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 biography, by Tyler Zabel, was posted to the IVAW website
I joined the Illinois National Guard when I was 17 years old, living in a very small town and still a junior in high school with just a simple signature from my father. At the time I was a very patriotic and nationalistic young man. I wanted to protect my country and defend my family from the "evil" terrorists that threatened our so-called freedom. I was also full of anger and pain, something many kids feel at that age. I was looking for an escape, an outlet for my rage and frustration, and a way to get ahead in life. The military promised me education, adventure, and excitement I knew I would never find on a college campus.
Basic training wasn't at all what I had thought it would be, as I callously screamed out brutal chants about slaughtering kids in schoolyards and laughing about the way napalm would stick to their skin. We must’ve screamed, “Kill!” hundreds and hundreds of times to get into our heads that this was our purpose as soldiers. But I played along, acting the part of the good soldier, nodding my head and doing what I was told, though the feeling in my gut told me something was wrong.
When I finished basic training I moved to Chicago in search of work and new opportunities, getting much more than I bargained for. I came across perspectives and views I had never seen before, learning so much more about my own country's history than I ever had in school. Eventually, I would meet up with Mercedes, a war survivor from El Salvador, another country my government had helped to ruthlessly oppress. Once I came to see war from a child's eyes, I slowly began to question some of the orders I was being given. After some time and introspection I decided to become a conscientious objector (CO), knowing that I could not kill in the name of American imperialism, or a mutant form of democracy, some ancient idea of nationalism, and definitely not for George fucking Bush and his oil junkie friends.
Resources on the CO process are scarce, so I started to do research on my own. I was immediately discouraged from applying for the process from the beginning. The chaplain-to-be, Lt. Todd, told me that I didn't even qualify for CO because my objection was not moral AND religious. The CO process is shrouded in secrecy in order to keep more soldiers from finding a more honorable way out than going AWOL. Thankfully, I had done my homework and had the support of the GI Rights Hotline, the Iraq Veterans Against the War, the American Friends Service Committee, Courage to Resist, and the Center on Conscience and War. Then I was also lied to by my team leader, Sgt. Washington, after he gave me my first counseling statement on the CO process and I asked him if I could get a copy of the Army Regulations on CO that he had read to me so I could be better prepared. He told me the document was 'classified' and could not give me a copy. I later called him a liar after Aaron Hughes of IVAW sent me Army Regulation 600-43 in an email.
I started speaking out with the IVAW while I was going through the process, and the first three steps went somewhat smoothly, the interview with a chaplain was a go, the psychiatric evaluation was a go, and the interviewing officer recommended me for
discharge. About a week after I had put in my application my unit got official orders for a deployment to Afghanistan and I was told that it wouldn't affect me.
Then about a week before everyone was scheduled to leave they called me up and told me I would be deploying with them, even though for months beforehand when everyone else was training to leave I was not. I was shocked, but started packing my things, saying goodbye to my family, quitting my job, mentally preparing myself for whatever was ahead. Then my chain of command called me the day before everyone left and told me they had made a "paperwork error" which seems like a pretty big thing to err on if you ask me.
But nonetheless I was relieved. I had contacted Jan Schekowski (my congressional representative) multiple times about my case and never heard anything back from her office, though her help may have averted some of these issues. Though later, I did speak with Linda Englund of Military Families Speak Out and she contacted her office for me a bit and spoke with some people working there.
Then next month when I went to drill they give me orders to ship again, and I was slightly angry to say the very least. I decide to go AWOL because I was tired of their mind games. I knew what my conscience was telling me and had to follow it. They were calling me every day for a while, trying to get me to come back or talk to them. I had a policeman (who had formerly been in my unit) come to my dad's house where I left my car and harass my friends and I at the beginning of the AWOL so I got a little scared after that. I stopped working, in fear that they might find me, and refused to drive anywhere. I was constantly looking over my shoulder fearing I was being followed, knowing that any minute someone could kick down my door and haul me off to a brig in handcuffs.
Eventually, I decided that I could not live like this forever and I called my unit. They told me to come into drill the next week, and I did, assuming I would be arrested for refusing a deployment. Then they proceeded to tell me that they had never planned on sending me anywhere, which seemed to be another lie. Sadly, the sergeant that had told me I was going to be deployed had died of a strange heart condition and could not be contacted to back up my claim. So instead of detaining me, they demoted me, which was essentially a slap on the wrist for what I thought I was going to be punished for.
I didn't understand much of this while it was going on, but in retrospect it seems much clearer. They were doing their best to wear down my resolve and force me to quit. They didn't want me to come back from my AWOL because that would have made it easier for them. Me coming back meant more paperwork to fill out and, in their view, it tarnished the command’s macho image having one of theirs go CO. But I did come back, and a couple months later, after a nearly two yearlong battle, they granted me CO status in April 2009. I have yet to receive paperwork for my discharge, but my sergeant says it’s in the mail.
I'm going back to school without the help of the GI bill, though I am happy to take on the cost myself. Finally, I am writing a book about the experience and doing my best to relax, taking a small break before getting back into the world of activism and organizing.
This article, by Dahr Jamail, was posted to Truthout, September 28, 2009.
Afghanistan war resister Travis Bishop has been held largely “incommunicado” in the Northwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Lewis, Washington.
Bishop, who is being held by the military as a “prisoner of conscience,” according to Amnesty International, was transported to Fort Lewis on September 9 to serve a 12-month sentence in the Regional Correctional Facility. He had refused orders to deploy to Afghanistan based on his religious beliefs, and had filed for Conscientious Objector (CO) status.
Bishop, who served a 13-month deployment to Iraq and was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, was court marshaled by the Army for his refusal to deploy to Afghanistan. Given that he had already filed for CO status, many local observers called his sentencing a “politically driven prosecution.”
By holding Bishop incommunicado, the military violated Bishop’s legal right to counsel, a violation of the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution, according to his civil defense attorney James Branum.
The Sixth Amendment is the part of the Bill of Rights that sets forth rights related to criminal prosecutions in federal courts, and reads, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”
Attorney LeGrande Jones, who practices in Olympia and was designated by Branum as the local counsel for Bishop, was also denied access to Bishop, on the grounds that Jones was on an unnamed and unobtainable “watch-list,” which constitutes deprivation of counsel.
Jones was denied entry to Fort Lewis and told he would never be allowed to enter the base. Fort Lewis authorities never gave him a reason for his being denied access to the base and his client. To this, Branum told Truthout, “Fort Lewis authorities have a duty to tell LeGrande the reasons why he is being barred from Fort Lewis, and therefore [barred] from communicating with his client in the Fort Lewis brig.”
Until September 18, Bishop’s condition was unclear due to his having been completely cut off from the public.
