in basic training, the service academies, duty assignments of all kinds, and in combat. The military today is no safer for women than it ever was. It never will be unless the Pentagon changes its ideology, how it trains GIs, and if it's willing to impose stiff penalties to offenders. The Medical Side of War
The state of the military's health care system is deplorable. Pressed to fund and fill the ranks for two illegal and unpopular wars, Congress and the Pentagon pay scant attention to the injured, sick, and psychologically damaged. It's further testimony to a nation defiling its principles - ones observed only rhetorically, hardly ever in practice, and not at all once the usefulness of combatants is over.
The Iraq and Afghan wars have produced an epidemic of psychological wounds that for many end up permanent. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is frighteningly common, yet care delivered is minimal, inadequate, and dismissive of a major problem afflicting many tens of thousands of returning vets.
Others from the Vietnam era retained their scars, and it's happening again today. Many couldn't find work then or now, abused their spouses, and too often ended up homeless or committed suicide (before or after coming home). An uncaring nation didn't notice nor does it today. The real crime is that the Pentagon and Congress are well versed on these problems, yet do little to address them. Only unbridled militarism, advancing imperialism, filling the ranks, funding numerous weapons systems and munitions, and enriching war-profiteers matter.
The result for hundreds of thousands returning from past and current wars is untreated medical needs, an uncertain future, and the knowledge that the nation they fought for doesn't care when they're no longer needed. Vietnam vets know it, and so do ones today from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Without a draft, the military needs volunteers to fill the ranks. The result is the stop-loss practice of involuntarily extending enlistment terms and frequent redeployments, even for those with serious physical or psychological injuries.
The Pentagon denied the affects of Agent Orange in Vietnam and the existence of Gulf War Syndrome from the first Iraq war. In 1990 - 91 and now, its likely cause was the widespread use of depleted uranium (DU), the proliferation of other toxic substances, and the illegal use of dangerous vaccines in violation of the Nuremberg Code on medical experimentation. No rules apply in our war fighting, nor does the health and welfare of our recruited men and women matter - enlisted to be used, then discarded when their service ends. It's especially evident in the "medical side of war" when those most in need are largely ignored and forgotten.
How the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) handles disability claims highlights a problem reaching epidemic levels. In early May 2009, the Veterans Benefits Administration and Board of Veterans Appeals at VA had a backlog of 915,000 claims, and their rate is growing so fast it may now be approaching or past one million and climbing.
Things are so bad for returning vets that most face an average six month wait for benefits and up to four years to have their appeals heard when they're denied - which is often. It's in addition to the shameful treatment GIs get for their health needs - many serious and requiring extensive, expensive treatment, often not gotten from an uncaring nation. Discharges
Many GIs become disillusioned when they learn promises made are hollow. Some seek early discharges that can be gotten honorably but not easily most often with the nation at war on two fronts and needing all the troops it can get. Still numerous reasons qualify for an Expiration of Active Obligated Service (EAOS), including CO status, disability and illness.
family hardship or dependency factors;
parenthood for single parents or in cases where husbands and wives are in the military;
pregnancy or childbirth;
inadequate performance or conduct during the first six months of training;
qualification under the "don't ask, don't tell" for gays and lesbians;
specific personality disorders;
other physical or psychological factors that don't qualify for medical discharges;
erroneous enlistments, including contract violations and recruiter fraud;
alien status; especially relevant at a time undocumented Latinos (mainly Mexicans) are recruited with promises (then broken) of a green card for them and their family as well as free education, medical care, and post-service employment;
being a sole surviving family member;
unsatisfactorily performing duties;
"separation from the Delayed Entry Program (DEP)" that entraps "youths still in school or the Delayed Training Program (DTP)" for enlistment in the reserves; and
less than honorable discharges for misconduct, drug abuse, court-martial, and other undesirable factors.
Other administrative discharges are also available, all honorable, including "general" ones under honorable conditions. But recruits get little information during training. Those requesting them are told discharges are impossible, so to get the facts civilian sources must be consulted. It takes time, and following proper procedures is essential. But the payoff is worth the trouble for those willing to do it and counseling is available to help.
A GI Rights Network has a toll-free hotline, and there are other organizations as well. They're in it "for the long haul" to instruct today's military how to exit honorably from two illegal wars and avoid the risk of death or disabling injuries. The Families
America's wars harm families as well as GIs. They must cope with the same problems of long, repeated deployments, possible death or permanent impairment, and the lasting affects of war-related trauma that afflict even those visibly or otherwise unscathed.
Some families go public against the Iraq and Afghan wars, recruiter lies and misconduct that entrap their loved ones, and as civilians they're free to speak publicly with no restrictions on what they may say.
Gold star mothers spoke out against the Vietnam War, and today Cindy Sheehan (whose son Casey was killed in Iraq five days after he arrived) and other parents who lost sons and daughters founded Gold Star Families for Peace. They say honor our lost loved ones by ending these illegal wars and occupations, stop invading other countries, and return the nation to peace.
Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) is the largest organization of its kind against the Iraq war with chapters in 29 states. They support their loved ones, demonstrate, speak out publicly, and lobby Congress the way some of their members did earlier against the Vietnam war. "These courageous families....endure unspeakable suffering....join together to support one another....work to end the war....(and represent) the power of collection action."
They're "a powerful force in the effort to end these wars. They can tell the truth to counter recruiters' deceptions." They can effectively represent their loved ones and help others through a common effort to free us all from the scourge of war. Conclusion
America's Iraq and Afghan wars are illegal and immoral. Every service member is obligated by law to disengage, resist, and refuse any longer to participate. US and international laws support them, and as Ehren Watada stated in his defense: "An order to take part in an illegal war is unlawful in itself. So my obligation is not to follow the order to go to Iraq."
Increasing numbers of others are deployed as part of America's permanent war and occupation agenda - continuing no differently under Obama than George Bush. To know what's planned for Iraq, Afghanistan and future US targets, think Korea. US forces arrived in 1950 and never left. Think Japan as well. They've been there as well since WW II, on the mainland and choicest real estate of the country's southern-most and poorest prefecture - Okinawa.
Further, since the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, America has had no enemies anywhere - except those invented to advance a global imperial agenda at the expense of our nation's youths and their families, other loved ones, and friends at home. Wars guarantee new ones and a permanent cycle of violence, death and destruction, the only winners being profiteers who benefit hugely.
As a result, growing numbers of GIs, veterans, families, and the general public are opting to "disengage" and resist. Together they represent power enough to impact "whether or not the United States is able to carry out these and future wars of aggression."
Most Americans oppose the Iraq war and its continued toll on GIs and their families. It's just a matter of time until opposition to Afghanistan is as great and with luck whatever new conflicts the administration plans. Those sent to fight them and their families end up losers. Their choice is clear and unequivocal - absolutely refuse any longer to participate and with enough sharing that view, they'll end. With overwhelming homeland needs unmet at a time of grave economic crisis, honor and necessity must dictate our future course. It's up to mass public activism to demand it.
This article, by Dahr Jamail, was posted toTruthOut, July 14, 2009.
US Army Specialist Victor Agosto served a 13-month deployment in Iraq with the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion. "What I did there, I know I contributed to death and human suffering," Agosto told Truthout from Fort Hood, in Killeen, Texas, in May, "It's hard to quantify how much I caused, but I know I contributed to it."
His experience in Iraq, coupled with educating himself about US foreign policy and international law, has led Agosto to refuse to deploy to Afghanistan. "It's a matter of what I'm willing to live with," he said of his recent decision, "I'm not willing to participate in this occupation, knowing it is completely wrong."
Agosto's lawyer, James Branum, who is also the legal adviser to the GI Rights Hotline and co-chair of the Military Law Task Fore, told Truthout during a phone interview on July 10 that, contrary to mainstream opinion that believes Afghanistan to be a "justified" war, the invasion and ongoing occupation are actually in violation of the US Constitution and international law.
"Victor is approaching this from the standpoint of law and ethics," Branum explained, "It's his own personal ethics and principles of the Nuremburg Principles, that the war in Afghanistan does not meet the criteria for lawful war under the UN Charter, which says that member nations who joined the UN, as did the US, should give up war forever, aside from two exceptions: that the war is in self-defense, and that the use of force was authorized by the UN Security Council. The nation of Afghanistan did not attack the United States. The Taliban may have, but the nation and people of Afghanistan did not. And under US Law, the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution, any treaty enacted by the US is now the "supreme law of the land." So when the United States signed the UN Charter, we made that our law as well."
The Supremacy Clause is a clause in the United States Constitution, Article VI, Paragraph 2. The clause establishes the Constitution, Federal Statutes, and US treaties as "the supreme law of the land." The text establishes these as the highest form of law in the American legal system, mandating that state judges uphold them, even if state laws or constitutions conflict.
This was also the basis for the stand taken by Lt. Ehren Watada of the US Army, who in 2006 was the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse a combat deployment to Iraq.
In an article for Truthout published August 14, 2006, I posted the text of a speech given by Watada at a National Convention of Veterans for Peace in Seattle, Washington, where I was present.
Watada outlined the principled stand he took, which applies to that of Victor Agosto today:
"The oath we take swears allegiance not to one man but to a document of principles and laws designed to protect the people. Enlisting in the military does not relinquish one's right to seek the truth - neither does it excuse one from rational thought nor the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. "I was only following orders" is never an excuse.
"The Nuremburg Trials showed America and the World that citizenry as well as soldiers have the unrelinquishable obligation to refuse complicity in war crimes perpetrated by their government. Widespread torture and inhumane treatment of detainees is a war crime. A war of aggression born through an unofficial policy of prevention is a crime against the peace. An occupation violating the very essence of international humanitarian law and sovereignty is a crime against humanity. These crimes are funded by our tax dollars. Should citizens choose to remain silent through self-imposed ignorance or choice, it makes them as culpable as the Soldier in these crimes.
