Put the war on trial
TWO MEN are being put on trial by the military this week because they answered their consciences.
Pablo Paredes and Kevin Benderman refused to accept the lies they were told about the U.S. war on Iraq. Refused to accept the racist dehumanization of the Iraqi people. Refused to participate in the violence of the most lethal military machine in the history of the world. Refused to go to war for oil and empire in Iraq.
Paredes, a third class petty officer, refused to board his Navy ship bound for the Persian Gulf, bringing 3,000 Marines to the battlefield — to kill and be killed. Benderman, an Army sergeant, applied for conscientious objector status before his unit deployed to Iraq for a second tour of duty.
Now, the military wants to punish them for it — to silence their voices before the spirit of resistance reaches more soldiers. Pablo and Kevin will appear at separate court-martial trials this week, where they will face prison time — up to one year for Pablo, and as many as seven years for Kevin.
But both men say they are prepared to go to jail rather than participate in an unjust war — one that causes the kind of atrocities Kevin described in an interview with Socialist Worker. He talked about the haunting memory of a young girl standing alongside the road, whose “arm was burned all the way up her shoulder, and I don’t mean just a little blistered...She had third degree burns the entire length of her arm, and she was crying in pain because of the burns.
“I asked the troop executive officer if we could stop and help the family, and I was told that the medical supplies we had were limited, and that we may need them. I informed him that I would donate my share to that girl, but we didn’t stop to help her.”
Pablo and Kevin are the real heroes — for standing up against Bush’s war. And around the U.S., people are rallying to their defense — and turning the tables on Washington’s war machine.
They will hold pickets and protests to put George Bush’s war — and not the war resisters — on trial. Here, Socialist Worker convenes a court of the people — to hear testimony in the trial of an immoral and unjust war.
IN HIS OWN DEFENSE
Naval petty officer third class, facing a special court-martial for refusing to board his ship, the USS Bonhomme Richard, last December when it left for the Persian Gulf.
I ELECTED to carry a cross with me — a cross that will take away my freedom, and incarcerate me for a time. My family and a community of caring people who have embraced this struggle help me carry this minor cross.
But it is those for whom I carry this minor cross who truly need our help. It is the Iraqis — who die for nothing more than believing they have a right to exist in their own country — who need help. It is the Iraqi families who lose children, mothers and fathers for no other reason than believing they have a right to breathe their own air.
It is the misled soldiers, with heroism in their heart and courage in their blood, who die at the hands of those they are misled into believing they are helping — it is they who need help carrying their cross. It is the families here at home who are left alone to mourn these unjust losses. It is the communities who are losing their leaders of tomorrow and their resources of today, who desperately need our help.
It is humanity as a whole that is carrying the mighty weight of unprovoked, unnecessary and unjust violence.
Unfortunately, many have removed themselves so far from the realities of places like Iraq that they can use a warped sense of cost-benefit analysis to make decisions — such as how much money can be made versus how many American lives can be lost before public opinion shifts.
These same war profiteers who never look their victims in the eye expect the citizenry of the world to follow suit and give up the quality which makes us human. They want us to watch filtered news and cleansed reports, and give a thumbs-up to the brutal murders that happen daily in Iraq and elsewhere. They want us to pretend Iraqis are not human beings — they are “Islamic fundamentalists,” they are “terrorists,” they are “insurgents” trying to murder our young boys over there.
The beneficiaries of war — measured easiest as those who wouldn’t dream of taking part in war themselves, yet who reap the profits daily — would like us to believe that American lives matter, and Iraqi lives don’t.
I call on everyone who hears my voice, or reads these words, to reclaim their humanity. Refuse, as every member of humanity should, to promote this mass violence against innocent people.
IN HER HUSBAND’S DEFENSE
Wife of Sgt. Kevin Benderman, a mechanic and eight-year veteran of the Army who faces a general court-martial after he applied for conscientious objector status last year before his unit was scheduled to redeploy to Iraq.
WHAT IT comes down to is freedom. We are not all that free in America if soldiers are subjected to what Kevin is dealing with now. The commanders are angry because they cannot control Kevin. They are using laws put in place that are designed to take away personal freedom, and give power and control to those who feel they deserve it.
Kevin is free...no matter what anyone says. Kevin has won, no matter what anyone does. He has not lost control of himself, and he has not allowed anyone to control him with laws and behaviors that go against the moral laws of a higher order.
War is nothing more than trying to control something or someone in the same manner that individuals are trying to control Kevin, just on a grander scale. When we realize the true definition of freedom lies in one’s ability to control oneself, with true regard for other human beings, we will begin to achieve peace. Peace in our world will start when people find peace within themselves. When we begin to treat others with exactly the same respect that we are asking for ourselves, wars will become obsolete, and relationships among people will become what they are meant to be.
It seems so simple. Why are they making it so tough? Because no one really wants to look at themselves, and change what they know to be wrong inside. It’s so much easier to point out what is “wrong” about others than it is to look inside.
I am proud of Kevin. I have watched an amazing transformation. No matter what, Kevin will always have himself and the knowledge that no battle from here on will be as tough as the one he fought with himself to become strong.
Veteran of the Second World War and a leading activist in the antiwar struggle for more than a half century since. Author of numerous books, including A People’s History of the United States and the newly released Voices of a People’s History.
AFTER THE First World War, Albert Einstein said, “Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.”
In fact, I believe the crucial factor in bringing the Vietnam War to an end was that the government could no longer rely on the military. There was a deterioration of morale, a growing understanding on the part of soldiers that they did not belong in Vietnam, that they were unwanted by the Vietnamese people, that they were doing terrible things to human beings. So the government faced increasing desertions, and protests from returning veterans.
I believe that we are beginning to see the same things in this war in Iraq. I applaud the courageous actions of Camilo Mejía, Pablo Paredes, Kevin Bendermen — those young people who refuse to participate in this immoral war, and their families who are organizing, speaking out, demonstrating and trying to do everything they can to end this brutal war and bring the troops home now.
We have seen over the past two years a steady erosion of support for the war, as the public has become more and more aware that the Iraqi people, who were supposed to greet the U.S. troops as “liberators,” are overwhelmingly opposed to the occupation. They want the U.S. to leave.
And even though the corporate media have been reluctant to show the U.S. soldiers with amputated limbs or Iraqis killed by our bombs, some of those images have started to break through. Soldiers returning home have started to tell their stories — to describe what is really happening in Iraq. And some have refused to return to fight in this war — which is not a war for democracy or freedom, but a war for oil and for power.
Dr. Salam Ismael
General secretary of the Doctors for Iraq Society, who helped to organize relief efforts during the U.S. siege of Falluja.
I AM so glad that I have the opportunity to express directly the feeling of Iraqis who have suffered from the unpardonable war that your government has imposed on us.
Currently, I’m in the Netherlands to speak about my experiences under U.S. occupation. I am a 29-year-old doctor, and the NGO that I work for coordinates doctors throughout Iraq to provide what relief we can for Iraq’s deteriorating health system. We work in medical teams in conflict areas inside Iraq, and we have been witnesses to many war crimes committed by George W. Bush. We worked in Falluja during the siege, in Najaf, Karbala and Basra.
I came to the Netherlands to ask Mr. Bush, who’s traveling here for the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, a question. Mr. Bush, you said that you waged this bloody war because Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. But who gave Saddam Hussein these weapons in the first place? It wasn’t me, of course. It was the U.S. and Britain, your country and your ally. You knew very well the capabilities of Saddam Hussein because your government created them.
Later on, you said (by the way, why are you always changing your mind?) that the war on Iraq was to remove Saddam Hussein from power. But now, two years have passed since the invasion, and Saddam Hussein in his jail cell is practically the only person in Iraq who knows the security of a safe room and good food, away from the bombs and the death. And still he has not faced a trial.
Mr. Bush, if you say that this bloody war was waged to bring democracy to Iraq, I ask what democracy are you talking about? What about the 100,000 Iraqi civilians killed so far? What about the more than 60,000 Iraqi prisoners? What about Abu Ghraib? Iraq is now a destination for every terrorist who has a beef with the U.S. Who opened the borders for them? You did. Who dissolved the army and the police? You did.
In the two years since the invasions, the health system has gone from bad to worse. Where are the medical supplies you promised?
What about government corruption? Let me give you an example, Mr. Bush. They are changing the marble in the front yard of my hospital and issuing laptops to department heads. But there is barely enough food for the next two months in this hospital. And what about the hundreds of trucks bringing tainted food into the country every day, without even minimal safety inspections?
The only moment I cried came one day after the invasion of Baghdad. While another doctor and I were in an ambulance, we saw an American tank shooting at the front gate of the Iraqi museum. Then looters entered to steal and destroy the cultural history, not just of Iraq but of all humanity.
I saw with my own eyes how the museum security guards pleaded with the American soldiers to stop the looters — but they did nothing. As I watched a man smash a 4,000-year-old sculpture on the ground, I cried. At that moment, I realized, Mr. Bush, that you came in order to destroy our culture and our history.
I will never forget, Mr. Bush, the genocide that you committed in Falluja. I was there during the siege of Falluja, and I saw that the supposed terrorists that you killed were actually women and children. In reality, you are the terrorist.
Peace activist who has visited Iraq numerous times before and after the invasion, and who is now working with Circus2Iraq, performing and running workshops for Iraqi children.
I went into the town of Falluja on April 10-11 and again on April 14-16. The intention was to take medical supplies into the town because I and other internationals in Baghdad had been told that local drivers were unable to get supplies in.
On arrival, we went to a clinic that was being used as a field hospital. The doctors told us the main hospital had been closed down by U.S. troops who were occupying it, and that the smaller one was still functioning, but was cut off by what they called “Sniper Alley”—U.S. troops who would not let ambulances and supplies through.
The clinic had a generator because electricity had been cut to the whole town. That meant most buildings were without running water. Blood bags were stored in a drinks refrigerator and warmed up under tap water. The clinic was not equipped with anesthetic or surgical or life support facilities.
Within about ten minutes of our arrival, a family came in, extremely distressed. The women were brought through to the office and told us they had been trying to flee their home, which was in a U.S.-held part of the town, when they were fired on by US Marines.
A young boy, perhaps 10 years old, had been shot in the head and had wet himself. He was operated on, unconscious, and all the lights went out because the generator cut out. The doctors carried on trying to save him—first by the flame of a cigarette lighter, and then by flashlight. He didn’t live, nor did his older sister.
Another family came in, an old woman who had been shot in the abdomen and foot, still holding a white flag. Her son told the same story—of trying to leave their home in a U.S.-held area and being fired on by Marines.
We were asked to go out collecting casualties and bodies in the U.S.-held area, and agreed. Among other things, we were able to evacuate the patients from the smaller hospital, which had run out of almost all supplies, and take them to Baghdad on the bus we had traveled in on. We were able to move about by holding our passports out of the windows and shouting in English to the troops that we were internationals.
We also evacuated a large number of people, mostly children, women or elderly, from a street in no-man’s land and from a house whose roof the Marines were occupying. The father of one of the families had been shot dead trying to get the car to take two sick members of the family to the clinic. He had a small entry wound in his back and his chest was torn open at the front by the bullet exiting, so it was clear that he’d been shot in the back. He was unarmed, and it was apparent that no one could have removed a weapon from his hand after the killing, because the family was pinned inside the house, terrified to come out. He was about 50 to 60 years old and dressed in a long white tunic.
On trying to leave Falluja, we found a large line of traffic stopped at a U.S. checkpoint. A number of cars were driving away—the people in them said they were shot at when they tried to approach, and it was not possible to get out of Falluja. We approached, again with hands up and shouting through the megaphone. The soldiers eventually responded that they would not “fire any more warning shots.”
They initially agreed that women and children could pass the checkpoint. That meant most of the cars couldn’t pass because the drivers were mostly men. We negotiated that one man per car would be allowed through, if he was the driver and with his family. One of the soldiers said to us, “We want to keep them in there, so we can kill them all more easily.”
Member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams and coordinator of Jubilee Iraq, who maintains a blog at www.justinalexander.net.
THE TEXAN soldier guarding Camp Bukka Prison, who had signed up for the National Guard to get through college, looked perturbed: “I dunno why we’re still here,” he said, “we just seem to be making Iraqis more angry. I think most of the people in here haven’t done anything wrong.”
Since early March, I have been traveling unarmed around Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams. Everywhere I go — while always receiving the warmest Iraqi hospitality — I hear more stories of random shootings, ongoing abuses and systematic injustice. Every Iraqi has a story to tell about family members killed or detained by the American army, and about the terror he or she has experienced during a midnight house raid, or when a convoy of Humvees speed through central Baghdad, training their guns on unarmed pedestrians.
Iraqis understand that many of the soldiers themselves, like the guard at Camp Bukka, do not agree with what they are doing. The problem is with the politicians who continue to place soldiers, brainwashed by the media and military with negative stereotypes of Iraqis, in places where they cannot understand the dynamics or language. Instead of bringing security, these terrified and hence trigger-happy soldiers continue to murder hundreds of the innocent Iraqis they are supposed to have liberated, and their presence incites further violence from terrorists and insurgents.
One of my closest Iraqi friends, along with his curly black hair and his deep poet’s eyes, has only half a right ear. It was clipped off 10 years ago when, as a conscript, he refused to fight against Kurds. Even after he had served his long prison term, his visible disfigurement marked him out for ongoing harassment and discrimination.
I believe that he can now hold his head high and wear his half-ear with pride, for it demonstrates his courage in resisting an unjust war, and there are hundreds more like him in Iraq. The Bush regime has not begun chopping the ears off war resisters (yet) — but American soldiers who refuse to participate in this unjust war can hold their heads high, just like their brother-resisters in Iraq.
Columbia University student and member of the national coordinating committee of the Campus Antiwar Network.
AT A time when “bringing democracy to the Middle East” means torturing and murdering Arabs, and “supporting the troops” means promoting a war that is uprooting and devastating the lives of thousands, it couldn’t be more critical to support the actions of antiwar soldiers.
Many have refused to go to Iraq since the start of the war. But Pablo Paredes and Kevin Benderman refuse to go down quietly. They insist on using their cases to put the war on trial. And for this they are an inspiration to everyone who wants to get U.S. troops out of Iraq.
A year ago this month, the world was outraged by the pictures from Abu Ghraib prison that showed the reality of the war in Iraq. The scandal exposed the wretched underbelly of life under occupation and cemented the disgust of millions around the world for Washington’s arrogant domination of the globe.
But one year on, the government and the media continue their cover-up job and claim that the “prisoner mistreatment” at Abu Ghraib was only the work of “a few bad apples.” A closer look at the military’s own internal inquiries shows a very different story. The torture, rape and murder at Abu Ghraib were consciously imported to Iraq by U.S. military intelligence from the prison cells of Guantánamo Bay and Afghanistan, in an attempt to quell the Iraqi resistance.
The brutal irony, of course, is that those who planned and encouraged the systematic brutality and humiliation of Iraqis are literally getting away with murder — while Paredes and Benderman face jail time for opposing the war.
Bush’s message to the world is quite simple: If you stand up to our power, we will crush you. If you are Iraqi and try to organize against our presence in your country, we will murder and “disappear” you. If you are an American soldier who refuses to be a part of our war machine, we will give you time in the brig.
We can’t let them get away with this. In order to pose a more effective opposition today, we have to reject the entire logic that is coming out of Washington today. We have to reject the idea that Iraqis need the U.S. occupation of their country. We have to reject the racist logic that paints occupation and humiliation as liberation. We have to reject the lie that U.S. bombs can ever be a force of democracy.
And in the end, we have to reject the whole of the war on terror, which is acting as a pretext for the crushing of dissent both within the United States and around the world today.
Independent journalist who traveled to Iraq to report on the U.S. war and whose reports (at www.dahrjamailiraq.com) give an uncompromising view of the reality of Washington’s occupation.
HAVING SPENT eight months in Iraq as a firsthand witness to the devastation of that country, I want to give my full support to two of the biggest heroes of our time — Pablo Paredes and Kevin Benderman. They, along with other soldiers now refusing to participate in this unjust, illegal war in Iraq, stand as a beacon of hope in these dark times for our country.
Nearly every soldier I’ve spoken with inside Iraq expressed dismay at the situation and was confused about why they are even there. With each passing day, we can see clearly that the situation only continues to degrade. Scores of Iraqis are dying on a daily basis now — last week, in a three-day period in Baghdad alone, 1,365 attacks occurred on U.S. and Iraqi security forces. U.S. troops are dying at an average of nearly two every single day, with 10 times that number wounded.
All because we have a commander-in-chief who waged a war based on lies. We are now at over 1,600 dead U.S. soldiers, with more than 10 times that number severely wounded.
When men like Paredes and Benderman take a stand, it sends a clear message to the powers that be that they symbolize that which thousands of other soldiers in Iraq believe — this is an illegal, unjust war and occupation. It is up to the people of the United States — particularly those who claim they support the troops — to give undying support for heroes like them in their efforts to stand against the horrible quagmire that is Iraq.
A national coordinator of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and president of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 701 in Chicago.
AS VIETNAM veterans and Americans, we indict the Bush administration and the Pentagon for war crimes against the Iraqi people by conducting a war for profit and oil at the expense of the American people — who are made to pay for the war with their tax money, with the lack of social programs that have be cut or eliminated to fund the war, and with the lives of their children.
We indict George Bush for attacking the veterans’ health care system. The very people who fight the wars are also people whose health care systems are under attack. Veteran Administration spending is failing to grow with health costs — it would take at least a 13 to 14 percent hike in the VA’s health care budget just to maintain the status quo. The Bush administration at best is offering a 5.4 percent increase.
We indict the Bush administration for placing the burden of the war on service members and their families. The Pentagon has tried to cut the pay of troops while they were serving in the field, but were unsuccessful due to the outcry from not only people across the country, but a lot of the military establishment itself and all the veterans organizations. The Bush administration backed off of it, but they have found other ways. They cut $200 million from Impact Aid, a program that helps military children receive a quality education.
We indict the Bush administration for the mistreatment of the U.S. troops themselves. The young men and women who are in Iraq are not getting the honors they deserve. Bush has yet to attend funerals for people who have died in Iraq. He could care less.
The Army is investigating cases of poor treatment for Iraq War veterans. It learned that hundreds of sick and wounded U.S. veterans, including many who served in the war, are languishing while they wait sometimes for months to see doctors. Particularly the National Guard and reserve troops are being treated like second-class citizens and second-class veterans. They are being warehoused in rows of spare, steamy and dark cement barracks, in places where no one can get in touch with them. At one point, some of them were being made to pay for their own meals and toilet paper.
The Bush administration wants to run this war on the cheap. When you have a cabinet full of people who are nothing more than a bunch of CEOs waiting to return to their companies while serving the Bush administration, you can see why they want to run this war and the government like a corporation. What that means is outsourcing and cutbacks.
We feel that the Bush administration should be indicted for war crimes of the most rank nature in Iraq. Those who ordered the bombing and killing of civilians — as well as the higher-ranking people who were in charge of programs in various holding facilities where people were tortured in Iraq and Afghanistan — should be put on trial, not just the enlisted people who were carrying out the wishes of these commanders.
These are war crimes. These are crimes against the people of Iraq. And they’re being done at the expense of the American people. People like Pablo and Kevin have every right to stand up and refuse to serve under these conditions in what is an illegal and immoral war.