Branum, who is the legal adviser to the Oklahoma GI Rights Hotline and co-chair of the Military Law Task Force, also represents Leo Church, another war resister being held at Fort Lewis.
Church, who was also stationed at Fort Hood, went AWOL (Absent Without Leave) to prevent his wife and children from becoming homeless. The fact that he was unable to financially support his family off his military pay alone dictated that Church seek other means to support them. With his pleas to the military for assistance going unheeded, he opted to go AWOL in order to support his dependents.
According to Branum, “Church received eight months jail time because he put the safety and welfare of his children over his obligation to the Army. Leo tried to get help from his unit, but was denied.”
Branum told Truthout that Church had been able to contact him while at Fort Lewis, but the call was monitored by a guard, violating his attorney-client privilege.
Gerry Condon, with Project Safe Haven (an advocacy group for GI resisters in Canada), and a veteran himself as a member of the Greater Seattle Veterans for Peace, told Truthout he believes Bishop and Church are being held in a way that is both “intolerable and unconstitutional.”
Condon, who is working to try to support both Bishop and Church, told Truthout, “They are denied all visitors, except for immediate family, clergy and legal counsel [legal counsel is limited at this time]. No friends or fiancés. This is not the normal practice at other brigs.”
Branum told Truthout he feels that how Bishop and Church are being treated at Fort Lewis is “part of a broader pattern the military has of just throwing people in jail and not letting them talk to their attorneys, not let visitors come, and this is outrageous. In the civilian world even murderers get visits from their friends.”
Speaking further of the conditions in which the military is holding Bishop and Church, Condon added, “Fort Lewis authorities have made it virtually impossible for Bishop and Church to make phone calls. They must first get money on their calling account. This must be done by money order and according to several other similarly prohibitive procedures. And the money may not be credited to the account until a month after it is received. Plus, officials at the Fort Lewis brig must approve the names of people that can be called.”
Condon told Truthout, “Travis Bishop is a leader in what has become an international GI resistance movement that is attempting to bring troops home from both occupations by following their consciences and international law. They deserve all the support we can give them, especially while they are in prison - they are owed their constitutional liberties.”
Branum told Truthout that as far as he knows, he may well be the only person on Bishop’s call list.
Both Bishop and Church have been prevented from adding any names to their respective “authorized contacts” lists (even for family members), which effectively cuts them off from almost all contact with the outside world. According to Branum, mail and commissary funds sent by friends and supporters will likely be “returned to sender” due to what he feels is “a cruel and inhumane policy.”
In addition, there are no work programs at the Fort Lewis brig, nor any classes available for soldiers to take while they are incarcerated. Generally, work programs and/or classes are available for incarcerated soldiers.
“By participating in work programs and school classes, soldiers being held in brigs can get time cut off their sentences,” Branum explained to Truthout, “But these don’t exist at Fort Lewis, so that means Travis and Leo can’t get time taken off their sentences. Travis will do a minimum of 10 months, and could have theoretically worked an additional month off his sentence if Fort Lewis had these programs.”
Branum, who is the lead attorney for both Bishop and Church, told Truthout the actions of officials at Fort Lewis violate his clients’ constitutional rights.
“Bishop and Church’s defense team and supporters are in the process of negotiating with Fort Lewis officials to ensure transparency and that Bishop and Church’s legal rights are being met,” Branum stated in a press release on the matter that was published on September 17. “The unusual circumstances of isolation of these soldiers is unquestionably illegal. If Fort Lewis doesn’t change its ways, we will be forced to go to court and demand justice.”
On September 18, officials at Fort Lewis finally allowed Branum to speak with Bishop on the telephone, but not privately.
Bishop was accompanied by two guards, who monitored his conversation with Branum. In addition, Fort Lewis authorities claimed that the recently rebuilt/remodeled brig does not yet have proper facilities to facilitate a private telephone conversation.
Speaking further about the conversation he was finally allowed to have with Bishop, Branum added, “In the phone call we did get to do, they still refused to let Travis talk to me privately. He actually had two guards in the room with him the entire time, which obviously negates any compliance with attorney-client privilege. And presumably the phone call was taped (all of the other brigs have special rooms for attorney calls, that have phone lines to the outside that are not taped) which is completely unconstitutional. The brig of course will say, “well we won’t listen to that tape” but that is bullshit, and it is illegal.”
“The only reason they [Fort Lewis authorities] let me talk to Travis on Friday [September 18] was that he was finally “medically cleared,” Branum told Truthout, “This took 10 days in this case, and it looks like this is their standard operating procedure, which is completely wrong.”
When Truthout questioned the public affairs office at Fort Lewis about Bishop’s situation, we were told all matters were being handled “legally, and according to standard operating procedure,” and “any wrongdoing would be investigated.”
Branum added, “They are giving the excuse that “we don’t have the secure room for attorney phone calls set up yet,” but can’t tell me when they are going to have the room set up.”
Branum and Jones are planning to file a lawsuit against Fort Lewis in the near future, specifically targeting the denial of attorney-client privilege.
Both soldiers are being supported by two GI resistance cafes: Under the Hood cafe (in Killeen, Texas, near Fort Hood) and Coffee Strong (in Tacoma, Washington, near Fort Lewis).
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 article, by David SZwanson, was posted to Coastal Post Online, August 2009/p>
A few words from U.S. troops in Iraq, all quoted in Chapter 1 of Dahr Jamail's brilliant new book "The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan":
"Oh yeah, we did search and avoid missions all the time. We would go to the end of our patrol route and set up camp on the top of a bridge and use it as an over-watch position. It was a common tactic. We would just sit there and observe rather than sweep. We would call in radio checks every hour and report that we were doing sweeps." -- Eli Wright
"Unit members would go and play soccer with Iraqi kids instead of going on patrol. I knew soldiers who learned to simulate vehicular movement on the computer screen, to create the impression of being on patrol." -- Josh Simpson
"Nearly each day they pull into a parking lot, drink soda, and shoot the cans. They pay Iraqi kids to bring them things and spread the word that they are not doing anything and to please leave them alone." -- Geoff Millard
"Our platoon sergeant, an E7, was with us and he knew our patrols were bullshit, just riding around to get blown up. We were at Camp Victory, at Baghdad International Airport. A lot of time we'd leave the main gate and come right back in another gate to the base where there's a big PX. They had a nice mess hall, and a Burger King. The BK is where we wanted to go and to the PX and look at DVDs and dirty magazines. We'd leave one guy at the Humvees to call in every hour, and we'd spend the full eight hours doing this." -- Cliff Hicks
"A big thing used to be squads putting up in some Iraqi's house for a day or two, just going there and staying. They insert themselves in a house covertly in order to watch a neighborhood without anyone knowing that they were there. But it is really not about watching. It is about sleeping. Hopefully the squad is well-accepted in the family. Sometimes they even make friends. A few soldiers keep watch, the rest of the squad catch up on sleep and relax for a change." -- Bryan Casler
"So we would go and drop the dismounted people at some house with an air conditioner, where they would kick in a door and hang out and drink tea with those people, while we would proceed with the vehicles and bide time out of visible range." -- Seth Manzel
What a bunch of slackers: that might be an appropriate response to all of this if there were some comprehensible and worthwhile thing that any of these people were supposed to be doing. But, as Jamail's book makes clear, when US soldiers in Iraq are not avoiding their duty they are engaging in harassment, abuse, torture, the murder of civilians, endless stress and trauma, and the risk of their own death and injury for no purpose that has been made clear to them. Soldiers quoted in the book point out that if their own nation were occupied they would certainly fight back just as the Iraqis do. In fact, these are soldiers who signed up to fight for a cause. Some of them fell for the post-9-11 propaganda and signed up thinking they would help defend the United States. Many of them signed up for economic reasons, but they also had a willingness to kill and risk death for a noble cause. Many of them tried to do so for years before losing faith. And what went away, other than their physical and mental well being, was not their courage or generosity. It was their ability to convince themselves they were risking their lives for any good reason.