"Aside from the reality of indentured servitude, the American Soldier in theory is much nobler. Soldier or officer - when we swear our oath - it is first and foremost to the Constitution and its protectorate, the people. If soldiers realized this war is contrary to what the Constitution extols - if they stood up and threw their weapons down - no president could ever initiate a war of choice again. When we say, "... Against all enemies foreign and domestic" - what if elected leaders became the enemy? Whose orders do we follow? The answer is the conscience that lies in each soldier, each American, and each human being. Our duty to the Constitution is an obligation, not a choice."
In a victory for Lieutenant Watada, the Justice Department decided in May to drop any further attempts to retry the officer for his refusal to deploy to Iraq.
Having served three years and nine months in the US Army, Agosto was to complete his contract and be discharged on August 3, but due to his excellent record of service and accrued leave, he was to be released at the end of June. Nevertheless, due to the stop-loss program (a program used to keep soldiers enlisted beyond the terms of their contracts which has affected over 185,000 soldiers since September 11, 2001) the Army decided to deploy him to Afghanistan anyway.
When Agosto refused, the Army issued him a Counseling Statement (a punitive US Army memo) on May 1, which outlined actions taken by the Army to discipline Agosto for his refusal to obey a direct order from his company commander, Michael J. Pederson. Agosto wrote on the form, "There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan. The occupation is immoral and unjust. It does not make the American people any safer. It has the opposite effect," and posted it on his FaceBook page.
On another Counseling Statement dated May 18, Agosto wrote, "I will not obey any order I deem to be immoral or illegal."
On May 27, rejecting an Article 15 - a nonjudicial punishment imposed by a commanding officer who believes a member of his command has committed an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice - Agosto demanded to be court-martialed instead.
In words prophetic of Agosto's ethical and lawful refusal to deploy to Afghanistan, Watada said:
"I have broken no law but the code of silence and unquestioning loyalty. If I am guilty of any crime, it is that I learned too much and cared too deeply for the meaningless loss of my fellow soldiers and my fellow human beings. If I am to be punished it should be for following the rule of law over the immoral orders of one man. If I am to be punished it should be for not acting sooner."
Agosto continues to show up for duty at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, where he is currently stationed, but refused to take part in any duties that supported either the occupations of Iraq or Afghanistan. He told Truthout during a recent telephone interview he was "cleaning the motor pool" and "pulling weeds," and that the Army was being careful not to order him to do anything that would cause him to refuse to comply.
Meanwhile, Branum was in negotiations with the Army in efforts to seek a lower-level court-martial so that Agosto would suffer the minimum penalties possible.
"We were working with the Army's Trial Defense Services (TDS), and Victor has a military lawyer on his side as well, which I recommended he have," Branum told Truthout during a July 10 phone interview.
"TDS had communicated to the prosecution for me that we were willing to accept an Article 15 and do a month of extra duty, then if he (Agosto) got a summary court-martial we'd take it - which would mean Victor would serve a maximum of 30 days in jail, and receive an Other Than Honorable discharge," Branum explained, "So TDS said they took this offer to the CG (Commanding General) who was to sign off on it, but they said he made a mistake and wrote "special" rather than "summary" on the court-martial and sent it back down."
Branum explained that "a summary court martial is little more than an Article 15. Supposedly there was an "honest" mistake made by them handing down this special court martial, but I think they are playing games with us."
Branum, angered by this recent turn of events, explained the difference between the types of court martial, "They (the Army) are not acting in good faith here. What this still means, is the cap went from 30 days (of possible jail time for Agosto with a summary court martial) to a year (with a special court martial), so a pretty big jump I would say, and a leap from an Other Than Honorable discharge (summary court martial) to a bad conduct discharge (special court martial), which means once he is convicted his pay would stop."
Due to the perceived breach of good faith by the Army during the negotiating process, Branum believes he has no choice now but to up the stakes in Agosto's upcoming court-martial.
"Now we're going to put the war on trial with their special court-martial," Branum said, "They had their chance to keep this quiet and move on, but now we're going to pull out all the stops and put the war on trial, and show how the whole thing is illegal."
The most significant factor in Agosto's case is that he has taken a principled stand against the occupation of Afghanistan long before the "point of crisis," according to Branum. The "point of crisis" to which he refers is generally an ethical crisis a soldier experiences when he or she is getting on the plane to deploy.
"He connected the dots long before that point of crisis," Branum explained, "To me, this is a very morally developed point of view. Most resisters don't reach that point until much later on."
It is a similar point reached by Watada, who in the aforementioned speech precisely articulated this experience:
"Now it is not an easy task for the Soldier. For he or she must be aware that they are being used for ill-gain. They must hold themselves responsible for individual action. They must remember duty to the Constitution and the People supersedes the ideologies of their leadership. The Soldier must be willing to face ostracism by their peers, worry over the survival of their families, and of course the loss of personal freedom. They must know that resisting an authoritarian government at home is equally important to fighting a foreign aggressor on the battlefield. Finally, those wearing the uniform must know beyond any shadow of a doubt that by refusing immoral and illegal orders they will be supported by the people not with mere words but by action."
