Another war resister - there are thousands in the US - needs our support. This is a letter from GI Rights Lawyer James Branum, who represents many war resisters in the US at either no cost or at deeply discounted rates.
James represented both Robin Long and Cliff Cornell, the two war resisters deported by the Harper Government. Robin and Cliff were both incarcerated, but James managed to get both sentences reduced - in Robin's case, from 30 months to 15 months. James has worked with the War Resisters Support Campaign, Courage to Resist, Veterans for Peace, and other military resister groups.
I am writing on behalf of a pro-bono client of mine, SPC Nicole Mitchell.
SPC Mitchell was sentenced to 30 days in jail today in a Summary Court-Martial proceeding at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for the offense of AWOL. But this is not your typical AWOL case. It began some time ago.
SPC Mitchell was an M.P. [military police] in the US Army. She served well until she went on a deployment to Iraq, where she began to have serious issues of conscience. After significant reflection and inner turmoil, she applied for C.O. [conscientious objector] status.
The coming months were hard, in that she faced significant harassment for applying, but she prevailed. She was granted 1-A-0 conscientious objector status, which meant that she would continue to serve in the military but in a non-combatant status.
Living as a conscientious objector in the U.S. Army proved to be nearly impossible. SPC Mitchell was not assigned to a new [military occupational specialty], but instead remained as an M.P. She no longer carried a weapon but otherwise had to function as an M.P. So when personal problems arose in her life (something that happens to many soldiers), the emotional strain and stress became too much and she went AWOL.
Upon return to her unit, SPC Mitchell did her best to be a good soldier. In many cases, combat veterans who go AWOL and return voluntarily are not prosecuted, but this did not happen to SPC Mitchell. Her command rejected our request for her to be given a chapter 10 discharge in lieu of court-martial, and instead she was given a summary court-martial.
Reading this letter, it's easy to see there's a lot we're not hearing. I've heard enough war resisters' stories to imagine what "significant harassment" and "emotional strain" can mean.
"Smoking" - the physical, verbal and psychological abuse that routinely answers any resistance - can amount to torture. Soldiers who resist from within the military are not only harassed, they are persecuted, as the military seeks to use them as deterrents for the many soldiers who have resistance in their hearts, but have not yet taken the courageous and difficult step of acting on their beliefs.
"Emotional strain" can be crippling post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. We need only look to the climbing military and veteran suicide rate to see where it may ultimately lead.
If and when the details of Nicole Mitchell's story become public, I will bring it to you. Until then, let's show her she is not alone. You can write to Nicole in the stockade:
Naval Brig/CCU Puget Sound
2020 Guardfish Street
Silverdale, WA 98315-2020
In addition, you can write to the military on Mitchell's behalf. James Branum is filing a clemency application for Mitchell, which will request a suspension of her sentence. As part of that application, he is asking people to write letters on her behalf. He gives this sample, but asks that you re-word the letter in your own words. If you know Nicole personally, please say so in the letter.
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To whom it may concern:
I am writing on behalf of SPC Nicole Mitchell, who was sentenced to 30 days in jail on May 19, 2010 for the offense of AWOL.
I understand that you have the power to suspend the remainder of her sentence. I would ask you to do this because.
1. Character - SPC Mitchell took the courageous step of applying for conscientious objector status while in Iraq. She suffered harassment and derision for doing this, but she held her ground. And after receiving C.O. status, she did her best to do her duties within the boundaries of her conscience and the regulations for as long as she was able to.
2. Fairness - Most soldiers who go AWOL do not receive jail time, but rather are either given non-judicial punishment (article 15) or are chaptered out of the Army.
3. Rehabilitation - SPC Mitchell is a gifted musician who will do her best to make the world a better place. The sooner she is released from the prison, the sooner she can be about her life’s work.
Your contact info
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Please fax or email the letter to James Branum.
Email: girightslawyer - at - gmail - dot - com . Put NICOLE MITCHELL in the subject line!
If you want to help, you must do this either this no later than tomorrow, Sunday, May 23.
I'll post other ways to help as I receive them.
James Branum on Facebook
Nicole Mitchell on MySpace, with clips of her music