As recounted in "The Will to Resist," which ought to be read by every American, avoidance of duty (or, rather, illegal orders masquerading as duty) in Iraq has often evolved seamlessly into refusal to obey. Jamail recounts incidents of individuals and squads refusing to obey orders. If you were sent out at the same time every night to the same place, and were losing more friends each time to predictable attacks, for no apparent reason, would you not at some point refuse to go out yet another time, at least without changing your path and timing? Most of these soldiers do not have any understanding that war is always a mistake. They are willing to fight a war if someone can explain to them what the purpose of it is, or what a victory would look like. But they have turned against this particular war, since nobody can explain it to them, and they have seen for themselves that what they do in it accomplishes no good.So, some soldiers refuse to load their guns, risking their own lives rather than kill. Others go AWOL. Others, indeed, turn against all wars and apply for conscientious objector status. Some leave the country, some go to jail, some go to court and win. All of these stories are found in this book. So is a rich collection of stories from Winter Soldier, the series of events organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War, at which veterans of the Iraq War have described what they did -- most of it far more shameful and painful than facing the charge of "slacker" from fat chicken hawks in air conditioned studios. Iraq Veterans Against the War turns five years old this week and continues to grow rapidly, as it should: http://ivaw.org
Other worthwhile organizations to join and support are described in "The Will to Resist," which includes a powerful foreword by Chris Hedges, and some excellent chapters on how veterans are trying to deal with PTSD, injuries, lack of income, and despair, the products of a war that kills more US troops through post-combat suicide than through enemy attacks. The resistance movement within the military to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is still not what it was during the Vietnam War. Soldiers today were not drafted away from lucrative careers. They are in the military because they do not have other options, and almost half of them have families to support. And soldiers are kept together in their units so that they will each fight out of loyalty to their buddies even if they all oppose the fighting. But, as Jamail discusses, soldiers who want to resist lack the same support from civilians that was provided during the Vietnam War. That's the rest of us. We have a duty to read these books, support the groups doing the work, build up the coffee shops near the bases, keep the military out of our schools, and offer our time to assist those willing to make a more courageous choice than that of simply obeying illegal orders.
This article, by Alice Embree, was published in the Rag Blog, August 16, 2009
In the second court martial in two weeks, another Fort Hood soldier was sentenced on August 14th for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan.
Sgt. Travis Bishop was brought before special court martial proceedings, found guilty and sentenced to one year in prison. His rank and pay were reduced. He is expected to be held in the Bell County Correctional Unit before serving his sentence in a military jail. His discharge status will be determined later. Because Sgt. Bishop has a prior honorable discharge, his GI benefits may not be reduced.
Sgt. Bishop faced four charges: willful disobedience of a Non-Commissioned Officer, absence without leave and two counts of missing movement. The charges were more serious than those faced by Spc. Victor Agosto on August 5th. Agosto's case was resolved in a summary court martial and he is serving a one month sentence in the Bell County Correctional Unit.
The courtroom resembled a civil courtroom with the judge in black robes. An Army defense attorney was seated with Bishop and his civilian defense attorney, James Branum. The panel, however, was hardly a peer panel. The jury seats were filled by eight Colonels, Lieutenant Colonels and Majors who had to be warned once not to fall asleep while the Judge read instructions.
A Fort Hood Public Affairs representative told Bishop supporters during a recess that Bishop was being tried in the same courtroom where Army Staff Sgt. Shane Werst had faced a court martial for shooting an unarmed Iraqi citizen. "Five privates turned a dime on him," he said. Despite testimony that soldiers were ordered to plant a gun on the Iraqi citizen to make the death appear to be self defense, Werst was acquitted May 26, 2005. Bishop's sentence for not deploying is a sobering contrast.
Bishop's court martial began on Thursday and Bishop's defense attorney and supporters had expected the arraignment, designation of a jury panel and testimony of one witness to be brief. Instead, the trial began in earnest and lasted five hours. At one point on Thursday, supporter Cynthia Thomas was asked by a Killeen police officer and an Army MP to leave the courtroom and explain her relationship with the defendant. Thomas asked if she were being detained and to speak to her attorney. She was not stopped from returning to the courtroom.
The prosecution brought Captain Chrisopher Hall in to testify that the absence of Travis Bishop from his unit had caused hardship to his unit. The defense presented four witnesses who testified to Travis Bishop's sincerity of beliefs. Bishop filed a request for Conscientious Objector status in late May and the request is still pending.
Charles Luther, a defense witness with a background as a lay Baptist minister, spoke of Bishop's religious beliefs. The defense attorney established that psychiatrist, Lt. Col. Adams, to whom Bishop had been referred, approved Bishop's Conscientious Objector claim and that it was one of only two claims in his ten years that Adams had approved.
In a surprise moment at the end of testimony, the Prosecution decided to call Lt. Colonel Ronald Leininger to the stand. Leininger was the Brigade Chaplain to whom Bishop was referred for pastoral counseling. Bishop has described his deep disappointment in speaking to someone he thought would be attentive to his religious beliefs. Bishop said the Chaplain reduced his interview time and interrupted the interview repeatedly by receiving phone calls.
In the statement issued by the Chaplain after his visit with Bishop, he focused almost no attention on Bishop's religious beliefs. Instead, he wrote that Bishop had been coached by Iraq Veterans Against the War and other antiwar activists. He went further to say that the affiliation that best described Bishop's religious heritage was "Conservative Evangelicals" who the Captain said are "generally pro-military service with no pacifist tendencies in doctrine or practice. In fact, they make good soldiers."\
Bishop has received letters of support from a number of pastors who cite their church's doctrine and practice supporting conscientious objection to war.
