“They can’t throw us all in jail”

Geov Parrish -

01.27.05 - The Pentagon doesn't like to talk about it. But as the war in Iraq becomes ever more violent and prolonged, an increasing number of soldiers are opposing the war -- up to and including refusing to fight.

Thus far, the numbers, compared to Vietnam, are still small. The Pentagon estimated in 2003 that nearly 3,000 soldiers had deserted -- that is, had been AWOL for more than a month -- and the number has since grown. The Pentagon says it is not actively trying to track the cases down. A number of things have changed since Vietnam: the volunteer army replaced the draft, conscientious objector criteria are much narrower, Canada is not (yet) an option (although at least a half-dozen soldiers are petitioning for refugee status there; in one case, an effort to have the Iraq war declared illegal has already failed).

But what is the same as Vietnam is a growing sense among soldiers that the civilian politicians making the decisions are prosecuting a pointless, unjust war -- and lying about their reasons for it. Established groups, including Veterans for Peace, and new ones, such as Iraq Veterans Against the War, are opposing the war, working to support resisters` and educating GIs about viable alternatives to war.

One of the other things that has changed since Vietnam is the internet, which has given rise to a vibrant network of support groups and sites. Many public resisters have their own sites. Established groups like the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, American Friends Service Committee, and GI Rights Counseling Hotline report a dramatic increase in calls. The GI Rights line (1-800-394-9544) is logging about 3,000 calls a month, double the pre-war level.

Many of the current crop of resisters describe similar stories: being deployed to Iraq and seeing that most of the dead there are civilians, that the war is being fought on its own momentum. Many originally believed in the war -- the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, the links to 9-11 -- but have become skeptical. In most cases, the resisters are not claiming pacifism -- they did, after all, volunteer to join the military -- but have developed a specific objection to Bush's war in Iraq. In many cases, soldiers have come to the belief that the war itself is illegal -- and thus, so are the orders to fight in it.

GI resisters are the tip of the much broader iceberg of poor morale in Iraq: dangerous duty, poor equipment, a poorly defined mission, and, always, the awareness that most Iraqis don't want American "help." It takes a lot of guts for a young man or woman to decide to break ranks. It can mean ostracism, a life underground, even the brig for those that choose to stay and stand their ground. The first, Stephen Funk, spent six months in jail before his release and discharge in March 2004. This past fall, David Bunt spent 45 days in the Camp Lejeune brig; he filed for CO status after a tour in Afghanistan but was denied.

Camilo Mejia was sentenced to a year in prison in May 2004; he served in Iraq before applying for CO status. He writes: "I am only a regular person that got tired of being afraid to follow his own conscience. For far too long I allowed others to direct my actions -- even when I knew they were wrong."

Abdulla Webster, with 18 years' active army duty, was sentenced in June to a 14 month sentence. Amnesty International has adopted him as a prisoner of conscience.

One of the most recent public resisters is Pablo Paredes, a sailor who turned himself in and filed for CO status in San Diego on December 18. Pablo had been AWOL for almost two weeks after he refused to board a troop transport ship bound for Iraq. In an interview, Paredes said: "I'm going to throw my ID in the water and say that I'm no longer part of the military. I want to make a statement, and I want to be heard. I know other people are feeling the same way I am, and I'm hoping more people will stand up. They can't throw us all in jail.

Thanks to Carolyn Stevens for her help on this column.

(c) Working Assets Online. All rights reserved.

No comments: