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 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.
You are now watching: Episode One: For Those Who Would Judge Me
March 13, 2008: As hundreds of veterans and over a thousand supporters gather just outside Washington, DC for three days of testimony, the pressure is high and questions intense. How is the testimony verified? What will people think of veterans and soldiers for being here? What good will this do? Without hesitation Geoff Millard (US Army National Guard), Steve Mortillo (US Army), and Adam Kokesh (US Marine Corps) respond to “those who would judge me” with a clear purpose and their chilling stories.
Pasadena City College, Building R room 122
1570 E. Colorado Blvd in Pasadena
All are welcome to attend this forum for veterans, military families, and experts to share their views and experiences concerning the military. We will address the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. We will also have a question and answer session.
Boots on the Ground-Marine Infantry (Iraq Veterans Against the War)
History's Relevance-Vietnam Veterans Against the War
A Daily Sacrifice-Military Families Speak Out
The Ultimate Sacrifice-Gold Star Families
Military Combat Strategy-Why the U.S. can't win an occupation
Guests should park in the designated student lot and follow the signs to building R room 122. Make sure to pay the $2 fee for parking and display it on your dashboard to avoid college citations. Please be prepared to register by showing identification and association to an organization (if any) the day of the event. All attendees should have proper registration to be allowed in by security personnel.
This is a peaceful and informative gathering. Attendees agree to abide to a strict Code of Conduct by registering and by presence. Violence, slander, or any other disruptive activity will not be tolerated and attendees displaying such behavior will be asked to leave.
Dinner and snacks will be provided and donations are highly encouraged and appreciated.
The event will also include informational resources from:
Military Families Speak Out
Vietnam Veterans Against the War
Veterans for Peace
Orange County Recruitment Awareness Project
Addicted to War
Peace Action West
SoCal Oath Keepers
For more information or to volunteer to help out at the event, please email Wendy Barranco at firstname.lastname@example.org. Members of the media contact should contact Pat Alviso at email@example.com.
Last weekend, the Iraqi government arrested an Awakening Group leader of a Baghdad neighborhood, then moved into the area. With the help of US occupation forces, they disarmed the militiamen under his control, but only after fighting broke out between US-backed Iraqi government security forces and the US-formed Sunni Awakening Group militia. This disturbing event is the realization of what most Iraqis have long feared - that the relative calm in Iraq today would eventually be broken when fighting erupts between these two entities.
The US policy that has led to this recent violence has been long in the making, as it has only been a matter of time before the tenuous truce between the groups came unglued. For it has been a truce built on a deeply corrupt US policy of backing the predominantly Shia Iraqi government forces while paying the Sunni resistance not to fight both government and occupation forces.
Most of us remember all too well the praise from the Bush administration lavished on the Awakening Groups, a Sunni militia comprised of former resistance fighters and al-Qaeda members (according to the US military), each member paid $300 per month of US taxpayer money. They grew in strength to 100,000 men.
US aid to the Councils was cut off last October on the understanding that the members would be absorbed into Iraqi government forces. To date, less than a third have been given government jobs.
Two months ago I visited the al-Dora area of Baghdad, a sprawling area controlled by Awakening forces. One of their commanders told me he was concerned about the fact that most of his men were not being given government jobs. "They are lacking pay, and most of them are becoming more angry by the day, since they have had more broken promises than they can handle," he explained as we drank tea, "Many of my men have not been paid since October. This cannot continue."
Meanwhile, the US-backed Iraqi government led by US-appointed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki continues to target the leadership of the Awakening Groups. Maliki perceives the Awakening groups as both a political and military threat, and since October has been targeting their leadership in parts of Baghdad, as well as in Iraq's volatile Diyala Province.
In the wake of the spasm of violence in Baghdad last weekend, The Washington Post reported "As Apache helicopter gunships cruised above Baghdad's Fadhil neighborhood, former Sunni insurgents fought from rooftops and street corners against American and Iraqi forces, according to witnesses, the Iraqi military and police. At least 15 people were wounded in the gunfights, which lasted several hours. By nightfall, the street fighters had taken five Iraqi soldiers hostage. The battles, the most ferocious in nearly a year in Baghdad, erupted minutes after the arrest of Adil Mashadani, the leader of the Fadhil Awakening Council, which is composed mostly of former Sunni insurgents who allied themselves with the US military in exchange for monthly salaries that are now paid by Iraq's government."
Of course, the reason given to justify government's detention of the Awakening leader of the area, the incident that triggered the bloodshed, were "terrorist acts" by the group, according to Iraq's chief military spokesman, Gen. Qassim Atta. Predictably, the Awakening group spokesman for the area, Abu Mirna, told the Post, "We will fight them till the end if they don't release him."