The court was recessed as the panel considered the verdict for about one hour. They found Sgt. Bishop guilty. In the sentencing phase, the civilian defense attorney, James Branum, asked for a three months sentence in light of Sgt. Bishop's sincerity and previous good conduct, including a fourteen month deployment in Iraq. In particular, Branum focused on the fact that soldiers are never given information about their rights to Conscientious Objection. Branum said that a soldier who changes his or her belief about war doesn't understand that there are options.
Maj. Matthew McDonald, who served as the judge, discounted the relevancy of whether Bishop was notified about his right to file for CO status. McDonald was quoted in the Killeen Daily Herald (8/14/09) as saying: "If every soldier in the Army who disobeyed an order could claim it was because they weren't notified of conscientious objector status, we probably wouldn't have a military any more."
Prior to sentencing, Bishop's testimony was forceful and moving. He cited several articles that protect a soldiers rights and noted that soldiers often are not informed of their rights, but that doesn't relieve the Army of its responsibility to honor those rights. Bishop said that the right to pursue a claim of Conscientious Objection requires protection. He said that he was unaware that he could pursue a claim of Conscientious Objection until right before his deployment.
"The truth is, as soon as I discovered this process [C.O.] existed, I acted upon it. I left because I did not feel that I would have a sympathetic, understanding command structure to fully take my problems to, and also to give myself time to prepare for my C.O. application process, and the legal battle I'm currently fighting. These are not excuses. These are explanations. My hope is that you truly treat them as such during your sentencing deliberations."
After being sentenced to the maximum jail term allowable under a Special Court Martial, Bishop had time to handwrite a note:
"To everyone who still cares: I can not say that a year in prison doesn't scare me. I am terrified... But still, though I am terrified, it would be scarier still to know that my fellow soldiers who feel as we feel would never find out what we are trying to accomplish... Everyone who hears or reads this should know that I love you all, and my life is forever changed because of you. Victor and myself are starting something and it is now up to all of you to continue on. With all my heart. Travis."
As Bishop was escorted from the Justice Center to a waiting van, supporters who were active duty soldiers or veterans stood at attention and saluted. Hands cuffed together, Bishop flashed a peace sign in return.
This letter was written a few minutes before Afghan war resister Travis Bishop was shackeled and taken away after his court-martial at Fort Hood.
To everyone who still cares:
I can not say that a year in prison doesn’t scare me: I am terrified. I just cried in the bathroom so no one could see.
But still, though I am terrified, it would be scarier still to know that my fellow soldiers who feel as we feel would never find out what we are trying to accomplish had I not gone to prison.
Everyone who hears or reads this should know that I love you all, and my life is forever changed because of you.
Victor and myself are starting something big . . . and it is now up to all of you to continue on.
With all of my heart,
This paper, by Robin Long, was written while he was incarcerated at the Mirimar Brig and posted to the Blog Free Robin Long, 12 March, 2009.
N 2004, when military resister Jeremy Hinzman applied for refugee status in Canada, the Conservative government stepped in to his Refugee hearing and stated evidence challenging the legality of the War in Iraq can’t be used in his case. However, the U.N Handbook for Refugee’s and the Nuremburg Principles states: a soldier of an Army that is involved in an illegal war of aggression has a higher international duty to refuse service. Said soldier also has the right to seek refugee protection in any country that is signatory to the Geneva Convention. By refusing to allow him- and by precedent ALL other claimants the right to use that argument, they closed the door on that legal avenue for refugee protection.
THE US invasion of Iraq was clearly an illegal war of aggression. The US was not under attack, or the immanent threat of attack from the nation of Iraq, nor was the war approved by the UN Security Council. By taking the stance it did, the Canadian Government implicitly condoned the invasion & continuing occupation of Iraq. Is that what Canadians want? A majority of Americans want it to end and have come to realize it a mistake, at best. Canadians have long known it to be wrong. Why is the minority Conservative government still holding on to the idea, and still deporting war resisters? Why are they separating families and aiding in the imprisonment of morally strong men and women?
IN June 2007, Canada’s Parliament voted on a non- binding resolution to allow war resisters and their families permanent resident status. That vote passed, and in agreement with that vote, a poll of Canadian opinion showed overwhelming support for the resolution. In defiance of parliaments intent and the will of the people, the Conservative minority government, led by Prime Minister Steven Harper and Immigration Minister Diane Finley ignored the bill. The Government stated: All refugee claimants are given a fair chance to plead their case before the Refugee Board, and special treatment to these Iraq resisters were unfair to other claimants. Further, they stated that we are not legitimate claimants because we are from the US, and that the US has a fair and transparent justice system, and that we wouldn’t be singled out for being political.
ON JULY 14th, 2008, in my final attempt to stay in Canada, where my son and community is, Federal Judge Ann Mactavish stated that I didn’t prove I would be treated harshly by the US military for being a politically outspoken opponent to the War in Iraq and Bush Administration policy. She predicted my punishment would be minimal, 30 days in the brig, perhaps. She then cleared the way for my deportation/extradition. She noted only10% of these cases go to Court Martial.
A MONTH later, I was tried in a Court Martial presided over by a judge, a Colonel in the US Army, who has President Bush in her chain-of-command. (She was later appointed by Bush to oversee trials at Guantanamo Bay, no doubt because of her political credentials.
THE ONLY aggravating evidence the Prosecution presented was a 6 minute video of me stating, among other things, that I believed my President lied to me. A political statement. The fact that this was found admissible in court for the charge of Desertion is beyond me. There were no character witnesses brought against me. The ONLY factors the Prosecution wanted shown in determining my sentence was the fact I was political and exercising my freedom of speech in criticizing my Commander-in-Chief.
IT SEEMS like a conflict of interest to have a judge determine my fate when she has to ultimately answer to the President, while I was claiming that same President was a domestic enemy, who used any reason, and manufactured reasons, to invade and wreak havoc in Iraq.
THE JUDGE came back with 30 months- that’s two and a half years for not showing up for work that I believed to be morally objectionable, criminal, and its by far the harshest sentence given to a resister/deserter of the Iraq War.
I was saved from that by a plea bargain that got me 15 months. I STILL get a Dishonorable Discharge (DD). A DD will keep me from many fields of employment, from any Government position to the civilian world. It will make getting home loans all the harder. This is a FELONY CONVICTION- which will make it very hard, perhaps impossible to return to Canada to be with my young family. It is the worst grade of discharge there is.
