[Part one - Part two - Part three]
After lunch, the RPO asked a few more questions, about what happens to military deserters in the US, the hazing they face while waiting for punishment, and if it's possible to refuse such hazing. Again, I now think he was helping to establish that Josh would be punished for refusing to systematically degrade and humiliate people.
Then it was Alyssa's turn. She asked Josh questions which clarified and further detailed his earlier answers. Details like being taught how to curse in Arabic, specifically for the purpose of humiliating Iraqi women in the street, and further enraging Iraqi men. Details like the names of the captains who ordered the house raids. Details like the fact that nothing was ever found in any house raid. Ever.
"At first I thought we were there because of weapons of mass destruction, and because Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant. But nothing was ever found. No terrorists, no weapons, nothing. Nothing but homes being broken into, and soldiers taking whatever they wanted. Months of this, and it never changed. I had to ask myself, Why? Why are we here? Why are we doing this?"
Alyssa was typically brilliant about asking simple questions that prompted Josh to tell parts of his story in more detail. How did you know you'd be punished if you tried to object?
"One time a lieutenant colonel was coming to speak to us. Our sergeant instructed us that we were not to ask him any questions. We were told the colonel would ask if anyone has any questions, but we were not to ask him anything.
"The lieutenant colonel gave his talk, and sure enough, he asked us, Are there any questions. One soldier asked why we were using Vietnam-era body armor, instead of the more effective armor we knew some other units had. After the lieutenant colonel left, that soldier's pay was cut in half. For asking one question."
Alyssa asked Josh about the two times he tried to object by filing a mission statement, which is supposed to be his right as a soldier. If you've read The Deserter's Tale, Josh attempted to file mission statements after the incident with the decapitated head, and with the little girl outside the hospital. Both times, he was told, "It's none of your concern, soldier."
Alyssa also asked about some incidents in which soldiers were punished for their behaviour in Iraq. Nine people were court martialled for incidents in the Abu Ghraib prison, and two were court martialled for murdering Iraqi civilians in cold blood. Doesn't this show that the Army cares about this inhumane treatment?
Josh explained that those actions were outside of normal activity. "That was insanity. Craziness. But what we did, the house raids, that was normal. Standard operating procedure. We weren't cowboys. We were following standard orders."
Alyssa had Josh mention a platoon-mate who deserted and was forcibly returned to Iraq. The platoon leader told his chain of command, "You'd better send him somewhere else, because we'll shoot him in the back."
Josh was able to explain why conscientious objector status, as defined by the US Department of Defense, does not apply to him. "I can imagine that some wars could be justified, in the past or perhaps in the future. Also, it's based only on religious beliefs. I'm not a particularly religious person. I object to the immorality of this war."
Do you think the Army might be more lenient with you because of your PTSD? Josh said, no, if anything it would be the opposite, citing the example of war resister James Burmeister. The Army views PTSD as weakness.
Do you think the Army would help you with your PTSD if you were to return?
"There are thousands of veterans not getting help with their PTSD. Why would I be any different? 'Drink water and drive on.' That's the Army's answer to everything.
"No one gets treatment. They're only given medication. The suicide rate of soldiers returning from Iraq is massive. Iraq vets are already living on the streets."
Alyssa established how the US military has already tried to silence Josh, hunting him down in Toronto - not asking to speak to him through his lawyer, but trying to trick him into being taken into custody - and changing his record after the fact. A few years ago, when police pulled Josh over for some car issues, they ran his license, told him his car was riding too low in the back, and said have a nice day. Last year, when he was pulled over (the man is famous for driving junkers), police ran a license check, then pinned Josh against the car with a gun to his head. Why the difference? His license check came up as "known for drugs, weapons and explosives". Since none of that is true, how did the change occur?
Through Alyssa's questions, Josh was able to emphasize how the US military's policy towards deserters has changed since the invasion of Iraq, how soldiers who desert because they oppose the war, and who speak out about that opposition, are selected for prosecution and then punished more harshly than a soldier who, for example, goes AWOL to go home to see a dying parent.
Alyssa helped Josh clarify the futility of trying to get out of the Army through any legal means. It's stay in and do as you're told, or go AWOL.