Protests across the U.S. support war resisters

‘‘Pablo and Kevin put the war on trial’’

THE U.S. military put war resisters Pablo Paredes and Kevin Benderman on trial last week. But at the same time, across the U.S., activists put the Iraq war itself on trial.

Paredes, a Naval petty officer, and Benderman, an Army sergeant, both faced military trials for answering their consciences and not deploying to Iraq. Paredes was found guilty at his court-martial in San Diego, but he received a light sentence compared to the year behind bars in a military prison that he faced as a maximum punishment. Meanwhile, at Fort Stewart in Georgia, Benderman’s defense team won a motion claiming that the military’s prosecutor wasn’t impartial, sending his case back to square one.

While Paredes’ trial was going on, outside the Navy base in San Diego, activists set up their own court and put the war on trial.

Aidan Delgado, who received conscientious objector status after serving nine months in Iraq, told the mock court of the atrocities he witnessed while working in Abu Ghraib prison--and affirmed the International Red Cross’ estimate that 70 to 90 percent of the prisoners are there by mistake. “At Abu Ghraib, we shot prisoners for protesting their conditions,” said Delgado. “Four were killed.”

Two members of Iraq Veterans Against the War--Tim Goodrich and Camilo Mejía--also spoke in Pablo’s defense. “In reality, it isn’t the only superpower in the world putting Pablo on trial,” said Mejía, who spent seven months in a military prison for refusing to return to Iraq for a second tour of duty. “It’s Pablo putting the only superpower in the world on trial.”

Meanwhile, at the trial itself, the Navy judge, Lt. Cmdr. Robert Klant, delivered a stunning indictment of the war.

After law professor Marjorie Cohn explained on the witness stand why the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal under U.S. and international law, government prosecutors began hounding her about her prior statements that the U.S. wars on Afghanistan and Yugoslavia were also illegal. Cohn explained that both these wars--like the invasion of Iraq--were neither defensive, nor sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council, and therefore were illegal.

At the end of the cross-examination, an exasperated Klant agreed with Cohn, declaring, “I think that the government has successfully proved that any service member has reasonable cause to believe that the wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq were illegal.”

In the end, Klant gave Pablo what amounts to a slap on the wrist--two months’ confinement to his base, three months’ hard labor and a reduction in rank. “This is...a stunning blow to the prosecutors who asked for nine months in the brig,” said Jeremy Warren, Pablo’s lawyer. “It’s a huge affirmation of every sailor and military personnel’s rights to speak out and follow their consciences.”

Meanwhile, Kevin Benderman faces a new hearing in his case, where the military will decide again what charges to bring and how stiff a sentence to seek. Seemingly in retaliation for the defense’s successful motion for a new hearing, the government added two charges of larceny because Kevin received combat pay since January, when his unit was deployed in Iraq without him--even though the Army initiated the payments and Kevin reported the extra pay.

“I just know that I want the truth to continue to come out,” Kevin told reporters after he received the new hearing. “And I think that’s what happened today. Some of the truth came out that they mishandled the Article 32 hearing.”

The mock trial outside the San Diego Navy base where Paredes’ trial was held was just one of many solidarity actions organized in some 20 cities across the U.S. last week.

A day before his trial, Pablo addressed an audience of about 50 people in Oakland, Calif., by telephone. “This fight is not over,” said Pablo. “This is the first battle, and we are winning it in the streets.” Other speakers included Father Louis Vitale and Oakland City Council candidate Aimee Allison.

The day after Pablo’s court-martial, more than 100 people in New York set up their own mock court to put the war on trial at an event organized by Citizens for Pablo, Veterans for Peace, the local chapter of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), United for Peace and Justice, International Action Center, Not in Our Name, the International Socialist Organization and others. Speakers included military resister Carl Webb, Linda Sarsour of the National Council of Arab Americans, Tod Ensign of Citizen Soldier and Iraq Under Siege editor Anthony Arnove.

During closing arguments, Michael Letwin of New York City Labor Against War summed up the choice that soldiers like Pablo and Kevin face, along with everyone trying to stop the U.S. war machine: “Resistance is not only a right, it is an obligation.”

At Hunter College in New York, Mike Stoll of the Campus Antiwar Network prosecuted the case against the war, while A’dam Farooqui of the College Republicans argued in its defense. Basing their testimony on real sources, students acted as witnesses, playing the parts of an Iraqi civilian, a Marine recruiter, a Halliburton CEO, a resisting U.S. soldier and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In the end, a jury made up of audience members voted 10 to 3 to find the war guilty as charged.

In Burlington, Vt., 70 people picketed the federal building with chants of “They’re our brothers, they’re our sisters, we support war resisters.”

“The importance of what we’re doing today can’t be overstated,” Jim Ramey, one of the organizers of the event and a member of Vermont MFSO, told the crowd. “The U.S. armed forces are attempting to make an example of Pablo and Kevin and so are we. By supporting them now, we can give confidence to the many soldiers who are questioning this war that they can speak out, and we’ll have their backs.”

In Springfield, Mass., about 20 people picketed for two hours in front of the federal building. American Friends Service Committee, Traprock Peace Center, the Antiwar Coalition at Holyoke Community College and the International Socialist Organization sponsored the event. During the picket, there was an almost unbroken sound of cars and trucks honking their horns in solidarity, and many drivers and passersby stopped to take fliers about the two cases.

In Providence, R.I., about 30 people rallied in front of the federal building. Passersby joined the rush-hour protest or signed petitions before boarding buses, and listened as speakers addressed the brutality of the U.S. occupation--and the hypocrisy of threatening GI resisters with prison while alleged murderers of Iraqi civilians go free.

In New Haven, Conn., a small but spirited crowd gathered in front of the federal building downtown to show their support for Pablo and Kevin. The demonstration was called by the Southern Connecticut State University Antiwar Coalition and the Middle East Crisis Committee and was supported by several local groups. Though some military recruiters decided to stand across the street with their “Army of One” banner, horn blasts from drivers and thumbs-up from pedestrians showed overwhelming support for the antiwar message.

Together, these events showed that a new movement to defend those who resist the U.S. military machine from the inside is being created.

“Resistance is the essence of democracy,” said Pablo at a press conference the day before his trial began. “We learn in our American history classes about a resistance to the empire outside. I have to be a part of the resistance to this empire.” Everyone should join this resistance--and help build a movement to stand with people like Kevin and Pablo.

By Eric Ruder and Jocelyn Blake | May 20, 2005 | Page 12
Frank Couget, Tom Dillon, Andrew Jagunich, Rebecca Lewis, John Osmand, Steve Ramey and Annie Zirin contributed to this report.

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