PEOPLE THAT committed far worse crimes have been getting off with lighter sentences than me. 1st Infantry Division soldier Spec. Belmor Ramos was sentenced to only 7 months after being convicted of conspiracy to commit murder- 4 Iraqi men. I refused to participate in killings, he stood guard while others executed four unidentified Iraqi men, afterwards dumping their bodies in a Baghdad canal on ’07. During his court martial Ramos admitted his guilt, stating: “I wanted them dead. I had no legal justification to do this.” Where is the justice? The system is neither fair nor impartial. Can it really be transparent when you don’t know who is influencing the judge from up the chain of command? Do you see how the military justice system works? – Condone killings with light sentences, but God forbid someone should call President Bush a liar and a war monger. A persons words and political opinion must be far more damaging to the good order of the military if they are anti war and critical of the President, than a soldiers criminal actions in an occupied foreign nation…..
PEOPLE HAVE used the argument that I signed a contract, quite often. I’d like to quote from a letter one o the Founders of our United States wrote to General Washington concerning his thoughts on contracts in April, 1793: “When performance, for instance, becomes impossible, non performance is not immoral. So if performance becomes destructive to the Party, the law of self-preservation overrules the laws of obligations to others. For the reality of these principals I appeal to the true fountains of evidence: the head and heart of every rational honest man.”- Thomas Jefferson. For me to continue in my military contract would have been destructive to me as a person with my views, morals and ideals. Let alone the Iraqi’s, who have died in the hundreds of thousands ….
THE CONTRACT I signed was to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, from all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to obey the LAWFUL orders of the President and those officers over me. I did not sign to be a strong arm for corporate interests or oil. The so called Liberation of Iraq has turned into nothing more than a constant and protracted struggle by the people of Iraq, against forces, seen and unseen, that are trying to impose their will on them in a public war for private power and profit. True freedom is the ultimate expression and condition of a people to control their OWN destiny, not the manufactured variety being offered here. True democracy is not found at the point of a gun. It rises up from within the mass of the people.
IT WASN’T about WMD’s, or we would have found some. It wasn’t about “regime change” or we would have been in Darfur, or Indonesia, or a dozen other countries. It wasn’t about 9/11 because they were from Saudi Arabia. It dosn’t say anywhere in my contract that I would be going to foreign soil, half way around the world, to invade a country that was of no threat to the United States. To risk my life, not in defending the people or Constitution of the United States but creating more enemies for them by being in an occupying force. Iraq, however unhappy under our former ally/client Hussein, was never a real threat. The destabilized nation of Iraq has become a breeding ground and awesome recruiting tool for Al Queda. It has cost the American people an enormous price. Im not talking just te trillion dollar financial burden, but the human cost of the war. The deaths of so many of our brave youth, the missing limbs, the PTSD, the suicides. The invasion has made far more enemies for the United States and made the world a far more dangerous place.
THE ORDER to go to Iraq was not a lawful one. It violates our Constitution. Article IV states that ANY treaty the US is signatory to shall be the supreme law of the land. Last time I checked, the US is signatory to the Geneva Conventions. There are certain laws in that treaty for declaring war, last time I checked, “regime change” wasn’t one of them. A country must be under attack or immanent treat of attack. Neither was true in the case of Iraq. President Bush had no right to interpret the Constitution as he saw fit, on the grounds it was a new world after 9/11, and the 107th Congress had no right to pass HJ Res. 114, which “allowed” the President to invade Iraq. The Constitution was being ignored by the whole lot of them and they were derelict in their duty to uphold it.
THE STAND that the Conservative government of Canada has taken has separated a family, an act totally un-Canadian. I have a young son, a Canadian citizen, and a Canadian partner with MS, left to raise our son while I’m locked in a brig for refusing to participate in a war Canada , in 2003, under a different Government, wouldn’t send troops to. Back then, they saw the holes in Bush’s “intelligence”. By deporting me, and not giving me a chance to leave willingly, I have been barred from entering Canada for at least 10 years. My flesh and blood is there!
The Conservatives are destroying Canada’s tradition of being a refuge from militarism and an asylum from injustices that goes back to the times of slavery. Are they truly representing the people? Who are they working for, really?
THE DAYS of Bush have ended. This new Obama administration has a different view and a different policy. Its now time for Mr Harper to change his view. He should listen to Parliament and the solid majority of his citizens!
Please support the movement to allow War Resisters to stay in Canada and pardon the ones in the US. I ask anyone who reads this: please! Help me return to Canada to be with my partner and son. I want only to live in peace and be in his life.
STOP THE WAR. Peace, love, light.
Incarcerated Prisoner of the US Military
PO BOX 452136, San Diego, CA, 92145
This article, by Nathaniel Hoffman, was published in the Boise Weekly, August 12, 2009
Robin Long ran away twice in order to find himself.
The first time he ran--during his junior year at Timberline High School--Long wandered the United States for more than a year, hitching rides, working odd jobs and eating at soup kitchens.
The second time he ran, Long took a stand against the Iraq War, shirked U.S. Army orders, fled to Canada and became the first U.S. Iraq War resister deported back to the United States. He ended up in a military lockup in San Diego for a year.
In Canada, Long found a community of Iraq War resisters and a cause, according to his attorney, James Branum, who represents many Iraq War resisters.
"He really found his own voice there," Branum said. "He's a lot more confident and assertive and speaking out for what he believes in, more than he was before."
Long has argued that the U.S. war in Iraq is illegal under international law, that former President George W. Bush deceived the public and the military with false evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and that there was no connection between the Sept. 11 attacks and Iraq.
"When I joined the Army in 2003, I felt honored to be serving my country. I was behind the president. I thought it was an honorable venture to be in Iraq. I was convinced by the lies of the Bush administration just like Congress and a majority of Americans," Long wrote in a Nov. 6, 2008, letter to just-elected President Barack Obama. "But just because I joined the Army doesn't mean I abdicated my ability to evolve intellectually and morally. When I realized the war in Iraq was a mistake, I saw refusing to fight as my only option. My conscience was screaming at me not to participate."
Long was the first of at least five runaway soldiers who have been deported from Canada. A handful of high-profile cases are still in process in the Canadian immigration courts, and the Canadian Parliament has voted twice to grant Iraq War resisters sanctuary.
Upon his forced return to the United States, Long was arrested, court martialed, pled guilty to desertion with intent not to return, and received a relatively lengthy 15-month sentence in the naval brig at Miramar in San Diego. He was released last month after serving 12 months of his sentence.
Long's deportation from Canada and his involvement with anti-war groups has earned him some notoriety as a prominent Iraq War resister. In Canada, he is a poster child in the roiling debate over whether to offer sanctuary to U.S. military deserters.
"I guess you'd call me a celebrity because I stood up for what I believe in and I served 15 months," Long told BW during a recent visit to Boise.