Agosto spoke with Truthout on July 8, immediately after receiving the news of his "special" court-martial. "I was escorted over to the headquarters of Fort Hood and was handed a folder with the paperwork that said he (Commanding General Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch) approved this kind of court-martial. We were in the middle of negotiating a deal where I would have taken a summary court-martial, where the maximum penalty is 30 days in prison and an Other Than Honorable discharge. But somehow during this process someone submitted the case over to the general's discretion, and that' s not something that is supposed to happen in this negotiation phase. I'm surprised, because I thought this deal was going to go down last week and it didn't. I was with my military lawyer, and we were talking about the case, and during that discussion she got the call from the prosecuting attorney that the case had been referred to the general, and then we knew it wasn't likely we would get the deal I'd sign ed off on. So yesterday I went to the III Corps building and got the news."
Agosto said he has "gotten the indication" that he will be leaving the company he is currently in to be moved to the Battalion's rear-detachment company "because that's the one that will stay here. I think they want to avoid a Jeff Paterson moment, I guess that's their thinking. They won't try to deploy me, they just want to punish me for my intentions and for what I've done so far."
Jeff Paterson was a US Marine during the US attack against Iraq in 1991. Paterson opted to apply for conscientious objector status. When that was denied, he refused to board the plane that was heading to Saudi Arabia during the build-up to the war by literally sitting down on the tarmac and refusing to move. Eventually his unit left without him. Paterson told his story to Truthout last summer in Oakland, California.
"Leaving without me is what I thought they were going to do. I was a sort of liability. Also I had been on a hunger strike the previous week, and had at that point become a medical issue for them. So they left me behind, and I was taken instead to the Pearl Harbor brig, where I did the next two months in pre-trial confinement. I was court-martialed for a number of offenses. Ultimately they chose to cut their losses and give me a quiet discharge even before the court-martial ended."
Agosto's stand has already inspired another member of his unit to refuse to deploy to Afghanistan as well. Sgt. Travis Bishop, who served 14 months in Baghdad with the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion - the same battalion as Agosto, who served north of the Iraqi capital - recently went AWOL from his station at Fort Hood, Texas, when his unit deployed to Afghanistan. He insists that it would be unethical for him to deploy to support an occupation he opposes on moral grounds.
On his blog, he writes about his position:
"I love my country, but I believe that this particular war is unjust, unconstitutional and a total abuse of our nation's power and influence. And so, in the next few days, I will be speaking with my lawyer, and taking actions that will more than likely result in my discharge from the military, and possible jail time ... and I am prepared to live with that."
Truthout spoke with him briefly after he turned himself in at his base in early June. He said he'd chosen to follow Specialist Agosto's example of refusal, which had inspired him, and wanted to be present at his post to accept the consequences of his actions. Like Agosto, he, too, hoped others might follow his lead.
Agosto and Bishop are not alone. In November 2007, the Pentagon revealed that between 2003 and 2007 there had been an 80 percent increase in overall desertion rates in the Army (desertion refers to soldiers who go AWOL and never intend to return to service), and Army AWOL rates from 2003 to 2006 were the highest since 1980. Between 2000 and 2006, more than 40,000 troops from all branches of the military deserted, more than half from the Army. Army desertion rates jumped by 42 percent from 2006 to 2007 alone.
Branum, who has defended over a dozen war resisters, told Truthout, "As far as I know, this is the first time since Vietnam that we've had two resisters in the same unit."
Adam Szyper-Seibert, a counselor and administrative associate at Courage to Resist, an organization that supports war resisters, recently told Truthout that "in recent months there has been a dramatic rise of nearly 200 percent in the number of soldiers that have contacted Courage to Resist." Szyper-Seibert suspects this may reflect the decision of the Obama administration to dramatically increase efforts, troop strength and resources in Afghanistan. "We are actively supporting over 50 military resisters like Victor Agosto," Szyper-Seibert says. "They are all over the world, including André Shepherd in Germany and several people in Canada. We are getting five or six calls a week just about the IRR [Individual Ready Reserve] recall alone."
The IRR is composed of troops who have finished their active duty service but still have time remaining on their contracts. The typical military contract mandates four years of active duty followed by four years in the IRR, though variations on this pattern exist. Ready Reserve members live civilian lives and are not paid by the military, but they are required to show up for periodic musters. Many have moved on from military life and are enrolled in college, working civilian jobs, and building families.
Agosto told Truthout he stands willing to face the consequences of his actions.
"Yes, I'm fully prepared for this. I have concluded that the wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan] are not going to be ended by politicians or people at the top. They're not responsive to people, they're responsive to corporate America. The only way to make them responsive to the needs of the people is for soldiers to not fight their wars. If soldiers won't fight their wars, the wars won't happen. I hope I'm setting an example for other soldiers."
"One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law," Dr. Martin Luther King Junior said, words that concisely explain the ramifications of Agosto's position.
As evidenced by the stand being taken by Sergeant Bishop, Agosto's hope has already been realized. However, with 19,000 US soldiers recently added to the occupation of Afghanistan (bringing the total to 68,000) and violence continuing to escalate, there is an increasing likelihood for more to follow Agosto's lead.
This article, by Hal Bernton, was posted to the Seattle Times, May 9, 2009.