It was convenient policy to have set up the Awakening groups to temporarily quell overall violence in Iraq. Resistance fighters rushed to join the ranks for the paycheck, as well as US military protection from Shia militias, which now largely comprise the government security apparatus. Now, however, clearly the US has lost some of their interest in continuing to support the Awakening groups, and the Maliki government is ratcheting up its efforts to dismantle them. Predictably, members of the Awakening are fighting back - for without a paycheck, and with yet another broken promise by the occupation forces to spur them on, why should they sit back and allow themselves to be detained, killed or further betrayed?
However, let us not martyr the Awakening Groups. Most of the leadership of the Awakening Groups are thugs, as are many of the members. Within weeks of the formation of the groups back in 2006, Iraqis living in areas that began to come under the control of Awakening groups began complaining of the brutality of the fighters in their area. Extortion and bribery became rampant, and many Iraqis view Awakening forces as collaborators with the occupiers of their country.
For example, I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with the president of the Fallujah Awakening Council, Sheikh Aifan Sadun, who, like other Awakening leaders, has hundreds of security personnel under his control. It was just before the January 30 elections in Iraq, and he was vying for political power against a rival Sunni group in the city - the Iraqi Islamic Party. Sheikh Aifan, who spoke with me while driving his $420,000 custom-built heavily armored BMW through the city that was destroyed by two US sieges in 2004, was accusing his rivals of rigging the upcoming elections.
He told me he would use "any means necessary" to fight them if they stole the elections. It was and is all about power for these Awakening leaders. And money. Shiekh Aifan, like most of the Awakening leaders, quickly got into the "construction business" when the US military stopped direct payments to them last October. Now those payments come in the form of "construction contracts." Sheikh Aifan himself has been awarded "contracts" worth $250 million - keep that in mind during this tax season, because it is your money that is paying for things like his own private militia, his BMW and his mansion on the outskirts of Fallujah.
In nearby Ramadi, the capital city of Al-Anbar, Sheikh Ahmad Abo Risha is president of the Awakening Council for the entire province. Just before the election, he, like Sheikh Aifan, was making moves to ensure he maintained his grip on power. His rival in the elections was Sheikh Hamid Al-Hayis, also an Awakening Council leader in the city, and from the same tribe. Abo Risha did not have kind words for Al-Hayis. "Al-Hayis has relations with government people and oil contracts, and he gets money from this by using his position which we helped him acquire," Abo Risha told me at the Awakening Council of Ramadi headquarters. "I'm from a long line of sheikhs, but Al-Hayis has only been a sheikh since 2006 when we started the Awakening," Abo Risha said. If Al-Hayis were to win the elections, "there will be a revolution."
When I asked Abo Risha about the Islamic Party, which Sheikh Aifan was accusing of trying to steal the elections, he told me if the Islamic Party took the elections by fraud, "It will be like Darfur."
None of these threats came to pass, as both men were victorious over their rivals. But their bellicose rhetoric is indicative of the kind of people they are, and the lengths they are willing to go to in order to maintain and/or seize power.
Despite the corruption and inherent infighting with the Awakening Group leaders, most of them, and the tens of thousands of men under their control, will certainly fight when attacked or provoked, as evidenced by this past weekend in Baghdad.
Broadening the frame of reference, keep in mind that government detentions, killings and threats towards Awakening Group leaders and members are ongoing in neighborhoods of Baghdad, as well as across Diyala province. We should expect violence in the areas of Baghdad they control as the Iraqi government continues to make moves towards taking them out in advance of the national elections scheduled for later this year. Thus, keep your eyes on the following areas of Baghdad in the coming weeks and months: Adhamiyah, Amiriyah, Gazaliyah and al-Dora, to name just a few. More broadly, also watch Baquba and surrounding areas where Awakening Groups are largely in control.
And keep Al-Anbar in mind. The province, which is one-third the geographic area of Iraq, is largely controlled by Awakening groups. This is the area where the fiercest resistance to the occupation has occurred, and if US occupation forces or the US-backed Iraqi government begins to move on men like Sheikh Aifan or Abo Risha, it will bring predictable results.
As Awakening Group member Abu Ayad, 58, told the Post, "We will all become suicide bombers" if his leader, Mashadani, is not released by the Iraqi government.
This was posted, by Adam Kokesh, to his blog, march 31, 2009
A message I received via YouTube:
Hello, I am not for nor against your beliefs..I respect everyone's, and every Marine's opinion. I was just curious, and if you don't want to answer I understand, but what event and such caused you to become "anti-war" (please don't take that the wrong way)? I'm not saying that I necessarily agree or disagree with the conflict in Iraq, but I volunteered to serve in the USMC and understood that it meant I could go to war and fight and possibly die, I never questioned it...But I don't know, I guess what I'm looking for is another prospective from someone who did. Again, I understand if you don't want to discuss it. Thank you for at least taking the time to read this and for volunteering for my beloved Corps. Semper Fidelis.