Robin Long was never fond of rules. In 2001, sometime during his junior year in high school and soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, the 17-year-old dropped out. He left the strictness of his mother's house for the freedom of the road, hitching rides across America.
"I wouldn't call myself homeless because I chose to be that way," Long said, during a lengthy interview last month in Boise.
Long went to California and Florida and came back to Boise where he met a trucker at a truck stop. The trucker hired him on for a few months and convinced him to get a GED and attend a U.S. Department of Labor Job Corps training program in Bristol, Tenn.
Long entered Job Corps in January 2003, taking courses in welding. But soon after he enrolled, Army recruiters visited the Job Corps center and chatted him up, convincing him to sign onto the delayed entry program. Delayed entry is a form of enlistment that gave Long a year to finish his welding courses before starting basic training.
"You think these guys are cool," Long said. "Young kids don't think that a recruiter can ever lie to them."
Long was recruited just as plans to invade Iraq solidified. Recruiters fanned out across the United States, boosting military rolls, and venues like Job Corps proved fertile ground for recruitment.
In March 2003, the U.S. invasion began. On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush declared victory in the war.
In October 2003, though Long said he had expressed moral objections to the war in Iraq to his recruiter, a staff sergeant, Long enlisted in earnest.
This was a key moment in Long's story. Per Army protocol, he was briefly discharged from the delayed entry program and then reenlisted in the Army. He could have walked away at that point, but Long said the recruiter sweet-talked him into continuing with the Army, saying that he would not go to Iraq.
"I was prepared to fight for my country, but not in Iraq," Long said.
An eight-hour bus ride landed him at Fort Knox in Kentucky, home of the Army Armor Center and also of the Army's recruitment command.
Long said he had long been interested in the military and that he was eager to serve his country. But his initial experience in basic training soured him even more on the path he'd chosen. Long immediately felt that much of his training was aimed at dehumanizing the enemy. He was marched around the base to cadenced chants of "blood, red, blood," was lectured to about "the enemy" and was repeatedly told that he would be going to the desert to "kill rag heads."
"I never put two and two together that going to the military and killing people was the same thing," Long said.
In May 2006, after he had fled to Canada, Long spoke to BW, further explaining his growing objections to the war:
"Also, the people who were coming into my unit had just come from Iraq, and they were telling me horrific stories. A couple people had pictures of people that had [been] run over with tanks, and a lot of people were proud of what they were doing and a lot of people were grossed out by the total disrespect for human life ... And another thing was that my superiors were telling me, 'You're going to the desert to fight rag heads.' It wasn't like I was going to Iraq to liberate the people. It was like I was going to the desert to kill rag heads. They were trying to make people less human."
Long continued to wrestle with what he believed was the immorality of what he was being asked to do, while still following orders. His assignment was to train second lieutenants--"butter bars"--in how to command a tank. One day, one of the butter bars--who outranked him--hit him in the face with a snowball, and Long was encouraged to punch the guy in the face, which he did.
In training exercises, Long often played the part of Iraqi forces and even of the media. He felt that a "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality ruled the war games. During one of these war games, after a group of American troops "mowed down" a large gathering of "Iraqis," including two American service members who were among the group, the advice offered was to get closer before shooting so they don't kill Americans by accident. Long was also shot at in war games while playing a reporter.
"It's OK to just shoot the media when they get in your face," Long said.
By 2005, Long was sure he could not fight in Iraq. He heard about conscientious objector status for the first time, but when he asked about it, he was ignored and then discouraged. An Army chaplain asked if he was opposed to all wars, and Long said that if the United States was attacked and his family was in danger, he would not be opposed to fighting. But he also told the chaplain that he would not be "the strong arm for corporate interests." Or for oil.
He was advised that his personal stance against the Iraq War would not qualify for conscientious objector status. In April 2005, Long was given a high-priority notice to support the Second Brigade, Second Infantry Division, based at Fort Carson, Colo., in Iraq. He was to report to Fort Carson on May 2, his 21st birthday.
Long said he and his "battle buddy" at Fort Knox were the only two soldiers called up to Fort Carson. After the call up, Long had the same dream four nights in a row: An 8-year-old Iraqi boy, who reminded him of his brother, was running at Long with an AK-47. Long dropped his gun and was shot. He told his commanding officer about the dream and the officer was incredulous, Long recalled.
"A fuckin' dream ... you're telling me about a fuckin' dream," the officer told him.
Long was given PCS, or Permanent Change of Station, leave and came back to Boise for 10 days to get ready for his deployment.
The Army had made at least one positive change in Long's life. His service had helped reunite Long with his family. He hadn't spoken with his mother for about three years before she attended his graduation from basic training, and they remained in touch. Long stayed with his mother while in Boise, but inside, he was still not sure whether he would report to duty for Iraq."I didn't want to bring shame upon myself or my family," Long said. He considered going to Iraq and not shooting his gun.
His mother, who declined to be interviewed for this story, dropped him off at the Boise airport. He had a ticket to Colorado Springs. But instead of flying to Fort Carson, he called a friend and hid in his basement in an East Boise subdivision for a few months.
Long became a deserter. At one point during his hiding, U.S. marshals came to the door, but they were just there for his friend who had missed jury duty. A short time later, Long hitched a ride to Canada.
"If I go to Canada--that's what they did in the '70s--I won't have to stay here in hiding anymore," Long said.
According to media accounts, more than 25,000 U.S. soldiers have deserted military duty since the Iraq War began. Lt. Col. Nathan Banks, a Pentagon-based Army spokesman, said that less than 1 percent of the Army is AWOL, and that the numbers are not a problem for his branch.
"We are more focused on the global war on terror than the fact that we have individuals that choose not to serve at this current time," Banks said.
The Army does not have a program to apprehend deserters; most are picked up on other charges by local law enforcement and handed over to the military. Banks said that nine out of 10 deserters have financial problems or face failures as a soldier, rather than claim moral qualms with the war.
Some estimates put the number of war resisters who've fled to Canada at a few hundred. Fewer than 50 of these have applied for refugee status, according to Karen Shadd, a spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the nation's immigration agency.
Shadd said that immigration cases are private in Canada unless made public by the petitioner. Five Iraq War asylum cases, including Long's, have been heard in public and all of them rejected, with Canadian immigration officials arguing that none of the deserters were in need of Canada's protection.
Shadd said that the Canadian government has a fair asylum policy and does not want to make a special case for Iraq War resisters because it could be interpreted as unfair by asylum seekers from other countries.
Long's deportation and conviction, however, have factored in the cases of other Iraq War resisters in Canada. In at least one case, Long's 15-month sentence and dishonorable discharge was cited as evidence of politically motivated prosecutions in the United States, giving one Canadian judge pause.