The U.S. Justice Department under the Obama administration has decided to drop its appeal of a federal judge's ruling that 1st Lt. Ehren Watada cannot face a second court-martial resulting from his high-profile 2006 refusal to go to Iraq with his Fort Lewis brigade.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday granted the Justice Department's request to drop its appeal of a federal judge's earlier ruling that the second court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada on that count would represent double jeopardy and a violation of Watada's constitutional rights.
This is the latest development in the long legal battle of Watada, whose 2006 decision not to join his Stryker brigade in Iraq turned the Hawaiian-born officer into a national symbol of the anti-war movement.
But Watada's legal troubles may not be over.
He could still face a military tribunal for two other counts of conduct unbecoming an officer, according to a Fort Lewis spokesman.
Those counts were not thrown out by the federal court. They result from two interviews Watada gave in 2006, in which, among other comments, he attacked then-President George Bush for betraying the trust of the American people. He also said that Bush's conduct made him ashamed to wear his Army uniform.
"At this point the leadership at Fort Lewis is considering a full range of judical and adminstrative options, which could range from court martial to administrative actions and discharge," said Joe Piek, a Fort Lewis spokesman.
Watada's first court martial, in February 2007, ended with a mistrial.
To block a second court martial, Watada's attorneys sued in U.S. District Court. The unusual move left the U.S. Justice Department arguing the case on behalf of the Army.
In October, U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma ruled that Watada could not be prosecuted again by the Army on charges of missing his deployment to Iraq. He also blocked court-martial for comments made in a news conference and while speaking at a Veterans for Peace national convention.
But Settle left open the possibility that the Army could retry Watada on the two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer.
The Army has consistently maintained that a second trial on all the counts would not be double jeopardy. In December, in the waning days of the Bush Administration, the Justice Department filed a notice of appeal that kept open the option of trying to overturn Settle's ruling.
After a more lengthy review, the Justice Department in the Obama administration opted to withdraw that appeal. That decision was made by the department's Office of Solicitor General, which determines what cases should be appealed, according to Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorneys Office in Western Washington.
Through the course of this legal battle, Watada has been assigned a desk job at Fort Lewis. Eventually, he hopes to return to civilian life and attend law school, said Kenneth Kagan, one of Watada's attorneys.
The 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division that left for Iraq without Watada was deployed for 15 months. The brigade returned to Fort Lewis and is preparing to serve again in Iraq later this year.
U.S. Army Specialist André Shepherd, who went AWOL after serving in Iraq, has applied for asylum in Germany. Shepherd refused military service because he is morally opposed to the Iraq War.
"It is a sickening feeling to realize that I took part in what was basically a daily slaughter of a proud people," said Shepherd at a press conference announcing his application for asylum. "I am remorseful for my contribution to these heinous acts, and I swear that I will never make these mistakes again."
Shepherd, who has been living underground in Germany for nearly two years, applied for refugee status on November 26th on the grounds that the Iraq War is illegal.
This makes Shepherd the first Iraq War Veteran to apply for refugee status in Europe. His case may have profound implications for the growing ranks of troops who are refusing to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Who is André Shepherd?
Shepherd did not set out in life intending to build a career in the military. He grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and went to school at Kent State University, where he studied computer science. He graduated in 2000 in the midst of the dot-com bubble burst, and he found himself unable to get a job in his field. Shepherd embarked on a litany of odd jobs to get by, including working fast food, stuffing envelopes, couriering, and selling vacuum cleaners. Yet it often wasn't enough to cover his basic living expenses.
In the summer of 2003, Shepherd ran into an army recruiter who told him of the army's benefits: free travel, healthcare, and free housing. "At the time, I was living in my car, so that sounded appealing," said Shepherd.
On January 27, 2004, Shepherd decided to join the army. "At that time, I didn't have the knowledge I have now. All I had was pretty much what the mass media was telling me and what the Bush Administration was saying on the mass media," said Shepherd.
Shepherd was trained in Apache helicopter repair and sent first to Achach Germany, then to Iraq, where he was stationed from September 2004 to February 2005.
"While I was in Iraq, the first thing I noticed was when the local population would come on our base. Usually when you liberate a people, they are overjoyed to see you, they are happy to see you, they would welcome you with open arms," said Shepherd. "When I would see the Iraqi population, they didn't look like they were in any way happy to see us. They looked like either they were afraid of me or if I turned my back without my weapon, they would probably want to kill me. That started me thinking."
Shepherd started talking to soldiers on his base and was shocked to learn that many did not understand why they were there and did not see any benefit. He began doing research and started seeing "inconsistencies between what the Bush Administration was saying and what was actually happening."
Eventually, Shepherd began analyzing his own contribution to a war that was making less and less sense to him. "My job appeared harmless until one factors in the amount of death and destruction those helicopters cause to civilians in Iraq," he said.
"Once I pretty much figured out the truth, that this war was nothing more than a fraud, not only on the American people but the entire world, I resolved within myself that I would no longer go on another deployment to Iraq," he said in an interview with Courage to Resist, one of the many U.S.-based organizations rallying support for him.