There was no one particular event and there was no regret for me in facing the hardships of war. I never questioned my duty, but I have since questioned the morality and Constitutionality of the war in Iraq. Remember, we swore an oath to the Constitution first, and obeying unconstitutional orders is contrary to that oath. Then there was Ronald Reagan, who said that resorting to war was essentially a sign of weakness. "Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means." My disillusionment about Iraq in particular began as a slow process with the "handover of power" on June 28th, 2004, when I was in Fallujah. There was no such handover, and there was no expected draw-down when I left. When the reality failed to meet the rhetoric, I started questioning.
Then there was the sinking feeling in my stomach when I realized (and was emotionally ready to accept) that we had been lied to. It didn't help when Allen Greenspan finally admitted, "the war was largely about oil," but it did help me to stop doubting myself.
We should all, as human beings, be "anti-war." What is war but the widespread, systematic destruction of human bodies by machinery? Who could be for that? Only those who are missing a part of their humanity. Sometimes the experience of war or the bloodlust of the military can take that away, but it is always ours to reclaim.
I am against this war because it is bad for America. It is bad for our security, it is bad for our military, it is bad for our economy, it is bad for our reputation abroad, and it is bad for our brothers and sisters who continue to loose their lives for lies. I am against war because I am a human being. I believe in the right to self-defense, and even collective self defense, but we should never take joy in even the most righteous acts of causing pain and suffering for fellow human beings.
This article by Charlotte Hsu, was originally published in the LasVegas Sun, December 28, 2008
This is what he would remember when he got back: the cramped foxhole, the stench of his unwashed body, MRE menu item No. 2, Jamaican pork chop.
He would remember the way the sand of the Kuwaiti desert would drift into his eyes, his ears, everything, giving him reason to clean his weapon twice a day as he waited to cross the border.
He would remember calling his mom, nervous but proud, after finding out in January 2003, at the end of holiday leave, that he would be going to Iraq.
What would he remember about Iraq?
Friends he lost. Survivor’s guilt. He would remember how Iraqis lined the streets to cheer his arrival in Baghdad, and how, later, the people of Fallujah just wanted him to leave. He would remember how different he was when it all began. At the start of this journey, he was in favor of the war.
This is Christopher Gallagher’s story.
Christopher Gallagher, U.S. Marine Corps corporal, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines. Service in Iraq: 2003, the invasion; 2004, Haditha Dam; 2005, Fallujah.
• • •
Apr. 2, 2003 — “I am writing this letter from a fighting hole, behind my machine gun. I am fine for now. How is everyone back home?
“The first couple of days the Iraqi soldiers were surrendering by the hundreds. I have heard reports of American POWs being murdered. What have you heard? The first hundred hours of this war I was awake. It is hard finding time to sleep out here.”
This letter is from Gallagher’s first deployment. It was the first time he had ever traveled overseas. He wrote his family (“Dear Family, Mom, Dad, Matt, Joel, etc.”) in Farmingdale, N.Y., where he grew up before moving to Las Vegas in 2006.
The note was on military stationery — a single sheet of paper carrying the Marine Corps emblem: eagle, globe and anchor.
• • •
In the invasion of Iraq, Gallagher’s battalion fought from the town of Safwan on the Kuwaiti border through Basra and onto Baghdad. He didn’t shower for two months.
Fellow Marines secured oil fields and airports. Gallagher’s job was to establish radio communications and conduct security operations, “a machine gun post set up on top of a hill, or something like that, guarding a small area around yourself,” he recalls.
Gallagher’s battalion was the first Marine unit to enter Baghdad, and he remembers it well: “The people invaded the streets and were lining the streets of Baghdad, saying, ‘Saddam bad, Bush good.’ At the time we were considered liberators.”
He saw people everywhere, watching, cheering. But Gallagher couldn’t talk to them. That was off limits.
The day after his battalion took Baghdad, he sat down for breakfast at the Palestine Hotel with reporters, including an Iraqi woman about his age, a graduate of Baghdad University.
He remembers the meal — pita bread with tea and honey. But he can’t quite recall the specifics of what they discussed.
Gallagher was 20.
That was back when the Palestine housed journalists who came to cover the war, 2 1/2 years before a truck bomb shook the building.
Who knows what happened to those people Gallagher met at the hotel? That Iraqi journalist, where is she now? Maybe she is still covering the war. Maybe she fled her country. Maybe she’s dead.
• • •
Part of what Gallagher remembers about Iraq comes from photographs. Snapshots like the one taken in 2003 of Gallagher and eight members of his platoon, posing on the concrete roof of a building in Baghdad.
Behind them rise thick columns of smoke, black and tilted, drifting across the smoldering city.
Five years later, sitting in his Las Vegas living room, Gallagher points out that he is the only one in the picture wearing a helmet.
In Iraq, he was always careful, always on the lookout. He became, in his words, “less trusting of humanity.” In that way, the war stayed with him even after he returned home.
Back in Vegas, he says he is still “hypervigilant, always more cautious. Kind of like — in a way, almost like a minor paranoia. I’m less trusting of people, because the people over there, they smile at you one minute, and the next day they’ll be shooting at you.”
Even so, despite the nerves and fear, in 2003 Gallagher was optimistic about the war.
Writing home in on April 2, he told his family the weather had been comfortable. He wished his mom a happy birthday, said he was thinking that the two of them and his grandma could visit Atlantic City when he got back.
He finished his letter: “Tell everyone I will see them soon after the Marines have killed Saddam and the war is over.”
• • •
At home, Americans watched the siege of Baghdad on CNN, marveling at the fireworks display — the buildings exploding, the red and yellow tracer rounds flying across the sky like shooting stars.
Magazines and newspapers carried pictures of the carnage, bodies floating in water, refugees fleeing.
Gallagher’s mother, Catherine Jackson, worried, unable to watch the news while he was abroad.
“I became very depressed,” she remembers. “I checked the mailbox every day, religiously. I cried every day, religiously. I was just worried about him and his health. Would I get him home? Would he come home? And when he did come home, would he come home in one piece? I didn’t know what to expect.”
To her, Gallagher’s letters meant a lot. They meant that somewhere thousands of miles away, her son was still alive.
• • •
Gallagher describes Thai chicken: “A bowl of snot with some water chestnuts, little pieces of chicken.”
Of MREs in general: “I remember them all, all very unfondly ... It comes in a sealed package. And imagine a piece of chicken in there. It looks like a piece of chicken, I don’t know if it is. They had a variety of food, but none of it was good for you. It had so many preservatives in it.”
e concluded that the only good thing that came in those rations was the candy — Skittles, Charms or M&Ms. Marines would trade with one another, Skittles for M&Ms and vice versa. Charms, considered bad luck, ended up in the garbage.
• • •
MREs aside, living conditions at Haditha Dam were good in 2004.
Gallagher slept in a bunk bed, lifted weights, showered twice a week, sometimes even with hot water. His family sent Snickers, cigarettes and powdered Country Time pink lemonade.
n March, he wrote to his mother, saying he’d received her package. The postscript reminded her that he smoked Parliament Lights.
The message was scrawled in black ink on the back of a postcard bearing the image of the front page of the military newspaper Stars and Stripes from April 11, 2003. The headline, “Baghdad falls to U.S. forces,” ran large down the right-hand side, set against the iconic photograph of the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down.
“Do you remember this day almost a year ago when Marines from task force 3/4 took the statue down,” Gallagher wrote.
At Haditha Dam, he was a radio operator, part of a skeleton crew of Marines guarding the dam. Most of the men in his battalion had been called to fight in the siege of Fallujah. Some never made it back. He lost a couple of friends.
“One minute they’re there. One minute they’re gone.”
• • •
Some of the letters Gallagher wrote were never mailed. But he held on to them. These were his “final letters” — the ones his family would have received had he died.
“To Shannon,” one such note to his older sister begins. “Hi I am sorry for this tragic event you are going through, you helped raise me when mom and dad were not around ... All you have to do is close your eyes and pray, I will be there. I wanted to be a good uncle for James and Alyssa. I would have liked to see them grow up and live a good life.”
And to Gallagher’s younger brother: “I wish I could be there for you Matt. I love you so much and you will never know how much the time that we have spent together hanging out since I enlisted meant to me. If you have noticed all the extra gifts I have gotten for you, it was to try to make up for my absence.”
In what would have been his final letter to his mother and father, Gallagher wrote that he loved them, that he’d watch over them in heaven alongside Grandpa Rich, Grandma, Grandpa Jackson and Uncle Joe.
“Let everyone know I died with honor, keeping all Americans free from foreign dictatorships,” he wrote.
“I was not always the best kid to have, I joined the Corps to straighten my life out and find direction. Mom you were my best friend and were a great emotional support. Dad you were always there, from the time you taught me to bowl until I got on the bus for Parris Island.
“As I write this letter and look back on my life I only remember how much i enjoyed living it. They say ‘Everyone dies but not everyone lives.’ I just hope I turned out to be a respectable and upstanding person like you raised me to be.”
Gallagher showed the letter to his mother. She read it once and couldn’t read it again.
• • •
By the end of his third deployment, Gallagher says, “I was wondering what we were doing there. Because we were essentially driving around just waiting to be blown up. Nobody wanted to be there anymore, everybody just wanted to come home.”
The Iraqis, Gallagher says, didn’t want the troops there either. He remembers the disgust, the anger in their eyes.
“There was no point to any of the patrols,” he says. “We were told that al-Qaida was causing all the trouble, but yet it was mostly the people living in these towns. It was Iraqis.”
In Fallujah, Gallagher was a radio operator for an 81 mm mortar platoon. He worked at a checkpoint outside the city, a job he likened to herding cattle.
Everyone coming through had to have his retinas scanned. Everyone had to get an ID card. Everyone had to be searched.
Gallagher spent eight hours on duty, eight hours off. When he wasn’t manning the checkpoint, he patrolled in vehicles and on foot, sweating under a scorching Iraqi sun.
He searched homes, feeling no guilt, no remorse. He grew angry when he gave information on a firefight to his higher ups only to find out later that “the report that they filed was not what I said.”
He wondered why he didn’t have proper armor. During his first deployment, he remembers, he didn’t have plates in his vest to protect him from bullets and shrapnel. Through his last deployment, he said, his Humvees had what the troops called “hillbilly armor,” a piece of metal in the shape of a door hanging off the side of the vehicle.
“I was pissed off. I was in Iraq,” Gallagher remembers. “I supported the war and supported the troops. I thought they were one and the same.” But, he said, “I didn’t want to be there anymore.”
He slept on a cot in a wooden hut housing 20. Fellow soldiers on patrol found propane tanks and 30- or 40-gallon drums and used them to fashion a makeshift shower.
Once a week, he got hot food — maybe prime rib, maybe beef stew. It didn’t make him sick like the other meals or the dirty water he said the military gave him.
• • •
Gallagher is 26 now, no longer on active duty. He has been home, on U.S. soil, for three years.
He has no regrets. In May 2001, as a senior in high school in Farmingdale, N.Y., he signed up to join the Marines to see the world, to “become someone.”
His mother worried, afraid of what might happen even though it was a time of peace. On Sept. 11, Gallagher was at boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. He and his fellow recruits, training together in the humid southern summer, knew war was coming.
Looking back, Gallagher says the Marine Corps made him a better person.
He is more focused, more disciplined. One of the worst students in his high school class, he pulled a 3.5 grade-point average while studying at the College of Southern Nevada on the G.I. Bill. He left school to learn to be an electrician. He makes good money, helps support his mom.
He can take direction but also has leadership skills. Along the way, in Iraq, he made lifelong friends, some people he normally wouldn’t hang out or talk to. What brought them together?
“We were willing to die for each other.”
• • •
Gallagher was once in favor of the war. He remembers that well.
How much things have changed.
After returning to America, he read about the war, watched movies about the war, talked to friends about the war that left him with so many memories.
No weapons of mass destruction were found. Gallagher felt the country’s leaders had lied to him.
He learned as many U.S.-paid civilian contractors were stationed in Iraq as troops. He read about how war brings profit, raining fortune upon security companies, food companies ... the list goes on.
He believes the government was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, a view many people consider radical. But Gallagher believes it’s the truth. People like to believe in what’s easiest to believe, he says. He has read more about the terrorist attacks than many fellow Americans.
And the soldiers, the Marines, the airmen, the young people like Gallagher who fought abroad?
Gallagher felt the country and the Veterans Affairs Department abandoned them when they came back.
A friend of his who was shot in the leg saw disability benefits reduced. Other servicemen and servicewomen struggled to get care for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“These are people, that their friends blew up in front of them,” Gallagher says. “They still have a lot of death and destruction (on their minds), and they’re just messed up.”
He is disgusted.
“The Defense Department recently came out with a memo saying all troops must remain apolitical ... saying that you’re a soldier, you have no opinions, you don’t count. I think soldiers should have more of a voice, be able to speak out.”
So in September, Gallagher co-founded a Las Vegas chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
• • •
Some of Gallagher’s memories of Iraq are hazy, as if obscured by bleached sheets of hot desert sand. Others are clear. Some of what he remembers he won’t talk about.
For him, the war is over, now. He won’t be going back.
But Iraq will stay with him, always — in his photographs, in his letters, in this story, his story.
This report was originally published, by Courage to Resist , January 1, 2009.
I am Benji Lewis. I deployed to Iraq twice in 2004 and 2005 and was discharged honorably in 2007. Recently I have been involuntarily activated from the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) by the U.S. Marine Corps in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, an activation that I have been publicly refusing.
The IRR is an inactive group of service members who still have time remaining on their signing agreements and are eligible to call up in states of emergency. The current state of emergency is the open-ended Global War on Terror that includes the occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Because of falling reenlistment levels, the United States is finding it difficult to procure sufficient manpower in its efforts overseas. Thus the U.S. government is finding it necessary to reactivate members from the IRR to stave off its shortage of personnel. Thousands of individuals are now being faced with the decision to reactivate and forgo the lives they have built since their discharge. I am ignoring my orders and encouraging others in the IRR to make an informed decision on whether or not they should do the same.
The most important fact about this decision is that members of the IRR do not fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) until they report to the evaluation for activation. After being discharged from the military, veterans are bound only by civilian laws, and there exists no civilian mandate that states they must report for their evaluation. This means that the military has no formal judiciary measure for bringing criminal charges against an individual that ignores orders and fails to report.Of course the military has certain forms of coercion and harassment that it utilizes to ‘prompt’ persons into reactivation, but these threats have no legal grounds. For example, if the military sends a veteran a letter that says to report for a court martial or a separations hearing, the military cannot actually hold a court martial or separations hearing unless that person reports for it. This means that a vet would have to volunteer to be court marshaled under the UCMJ. In the case of a separations hearing, a vet would have to agree to voluntarily participate, as in the well-known case of IRR resister and fellow IVAW member, Matthis Chiroux.
If members of the IRR ignore all attempts by the military to contact them, through not signing certified letters, or answering their phone calls, then the most probable situation is either a general separation from the IRR citing ‘a failure to contact,’ or, at worst, an other-than-honorable discharge from the IRR. What is important to understand is that a discharge from the IRR, in whatever capacity, does not affect a vet’s discharge from active duty. That means that at this time no one has incurred any loss of benefits or standing from an original active duty discharge. An other-than-honorable discharge from the IRR could, however, affect those that apply for a federal job requiring a national security background check, such as a position in the FBI or NSA.
Of the facts surrounding the IRR, it is important to know that about thirty to forty percent of personnel fail to report. Unfortunately many of them do comply after the military uses scare tactics to get them to reactivate. About fifty percent file for medical or hardship exemption and about fifty percent of those get approved. Individuals with more than thirty percent disability are most likely to succeed. The reality is that most service members in the IRR do not even have to file for exemption if they simply fail to report.
Why I am refusing to reactivate
The U.S. claimed that it invaded Iraq in order to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam. The ‘war’ ended for America the day Saddam fled into hiding and the Iraqi people were ready to reestablish their futures free from bondage. The ‘war’ especially ended when the Kurds found and turned over Saddam to American forces, and the ‘war’ really should have been over by the time many Iraqis were beginning to discover that though they hated him, their lives were better under Saddam. Naturally this notion was contrary to stated goals, but exemplifies the fact that the U.S. did not ever really care about the people of Iraq, and was more interested in profiteering and geostrategic positioning.
The Iraq resistance to American presence will not cease until it accomplishes its objectives: U.S. withdrawal of its political and economic influence, and troop presence.
The U.S. has been instrumental in creating the strife in Iraq: from the Reagan administration taking Iraq off the state sponsored terrorism list in 1982 in order to sell it weaponry during the eight year war with Iran (in which Iraq openly used chemical weapons, utilizing raw chemicals sold by U.S. corporations and approved by the U.S. Department of Commerce), to the baiting of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, to the Gulf War, to the resulting sanctions, and finally to the U.S. invasion and occupation. Yet, it is still safe to say that during the last three decades of U.S. involvement in Iraq, the country has never been worse off than it has been under the U.S. occupation. Still, it surprises many people, mostly Americans who get their information from mainstream media outlets, that the Iraqis would be resisting the occupation.
I am resisting activation because the occupation of Iraq has done nothing but proliferate international terrorism, because the results from Afghanistan have been and will continue to do the same, and because the occupation of Iraq has been nothing but detrimental to the Iraqi people, American troops and their loved ones. It is time for the American public to understand that just because our government and our military state specific goals and visions, it does not mean that those statements reflect their real intentions.
The question for IRR members is whether or not they should leave their new civilian lives behind so soon after being discharged to fight in illegal aggressions and occupation. The benefit is certainly not for veterans who, if they have not already been so, stand only to get wounded, killed or sustain psychological trauma in the form of PTSD.
I encourage all IRR service members to start questioning what they are being told by a military system that will tell them anything to fill its quotas. Active duty troops in Iraq are discovering that by disobeying orders they are actually saving lives. They are doing this by refusing orders to patrol hot streets where the only mission that can be accomplished is to be wounded or killed by an IED or pre-set ambush with no stated goal but ‘a presence.’ We owe it to active duty service members and vets to question our orders as IRR members. Together we can deplete the manpower available for this war and force the U.S. to rotate its service members home where they belong. We must allow the Iraqis to rebuild their nation without interference from biased U.S. policy makers and corporations. It is impossible to honor those fallen in an unjustifiable aggression by continuing to fill body bags.
We can say no.
Benji Lewis was a Corporal in the U.S. Marine Corp who served in Fallujah and Hadita in 2004 & 2005. He is an IRR resister and community activist in Corvallis, Oregon. He encourages all fellow IRR service members to contact the GI Rights Hotline (1-877-447-4487) with further questions about the IRR and reference www.couragetoresist.org.
This article, by Evan Goodenow, was originally published in the Fort Wayne News Sentinel, July 31, 2008
For former U.S. Marine Sgt. Ken Mills, it was the sight of the little Iraqi girl barely alive with most of her face blown off that he pulled out of a pile of dead bodies. And the Iraqi corpse with crutches that U.S. tanks kept running over. And the truck driver Mills said the Marines killed for getting too close to their convoy.
For U.S. Army Cpl. Sara Wallace, now Sara Beining since marrying, it was her work as a military analyst reviewing daily accounts of the deaths of Americans and Iraqis, and working on intelligence for presidential briefings that she says President Bush purposefully distorted. And the wastefulness of guarding at gunpoint Pakistanis working for military contractor KBR on jobs that could have been done for far less by U.S. soldiers.
It was these experiences that made the Iraq War veterans become members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and inspired them to form a Fort Wayne chapter.
They expect supporters of the war will accuse them of being traitors and undermining the morale of the troops while emboldening their enemies. But because of what they’ve experienced, they believe staying silent would make them complicit in a war that has killed some 4,100 U.S. soldiers and as many as 1.2 million Iraqis. They say they have been jeered on the street, but when you have friends who have come home in body bags from Iraq, it’s worth being harassed to speak out.
“It’s hilarious when these people call us cowards and traitors. I have the medals and ribbons and the discharge papers to prove that I did my job, and I did it to the best of my ability,” Mills said. “I don’t want any more troops to die.” Iraq experiences led to anti-war stances
Beining, 22, said she enlisted in 2004 after taking ROTC classes at Concordia Lutheran High School. She was looking for the discipline instilled in the military and money for college, not payback for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
Mills, who also enlisted in 2004 after attending Lakeland High School in LaGrange, said he’d always wanted to be in the military and initially bought into Bush’s contention that the invasion of Iraq was necessary to keep America safe.
But Mills, 24, believes the war is endangering America by creating hatred for it among Muslims due to the tactics of the U.S. military, which he and Beining say is guilty of war crimes. Mills said he witnessed it during the second and third battles of Fallujah in 2004 and 2005, which he took part in. The first attack occurred shortly after the March 31, 2004, killings of four Blackwater professional soldiers after they accidentally drove to the city.
The men’s burnt corpses were hung from a bridge, eliciting outrage from the Bush administration and U.S. military. Fallujans were bitter over an accidental bombing of a marketplace in 1991 by the U.S. in the first Gulf War and with the 82nd Airborne for firing into a crowd, killing 13, during a protest shortly after the 2003 invasion. Fallujans said the protesters were unarmed.
Of the 2004 siege, Mills said, “They said it was a hotbed of insurgent activity, but really it was revenge for Blackwater contractors getting killed.” Some 70 Marines were killed, and while the U.S. military does not record how many people it kills, media accounts said hundreds of Iraqis died.
Mills is not alone in accusing the Marines of war crimes in Fallujah. While the Geneva Conventions say “fixed establishments and mobile medical units of the medical service” are to be “respected” and “protected,” a front-page New York Times article on Nov. 8, 2004, described how U.S. soldiers captured Fallujah General Hospital because the U.S. said hospital employees exaggerated the number of Iraqi casualties they treated as a propaganda weapon.
The BBC and Reuters reported that the U.S. bombed a health center in Fallujah, killing 35, which the U.S. denied. And Jean Ziegler, United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, said U.S. and British soldiers violated international law by denying Red Cross water shipments to civilians to isolate the resistance.
Mills remembers the Marines dropping napalm-like white phosphorous bombs on Fallujah each day. After initially denying it, the U.S. admitted to using the highly flammable bombs – which burn to the bone – in Fallujah, but denied dropping them on civilians. The Pentagon has said it primarily uses white phosphorous for smoke screens and to mark targets. A 1980 U.N. chemical weapons treaty bans the use of incendiary chemicals like white phosphorous, but the U.S. has never signed it.
Mills said Marines in Fallujah employed a shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality. “Every house we went into we poured machine gun fire into. We shot anything that moved or didn’t move,” Mills recalled. “Our whole mentality was, ‘Why send a Marine when you can send a bullet?’ That’s what we were told. We’d just pound a house full of rounds and search it.”
Mills said Marines had a guilty-until-proved- innocent mentality with prisoners, most of whom he said were civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time. He said Marines mistreated prisoners because they resented the hassle of having to deal with them. “I guess it would be like the police beating people up because they had to fill out a report,” he said.
Mills admits he was no angel in Fallujah. Like most soldiers in a kill-or-be-killed situation, he was scared, angry and frustrated and sometimes took it out on Iraqis.
Mills said Marines frequently trashed civilians’ houses they searched or commandeered. His specialty was destroying the fan control systems of Iraqi houses – no minor act of vandalism in a nation where temperatures regularly hit 120 degrees in the summer.
“We were supposed to be going after the terrorists that attacked us, and all we ever did was harass civilians and blow up their houses,” Mills said. “I remember piling everything people owned in one room of the house and setting it on fire just because we found some guns there that probably were put there after the family fled the house.”
Mills recalled Marines in a convoy fatally shooting a truck driver who got too close to their convoy because they feared he was a suicide bomber. The Marines were supposed to fire a warning flare first, but Mills said they didn’t, and he refused a commander’s order to shoot one off after the killing to cover up the violation of their rules of engagement.
Marine Capt. Amy E. Malugani, a Marines spokeswoman, refused to be interviewed by The News-Sentinel about Mills’ contentions, but in an e-mail said if Mills witnessed or was involved in inappropriate behavior, he had a responsibility to report it to investigators. Malugani said the Marines thoroughly investigate allegations of misconduct and hold individuals accountable.