The town of Nelson, B.C., is now known as Resisterville for the growing number of Iraq War resisters and the numerous Vietnam War alums and draft dodgers who live there. But Long did not know that when he arrived. He bummed around Canada for six months before hearing about the War Resisters Support Campaign, a group that provides financial support for U.S. military deserters in Canada and helps them with their legal options.
It was in Nelson that Long met a French Canadian woman named Renee Arthur. He returned with her to the town of Killaloe in Ontario for two winters. The couple had a son, who is now 3 years old.
In Canada, as he awaited a resolution to his amnesty application, Long discovered an environmental and peace activist community. He sat in a tree to protest the clearing of a cedar grove for a parking lot. He bought an '82 VW Vanagon and converted it to run on waste vegetable oil. And he started a small company called Food Not Lawns to convert people's lawns into vegetable gardens.
Renee Arthur has multiple sclerosis, and Long worked to provide her with healthy organic food, apprenticing on an organic farm. Long also began to speak out on the war. He was interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, calling the war in Iraq illegal and asserting that President Bush had lied about Iraq.
He wore dreadlocks and an anarchist-style black sweatshirt with a sew-on patch.
He lost his immigration case. Then he was caught.
In 2007, Long returned to Nelson to seek work. He picked fruit for a time, but in October, while in Nelson, Long was questioned by a Canadian police officer and detained on national immigration hold. Having lost his bid for amnesty, Long was no longer welcome in Canada, but he still had the option of appeals.
Long bailed out from a Vancouver jail but was required to check in every month, prohibiting him from returning to Ontario where his son lived. In June 2008, the Canadian immigration authorities said he had not checked in with them--Long said he did--and on July 4, 2008, he was arrested again. After a series of hearings, Long was escorted through the Peace Arch to Whatcom County, Wash., on July 15 and handed over to the Washington State Police, who delivered him to Fort Carson to face court martial.
It was the first time that a U.S. Army deserter from the Iraq War had been deported from Canada, and Canadians were not happy. The Canadian Parliament had passed a nonbinding resolution a month prior asking the conservative government to grant U.S. war resisters sanctuary in Canada. The government ignored the resolution, which has since passed a second time, after two members visited Long in the brig and read some of his writings on the floor of the Canadian Parliament.
"Our prime minister, Stephen Harper, is not respecting the will of the people or the will of parliament," said Olivia Chow, who represents downtown Toronto in Canada's parliament and visited Long in the brig. "He's anti-democratic, which makes a mockery of the claim of fighting in Iraq for democracy, by him rejecting parliament's decision to not deport war resisters."
Long's deportation garnered a brief in The New York Times.
"I believe I was a headliner," Long said. "I made every paper in the United States pretty much, when I got deported."
Long believes that his deportation and the handful of Canadian deportations since were meant to be an example to U.S. soldiers that Canada would not welcome them.
At his military trial, Long again went his own path. Army attorneys assigned to defend him urged Long to beg for mercy. He declined.
"Instead of making me look good, we put the Iraq War on trial," Long said.
Branum, an attorney based in Oklahoma who specializes in G.I. cases with moral opposition to the war, attempted to elevate Long's case to a moral argument against the Iraq War.
"We mostly focused on the issue of morality, that a person has a right to morality or at least should have that right," Branum said.
Long was charged with intent to shirk hazardous duty in Iraq, which carried a five-year maximum sentence. He pled down to desertion, and the Army agreed to a 15-month maximum sentence, which he was prepared to serve.
Branum said the plea deal allowed Long to open up about his feelings about the war.
He called to the stand Col. Ann Wright, a former high-ranking Army official who resigned in protest of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and he called other war resisters to testify as well.
"I talked about Jesus. I talked about Thoreau," Branum said. "Even if you disagree with Robin, our society has benefited from the civilly disobedient."
Branum also suggested a Nuremberg defense, that Long was legally correct to oppose immoral orders from the state. And he argued that the prosecutions and strong sentencing of war resisters were politically motivated.
"Robin, from Day 1, wanted to speak the truth to the Army," Branum said.
The Army prosecutors argued that Long's desertion and public profile were bad for morale and they showed video of his CBC interview to the judge, dreadlocks and all.
Long and other Iraq War resisters argue that since the United States is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, the Iraq War was launched in violation of both international and U.S. law.
As Long writes in an essay called "The Contract":
"The order to go to Iraq was not a lawful one. It violates our Constitution. Article IV states that any treaty the [United States] is signatory to shall be the supreme law of the land. Last time I checked, the [United States] is signatory to the Geneva Conventions. There are certain laws in that treaty for declaring war, last time I checked, 'regime change' wasn't one of them. A country must be under attack or immanent threat of attack. Neither was true in the case of Iraq. President Bush had no right to interpret the Constitution as he saw fit, on the grounds it was a new world after 9/11, and the 107th Congress had no right to pass HJ Res. 114, which 'allowed' the President to invade Iraq. The Constitution was being ignored by the whole lot of them and they were derelict in their duty to uphold it."
In 2006, BW asked him about his oath to serve. "I never really ... I guess I was kind of not being mature," Long said. "I was 19 years old at the time I was swearing in. It also says to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and at first I thought, when they told us we were going over there, I thought, it was an honorable thing. I thought hey, there really are weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein really is a bad man in power. I really thought it was an honorable thing. But as the war kept progressing, then is when I started to see that things were not really adding up."
Long was one of two deserters serving time at Miramar, where he said many prisoners are sex offenders.
"I had to make sure people wouldn't steal pictures of my son," he said.
In addition to his incarceration, Long was stripped of his rank and given a dishonorable discharge. His discharge remains on appeal. As he tours the country speaking out in opposition to the war, Robin Long remains in the Army, getting military medical benefits, though he is no longer being paid.
He argues that his desertion was not dishonorable and that the unfavorable discharge status--a felony--affects his ability to return to his family in Canada and his ability to get work in the United States.
In Long's open letter to Obama, he asked for a better discharge status: "I ask you to please consider granting me presidential clemency or a pardon. I have given this to many different organizations and people to ensure that you receive a copy. I am so happy that you were elected President. I feel real change coming. You are the light after the storm, 'Hurricane Bush' if you will."
He has not heard back but continues the appeal.
His wife is unable to move to the United States because she receives full medical benefits for her MS in Canada and would not be able to get treatment here, Branum said.
After his release from the brig in San Diego, Long moved to San Francisco where he is living communally with other activists and studying massage therapy. He is being sponsored on a trip to Israel and Palestine in October to speak to Army resisters there and meet with high school students. But ultimately Long would like to return to Canada, to be reunited with his son and the community he found there.
"Canada has a long history of being a refuge from injustice," Long said.