Refusal to deploy
On April 11, 2007, Shepherd went on leave to southern Germany. "I made a decision within that two week period that I would have to walk away from the service rather than get myself killed or get someone else killed," he said.
He carried out that decision and lived underground in Germany until going public with his request for asylum last week. During this time, he had no contact with his family, in order to protect them being implicated in his case. Now that he is open about his situation, Shepherd is back in touch with his family. He says they are worried about what could happen to him but supportive of his decision.
Shepherd has been met with a groundswell of support for his decision to refuse further military service. The Military Counseling Network, a German organization that counsels American soldiers who are questioning going to war, has been instrumental in helping him go public with his case, and his refusal to serve has garnered international press.
"The peace movement in Germany is rallying to support Shepherd's cause. We are working on an appeal to the German government, collecting signatures and other forms of support, and there is definite interest in all parts of the country," said Tim Hubert of the Military Counseling Network in Germany.
Shepherd is also a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), an organization comprised of over 1,300 U.S. veterans who have served since September 11, 2001 and call for immediate pullout from Iraq.
"I think it is very courageous of him to step away from the military and the situation and prevent himself from being drawn into a war crime," said Mathis Chiroux, an IVAW member who is currently refusing orders to reactivate into the military and deploy to Iraq. "I certainly hope the german government responds to his request and allows him to stay."
Significance of Shepherd's case
Several factors lean in favor of André's bid for asylum. The German government came out against the Iraq War, a majority of Germans are opposed to that conflict, and not a single German soldier has been sent to fight in Iraq. Furthermore, the German Federal Courts ruled that the Iraq War violates international law. A European Union regulation guarantees refugee status for soldiers who are fleeing military service in wars that have been declared illegal by international standards. And in 2005, the German Federal Court ruled that a German army officer could not be demoted for refusing to develop a computer he feared would be used by the United States to aid the Iraq War effort.
"The Nuremberg Trials took place here, and the notion of all soldiers taking personal responsibility is widely respected in Germany," said Tim Hubert. "That said, German exports and the greater economy are very financially dependent on the United States, and the political repercussions of granting asylum would definitely be an affront to a long-standing friendship, making André's case an uphill battle."
Germany is home to roughly 60,000 U.S. soldiers, and Germany's airspace has been used by the United States since the beginning of the Iraq War. "It's time for the German government to come down off its fence and pick a side, and I think André is offering them a unique opportunity to stand up for the Geneva Conventions," said Hubert.
Shepherd joins a growing number of U.S. troops are refusing to fight in the so-called "war on terror." Army soldiers are resisting service at the highest rate since 1980, with an 80 percent increase in desertions, defined as absence for more than 30 days, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to the Associated Press. An estimated 200 Iraq War resisters are residing in Canada, and over 150 resisters have come out publicly against the war. Some cases, such as Lt. Ehren Watada, the first army officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq, have garnered widespread support and attention.
Robin Long, an Iraq War resister who applied for asylum in Canada in 2004, was rejected by Canadian authorities this September and deported into U.S. military custody, making him the only war resister to be deported from Canada since the Vietnam War. Dozens of other cases are still making their way through the appeals process in Canadian courts.
Many applaud Shepherd's decision to refuse deployment and apply for asylum, despite the uncertainty he faces. "I think it is important that soldiers are examining the conflicts they are asked to fight in and are making a decision to not fight based on their values and sense of morals," said Andrew Gorby, who was discharged from the Army in May 2007 as a conscientious objector and now works for the Center on Conscience and War, a counseling organization that works to defend the rights of conscientious objectors."It is powerful that here you have a soldier making a decision not to fight regardless of the consequences."
This article, by Mark Larabee, was originally published by The Oregonian, July 17, 2008
James Burmeister worked at Wal-Mart and in pizza joints in Eugene until he joined the U.S. Army 18 months ago because he wanted to make a difference.
His recruiter told him a tour in Iraq would give him the opportunity to build schools and support war-weary Iraqis, so against the advice of his parents, he signed up.
But once in Iraq, he was assigned to a "small kill" team that set traps for insurgents. They'd place a fake camera on a pole with a sign labeling it as U.S. property, giving the team the right to shoot anyone who messed with it. Burmeister, who provided perimeter security for the team, said he could never get over his distaste for the tactic.
After being wounded by a roadside bomb, he was sent to Germany to recover. In May, on the eve of being sent back to Iraq, Pfc. Burmeister went AWOL --absent without leave --taking his family to Ottawa.
The 22-year-old Oregon native is one of about three dozen U.S. soldiers who've applied to Canada for refugee status under the Geneva Conventions. Thousands have deserted since the war began, and many are believed to be living illegally in Canada, officials there said.
Desertion is a normal part of the military. Since it became an all-volunteer force after the Vietnam War, the Army's rate of desertion has remained relatively constant, at about 1 percent. That contrasts with a high of 3.4 percent in 1971, when more than 33,000 soldiers deserted to avoid combat in Vietnam.
Desertion is a felony. Burmeister's application gives him a legal way to stay in Canada and avoid prosecution. But it's not like the Vietnam era, when thousands of Americans --both deserters and draft dodgers --were allowed to become Canadian citizens after fleeing there.