But Mills said he complained to his company commander about an Iraqi man he believes was badly beaten by Marines at a checkpoint, but the commander insisted the beating was in self-defense. Mills said the incident – which he said led other Marines to label him a “haji lover” – soured him on reporting misconduct.
For Beining, helping to compile a daily body count meant gleaning all the gory details of the deaths of Americans and Iraqis, a task she said sickened her. The suicide of a fellow soldier further troubled her. Beining said the military prescribed an antipsychotic drug to keep her functioning, and she considered shooting herself in the leg to get home.
“They were purposefully doing more harm than good just to keep me over there,” she said. “They didn’t care what happened to me.” Standing by comrades
Despite becoming disenchanted with the war, both Beining and Mills said they felt an obligation to their fellow soldiers to stay.
“I looked at it like I’m saving other soldiers’ lives,” she said. “My intel’s going to help them survive.”
Beining said disciplinary problems led to her eventually receiving a general discharge shortly after returning from Iraq in 2006. Mills was honorably discharged last year.
Both Beining and Mills say they believe most soldiers and families of soldiers in Iraq are pro-war because they don’t want to believe that their sacrifice was for an illegal, unprovoked war of choice. “The government’s attitude is: we’re America, we’re the biggest kid on the block, we have the biggest stick, we’re going to do whatever we want,” Mills said.
Mills says the U.S. cannot defeat the resistance. He said anyone with a basic knowledge of guerrilla warfare should understand guerillas rarely attack an enemy with superior numbers and firepower, in this case the U.S., but bide their time. Mills worries about his younger brother, who is in the Marines. He has served in Iraq and is being sent there again. Beining worries about her three younger brothers enlisting.
Both say their concern about all the soldiers still in Iraq is why they’re fighting a new battle at home. “We’re here to help you and bring you home,” Mills said of their message to the troops in harm’s way. “We don’t have any other agenda.”
This report, was published in GI Special, July 10, 2008
To enter, live and sometimes to leave Fallujah you have to have a Fallujah resident badge issued by U.S. marines.
To drive your car inside Fallujah your car must have a badge that carries the drivers’ photo and other details.
The city is divided into cordoned neighborhoods, one entrance and one exit for each neighborhood.
Entrances to the city are closed by sunset.
To enter the city: Badges, x-ray, cars and individuals to be searched.
Entering the Green Zone is easier than entering Fallujah and I am entering both Red and Green Zones, as many call them, for the last four years.
You can not invite your friends to the city and you cannot go to a visit outside the city without making sure you will be back on time or to stay out of the city.
To be fair there are things are getting better in Fallujah in certain aspects and in other fields are getting worse.
Few days ago I had to renew my badge that expired on July 4, 2008. As usual I went to one of the entrances and after two hours it’s my turn. Three soldiers, three computers, Iraqi interpreter in uniform and two AC units, it was heaven compared to those who live outside.
A man beside me wished he can move his family to this wood made room. No big deal and nothing up normal except as I was looking to my badge expiry date, it is after two years!
The badges we used to get were one year long.
It is good I won’t have to be waiting in this line for two years to come but what I heard from people about the two years badges was true.
We are to live in this prison for more two years.
If the checkpoints are to be removed, Al Qaeda will be back, the officials and people are afraid.
If they are not removed life continue to be a prison.
If I was to give one advice to anyone who has the power to make a change I will remind him/them: Al Qaeda imprisoned people, killed, tortured, oppressed and gave nothing but misery and death.
Look to yourself: are you imprisoning people, killing, torturing giving misery and death?
To win peoples’ hearts be brave enough and show them your will to be a life maker not death maker.
Ease the conditions of entering and living in Fallujah camp, and I will not say city any more, and make people’s life easier, putting in mind trying to keep them safe, and if Al Qaeda disrupted your efforts people will hate them more and will be on your side.
Al Qaeda is an ideology that cannot be defeated by arsenal of weapons. It is an ideology that promote for death. Defeat that ideology by a better ideology that people might follow not by weapons, an ideology that promotes for life.
Few roads were re-opened inside Fallujah camp, and at least one major checkpoint inside the city was removed.
Bridges are being built and other good things but remember no one can live in a golden cage, and Fallujah now is a cage yet not golden.
Why Fallujah? What is the importance?
It is the city where the government and the new “democratic” system can say the ideology of the Baath party was wrong, the ideology of terrorists brought destruction and was wrong.
Not mentioning the destruction because of military operations in 2004.
Instead of taking the whole city residents to prison the military made the city itself as a prison.
Sorry again I used city to describe Fallujah, I should’ve said prison or camp.
Destruction was brought to the city by everyone and here it is a chance to change all of this. Be brave and give life.
I will tell you about these badges after two years, for hope has become a myth after all the mistakes we have seen.