This book review, by Jon Letman, was distributed by the Inter Press Service News Agency, August 17, 2009
KAUAI, Hawaii, Aug 17 (IPS) - Six months into Barack Obama's presidency, the U.S. public's display of antiwar sentiment has faded to barely a whisper.
Despite Obama's vow to withdraw all combat forces from Iraq before September 2011, he plans to leave up to 50,000 troops in "training and advisory" roles. Meanwhile, nearly 130,000 troops remain in that country and more than 50,000 U.S. soldiers occupy Afghanistan, with up to an additional 18,000 approved for deployment this year.
So where is the resistance?
In independent journalist Dahr Jamail's "The Will to Resist: Soldiers who refuse to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan" (Haymarket Books), Jamail profiles what may ultimately prove to be the United States' most effective anti-war movement: the soldiers themselves.
During the early years of the Iraq war, Jamail traveled to Iraq alone and reported as an unembedded freelance journalist. Over four visits, Jamail documented the war's effects on Iraqi civilians in "Beyond the Green Zone" (2007).
Although he is a fierce critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of the U.S. mainstream media which he says served as a "cheerleader" for war, Jamail admits he was raised to admire the military. However, after covering the war from Iraq between 2003 and 2005, Jamail was enraged by what he calls "the heedless and deliberate devastation [he] saw [the U.S. military] wreak upon the people of Iraq."
Back in the U.S., traveling the country speaking out against the war, Jamail met scores of soldiers who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and found that he shared with them a "familiar anguish" which drove him to further explore their motivations as soldiers. In doing so he opens the door to a growing subculture of internal dissent that is increasingly bubbling up and spilling over the edge of an otherwise ultra-disciplined, highly-controlled military society.
"The soldiers I spoke with while working on this book are some of the most ardent anti-war activists I have ever met," Jamail told IPS. "Having experienced the war firsthand, this should not come as a surprise."
In "The Will to Resist", Jamail profiles individual acts of resistance that he envisions as the possible seeds of a broader anti-war movement. The book is filled with stories of soldiers who refuse missions deemed "suicidal", go AWOL, flee abroad, refuse to carry a loaded weapon, even arranging to be shot in the leg - and those who in a final act of desperation commit suicide.
Soldiers who refuse to deploy or follow orders risk court-martial, prison time, dishonourable discharge and loss of veteran's medical benefits, yet an increasing number of active duty soldiers and veterans are willing to do so.
Rather than accept a mission almost certain to bring death, some troops simply refuse to follow orders. Jamail describes soldiers in Iraq on "search and avoid" missions who grew adept at giving the appearance of going out on patrol when, in fact, they were lying low, catching up on sleep and trying to avoid being killed.
Jamail quotes one Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as saying, "Dissent starts as simple as saying 'this is bullshit. Why am I risking my life?'"
Soldiers tell Jamail that incidents of refusing orders are unremarkable and "pretty widespread," to which he responds, "It is also understandable why the military does not want more soldiers or the public to know about them."
"Army Specialist Victor Agosto, who served a year in Iraq, has recently publicly refused orders to deploy to Afghanistan," Jamail told IPS, "and the Army, due to the threat of more soldiers and the broader public learning of this, backed away from giving Agosto the harshest court-martial possible, to one of the lightest."
Jamail also dedicates two chapters to soldiers who stand up to systemic misogyny and homophobia in the military. Extensive interviews with female soldiers detail a pervasive culture of institutionalised "command rape," harassment, abuse and assault which, in a number of high-profile cases (and many more unknown) end in ostracism, coercion, demotion, suicide and murder.
Citing studies from professional medical journals that offer a grim assessment of sexual intimidation and abuse within the U.S. military, Jamail writes, "According to the group Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, one in six women in the United States will be a victim of sexual assault in her lifetime. In the military, at least two in five will. In either case, at least 60 percent of the cases go unreported."
As Jamail recounts horrific cases of violence toward women in the military, he notes the irony of frequent claims that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are "liberating" women of those Muslim countries.
Like female soldiers, gay and lesbian service men and women are targeted for harassment and abuse. Jamail meets soldiers who, under the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy, must conceal their true identity, falsely posing as straight while battling internal conflicts about their own roles in the military.
In the blunt language of the soldiers, Jamail describes the military experience as a process of dehumanisation. "The primary objective appeared to be to mistreat and dehumanise your guys [fellow soldiers]," one Marine says. "I could not do it, not to my men and not to those people. I like the Iraqis, I like the Afghanis. Why were we treating them like shit?...That is when I really started questioning what the hell was going on."
For many soldiers however, the pain of war is simply too much to bear and so they choose their own final discharge: suicide. In an emotionally exhausting chapter, Jamail cites statistics from the Army Suicide Event Report which states active duty military suicides have risen to their highest rates since the Army started tracking self-inflicted deaths in 1980, and the numbers are growing.
Documenting the phenomenon of "suicide by cop," Jamail quotes from a Post Traumatic Distress Syndrome (PTSD)-wracked veteran's pre-"suicide" internet article in which he wrote, "…We come home from war trying to put our lives back together but some cannot stand the memories and decide that death is better. We kill ourselves because we are so haunted by seeing children killed and whole families wiped out."
Contemplating the long-term implications of the more than 1.8 million military personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Jamail points out that the United States, for many years to come, will be faced with caring for tens of thousands of veterans whose lives are permanently marred by grave physical and traumatic brain injuries, psychological scars, PTSD, and a host of associated problems ranging from divorce and substance abuse to domestic violence, homelessness and run-ins with the law.
Other soldiers manage to cope somehow and, perhaps in a sense, recover. Following their discharge, some veterans profiled by Jamail seek to make peace with themselves by educating others about the realities they experienced in war.
The most successful and constructive of military efforts to resist war are made by those who turn their experiences into teaching tools and therapeutic exercises like music, video, theater, painting, books, blogs, photographic and art exhibitions, performance art and even making paper out of old military uniforms.
In a chapter titled 'Cyber Resistance,' Jamail contends the Internet "is probably the first time that we have available to us an inexpensive and extremely inclusive means to communicate and thereby advocate sustained resistance to unjust military action, at an international scale without losing any gestation time."
Websites like YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Blogspot and countless alternative news sources have given soldiers and veterans both a voice and the means to connect with those Jamail calls "fence-sitters, members of the silent majority and well-intentioned but resource-less individuals to participate in the promise of a historical transformation."
"While we don't have an organised GI resistance movement today that is anywhere close to that which helped end the Vietnam war," Jamail said, "the seeds for one are there, and they are continuing to sprout amidst a soil that is becoming all the more fertile by the escalation of troops in Afghanistan, the lack of withdrawal in Iraq, and an increasingly over-stretched military."