Canada's immigration laws are much stricter now, and its courts have set the bar high for political refugees.
Refugees must prove that they would face persecution --not just prosecution --if sent back home. So far, Canadian judges have ruled against every soldier as cases wind their way through the courts.
Support for resisters
Burmeister has yet to have a hearing. But he is working with the War Resisters Support Campaign to publicize the issue and lobby Canada's Parliament for support for AWOL U.S. troops. The group helps them with places to live and sets them up with attorneys.
Public support for the deserters is growing, said Joel Harden, a spokesman for the group. He cites a recent poll in Ontario that found 54 percent of Conservative Party voters agreed with the group's objectives.
The number is not surprising to Harden, given that Canada refused to send troops to Iraq after the United Nations declared the conflict illegal. He said Vietnam-era deserters are looked upon favorably because they made significant contributions to Canadian society.
"Canadians are opening their hearts to these guys," Harden said.
Still, Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board has denied every application it's heard for refugee status. Two U.S. Army soldiers, Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey, lost their cases in both federal court and the federal appeals court and are seeking to appeal to the supreme court.
Hinzman served in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne in a noncombat position after applying for conscientious objector status, which was eventually rejected. Facing deployment to Iraq, he sought asylum in Canada in January 2004. Hughey fled to Canada in March 2004 before his Army unit went to Iraq. He once told an interviewer that he believes it's a soldier's duty to refuse an order that he knows to be illegal and immoral.
Harden said he thinks things will end favorably for U.S. troops in Canada. "I'm pretty confident that we can find a political solution to this problem," he said. "If the decision of the military and the Bush-Cheney government is that they'll be prosecuted, then they ought to be welcome here."
Enlisted to help Iraqis
Ottawa is a long way from the halls of Junction City High School and music classes at Lane Community College. Burmeister wrestles with the thought he may never get to go home again.
He was born in Portland and grew up in Eugene. After high school, he played bass, saxophone and bass clarinet in bands and worked in dead-end jobs. But he wanted to do something "big in my life."
Army recruiters capitalized on that sentiment, he said.
"They drove it into my head that I would be doing so much to help, building power plants and schools and handing out school supplies to kids," he said.
After basic training at Fort Knox, Ky., his first assignment was with the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, a mechanized infantry battalion based in Schweinfurt, Germany. He met his wife, Angelique, there. They have a son, Cornell, 2.
Burmeister said he started having doubts about going to Iraq when his training focused on combat tactics, how to kill and how to raid buildings. By August 2006, he was a gunner atop a Humvee in Baghdad, about 15 miles south of the fortified Green Zone.
When the team wasn't setting traps, it patrolled areas hoping to draw out the enemy. Burmeister says he hated when they would set out the fake camera.
"As soon as anyone would mess with it, you were supposed to lay waste to them," he said. "I completely disagreed with that tactic. I can't see how that's helping anyone whatsoever."
On Feb. 15, his Humvee hit a bomb, knocking Burmeister unconscious. He lost hearing in his right ear; shrapnel embedded in his face. He was sent to Germany to recover. On May 4, on the eve of being sent back to Iraq, he and his family boarded a plane for Canada.
"I kind of felt stuck," he said. "I thought people needed to be free there. But when I went there it was all about captures and kills and it felt like we messed things up over there.
"This felt like my last option."
Canada "a bad idea"
But experts say it's not a good option. Most deserters turn themselves in, said J.E. McNeil, director of the Center on Conscience and War, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., providing legal advice to U.S. troops.
"Going to Canada is a bad idea," McNeil said. "This is not Vietnam. At that time, you could walk in, set your bags down and stay."
She said a better option is to return to the military. Most who do are discharged under the "other than honorable" classification, she said. Few have been convicted of desertion, she said.
In July 2005, Army Sgt. Kevin Benderman was given a dishonorable discharge and sentenced to 15 months in prison for refusing to deploy, but he was acquitted on the more serious charge of desertion. The Army's court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada for refusing to deploy ended in a mistrial in February. He was the first officer to refuse to go to Iraq.
McNeil said the Army provides a safety valve for deserters, allowing them to surrender and be processed out of the service. She estimates about 5,000 are doing that each year, although she calls that a "lowball figure."
"People going AWOL from the Army is nothing new," McNeil said.
The Army said 19,390 soldiers have deserted between 2001 and 2006, an average of 3,231 a year, or about 1 percent of the entire force.
"The vast majority of the soldiers who desert have been on active duty for less than six months, and the reasons for deserting typically cited are personal problems, money problems, things like that," said Lt. Col. Robert Tallman, an Army spokesman .
Tallman said a soldier's commander determines the appropriate discipline, which is intended to not be punitive but corrective and rehabilitative. Those soldiers who do not turn themselves in must spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulder and live with the stigma of being a deserter, he said.
Burmeister's mother, Helen Burmeister of Cheshire, Ore., worries that her son will never be able to come home for a visit. But she's proud of his decision to leave the Army.
"I don't support the war," she said. "I don't know anybody who supports what's going on in Iraq."
She said representatives of the Army twice called her at work to tell her that her son was making a mistake and should turn himself in.
"It took guts for him to do what he did," she said. "I told them I hadn't heard from him."
This article, by Leo Shane III, was originally published by Stars and Stripes, June 17, 2008
WASHINGTON — A former Army journalist recalled to active duty this month refused to report to his new assignment Sunday night, citing his opposition to the Iraq war.
Matthis Chiroux, who served five years in the Army before separating last summer, said he expects and welcomes legal action resulting from his refusal, calling U.S. operations in Iraq an illegal occupation.
"I don’t feel like I’m doing anything illegal at all," he said. "We basically have no cause for military presence in Iraq.
"I’m making this decision because I believe my first loyalty is to the higher ideals of this country, which are being blatantly violated by our leaders."
Army officials said he faces charges of failure to report and desertion for the move, although no legal action has been taken yet.
He was scheduled to report to Task Force Marshall at Fort Jackson, S.C., by Sunday but instead held a news conference in the nation’s capitol to confirm his intentions not to return to the Army.
Chiroux, a sergeant, served overseas at several posts during his enlistment but spent only six days in Afghanistan and none in Iraq.
Since last August he has been attending college and working with Iraq Veterans Against the War but was recalled from the Individual Ready Reserve pool this year.
Two years ago, 1st Lt. Ehren Watada refused to deploy to Iraq with his unit, citing similar opposition to the war and was court-martialed. But a court case against him ended in a mistrial, and charges against him are still pending.
Several other active-duty members of Iraq Veterans Against the War have promised to leave the service or refuse to deploy if sent to Iraq, and last month they protested on Capitol Hill to highlight what they called an unjust occupation of Iraq. Chiroux said he is confident that a reasonable court would not find him guilty of any wrongdoing.
"It’s not about what job I’d do," he said. "Any order to deploy there is unlawful."
This article was originally published by Courage to Resist, June 15, 2008
The U.S. Army's case against 1st Lieutenant Ehren Watada remains unresolved, 2 years after Lt. Watada boldly and publicly refused deployment to Iraq with his unit in June 2006. Seven months ago U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle set in place a temporary injunction against a second court martial after the prosecution and military judge orchestrated a mistrial during the first trial in February 2007.
Lt. Watada remains stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington where he works a desk job and is under no special restrictions. Though his term of service ended in December 2006, these ongoing legal proceedings prevent his release from duty.
Lt. Watada recently spoke with Tara McKelvey of The Prospect Magazine (his first public interview in over a year), and was unwavering when asked about his original stand against the Iraq War; "I realized we had been lied to…and I had a deep sense of betrayal. I had joined an army, and I thought it was noble. And to think we had engaged in something that had caused so much carnage and destruction and then to find out it was unnecessary. There I was in uniform, and I felt ashamed of what I was being asked to do. I think there's no bigger crime than taking your country into a war based on lies." As reported on by McKelvey, despite the frustration of being held in the military pending dragged out legal proceedings, Watada appears resolute; "I believed I would always try to do what I believe is moral…I didn't do this to be a public figure--to be hated or loved. I just did it because it needed to be done."
Lt. Watada's legal journey has been rife with unexpected twist and turns. At his court martial in February 2007, over a thousand supporters rallied to support Ehren and other war resisters at the Fort Lewis gates. Inside, military judge John Head declared a mistrial following a very aggressive legal defense organized by civilian attorney Eric Seitz of Honolulu, and some surprising testimony in Lt. Watada's favor by prosecution witnesses.
Following the declared mistrial, the Army displayed every intention to try to go ahead with a 'do over' retrial of Watada. However, this retrial was blocked at the last minute in November 2007 by Judge Settle based on Fifth Amendment protections against being tried for the same crime twice - known as double jeopardy.
In declaring a temporary injunction, Judge Settle left no clear next steps for either side in Lt. Watada's case. Shortly following this ruling, the Army indicated that it would file papers to attempt to prevent the injuction from becoming permanent, though to date, no such action has been taken.
For the most part, Lt. Watada has tried to keep a low profile and avoid public speaking since the February 2007 mistrial in order to avoid giving the military any excuse to fabricate new legal charges against him.
According to the Honolulu Advertiser on May 26, Lt. Watada's current attorneys have stated that the burden is now on the government to come forward to modify or dissolve the injunction. The Honolulu Star Bulletin reported on June 8 that Watada attorney Ken Kagan said he expected Judge Settle to revisit the case early this fall. He also expected the case to end up in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where it could take up to 3 years to be resolved!
Lt. Watada's father Robert Watada, now living near Eugene, Oregon sums up the military's strategy regarding his son, "I kind of think it's like Guantanamo – just hold him."
Thankyoult.org continues to post updates on this legal limbo: "As Democratic Presidential candidates call for troop withdrawal from Iraq, we cannot let the public forget the courageous stand taken by Lt. Watada in June, 2006, when he refused to deploy to serve in the illegal Iraq War and occupation. No New Court Martial! Dismiss All Charges! Release Lt. Watada with an Honorable Discharge!"