According to our newest resister in Toronto, US military jails are overflowing with soldiers who are refusing to participate in the occupation of Iraq.
One of those is Ryan Jackson, who will be court-martialled on June 3. The Army is holding Jackson in pre-trial confinement. Apparently this is almost unheard of for a non-violent offense, but Jackson is outspoken, and the Army wants to keep him quiet. Ryan served in the military for two and a half years, including two tours in Iraq.
Jackson applied for conscientious objector status, and was denied. In his application, he wrote:
I feel ashamed every day. I feel ashamed for taking part in the killing of others, and for allowing my comrades to be killed themselves. By putting on a uniform, I am showing my support. . . . I can no longer be a part of the Armed Forces or any organization of a violent nature. . . .
Interviewed by Courage To Resist, Jackson said:
Once my beliefs started to evolve and change, I became a different person. It starts to take a hold of you, giving you hope that you can make a difference, that you can change what you are doing, and that it is not too late!
[The military's CO application process was] immoral, unethical, and wrong. I've come to realize that my beliefs are not valid or sincere based on what any person that reads this says or thinks. My beliefs are valid because I say they are and because they are my beliefs and they compel me to be a better person.
Prior to surrendering at Fort Sill, Ryan spoke about what might happen next.
I really don't worry about it, because there are so many great people that have inspired me in the past that have faced so much worse than me.
I looked at people in history – Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, who faced real persecution for their beliefs – and came to the conclusion that these people did this before me, to fight for civil rights and fight for peace and nonviolence. I said, 'Well, who am I in this day and age when we supposedly have this freedom?' The worst they're going to do to me is possibly imprison me for a little bit, but I'll still live to tell about it another day. . . .
No matter what the Army decides to do with me, if I just take it and turn it into a positive experience and use my story and what I have to say to people to hopefully inspire other people and maybe save one person from going to kill other people and possibly being killed, then the sacrifice I made, I feel, is worth it.
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Robert Weiss also applied for conscientious objector status and was denied. Weiss was court-martialled and sentenced to seven months in prison. He also received a Bad Conduct Discharge, the equivalent of a felony offense. Weiss's military hearing took place in Germany, where he had no support except his lawyer.
His charge - desertion and missing movement - still carries a maximum punishment of death by firing squad.
In his closing remarks during the sentencing portion of the trial, civilian defense lawyer David Court presented an overview of what the U.S. Military Code of Justice seeks to accomplish through criminal punishment.
Court concluded most aspects – like rehabilitation and protecting society – simply did not apply to someone guilty of essentially refusing to commit an act of violence against other human beings.
"The only tenant that is relevant is to maintain Good Order and Discipline," he said. "Those three letters [G.O.D.], that's where Robert J. Weiss sees his command. He believes the requirements of his spirituality overcome that of a soldier."
"He will believe he is being punished because he broke the Army's rules, but not because he broke higher laws," Court said.
Though shackled as he left the building, Weiss managed to rotate a wrist, flashing one last peace sign before boarding a van for Mannheim.
He had only two words to say.
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"This occupation is unconstitutional and illegal and I hereby lawfully refuse to participate. I refuse to participate in the occupation of Iraq."
These words were spoken by Matthis Chiroux, a Sergeant in the US Army. Chiroux was honourably discharged last summer, after serving more than four years in Afghanistan, Japan, Europe and the Philippines.
On May 15, Chiroux publicly announced that he is refusing orders to be recalled and deployed to Iraq. He made this announcement outside the US Congress, after fellow members of Iraq Veterans Against the War testified before the Congressional Progressive Caucus. (More on that below.)
Good afternoon. My name is Sgt. Matthis Chiroux, and I served in the Army as a Photojournalist until being honorably discharged last summer after over four years of service in Afghanistan, Japan, Europe and the Philippines. As an Army journalist whose job it was to collect and filter servicemember's stories, I heard many stomach-churning testimonies of the horrors and crimes taking place in Iraq. For fear of retaliation from the military, I failed to report these crimes, but never again will I allow fear to silence me. Never again will I fail to stand.
In February, I received a letter from the Army ordering my return to active duty, for the purpose of mobilization for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Thanks in great part to the truths of war being fearlessly spoken by my fellow IVAW members, I stand before you today with the strength, clarity and resolve to declare to the military and the world that this Soldier will not be deploying to Iraq.
This occupation is unconstitutional and illegal and I hereby lawfully refuse to participate as I will surely be a party to war crimes. Furthermore, deployment in support of illegal war violates all of my core values as a human being, but in keeping with those values, I choose to remain in the United States to defend myself from charges brought by the Army if they so wish to pursue them. I refuse to participate in the occupation of Iraq.
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Last week, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace brought Winter Soldier to Washington. Aaron Glantz covered the hearings.
Antiwar veterans of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan took their case to Capitol Hill Thursday, baring their souls with stories of killings of innocent civilians, torture, and wrongful detentions.
"On several occasions our convoys came upon bodies that had been lying on the road, sometimes for weeks," said Marine Corps veteran Vincent Emanuele, who served in al-Qaim near the Syrian border in 2004 and 2005.
"When encountering these bodies standard procedure was to run over the corpses, sometimes even stopping and taking pictures, which was also standard practice when encountering the dead in Iraq," he told the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which organized the hearing.
Emanuele also said that U.S. military personnel often took "pot shots" at cars passing by.
"Our rules of engagement stated that we should first fire warning shots into the ground in front of the car, then the engine block, and the windshield. That is if the car was even moving in the first place," he said. "Many times cars that actually had pulled off to the side of the road were also shot at."
Thursday's hearing was an outgrowth of an event in Maryland earlier this year called "Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan - Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations." For four days in March, dozens of veterans of the two wars testified about atrocities they personally committed or witnessed while deployed overseas.
At the time, many of the veterans expressed a desire to take their case to Capitol Hill. Thursday they got their wish.
Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, addressed a panel of veterans at the start of the hearing.
"We now have an opportunity to hear not from the military's top brass but directly from you," she said, "the very soldiers who put your lives on the line to carry out this president's failed policies."
Nine veterans of the Iraq war told their stories before members of Congress and a packed gallery. One of the veterans had also served in Afghanistan. About 40 veterans were in the audience.
The veterans spoke about extremely lax rules of engagement handed down by commanding officers, which they said virtually guaranteed atrocities would be committed, and which in turn created a violent backlash among Iraqi people and a continued cycle of violence.
Former U.S. Army Capt. Luis Carlos Montalvan served directly under Gen. David Petraeus in 2005 and 2006.
"We have beaten our drum to try to raise the issue of the dereliction of duty committed by a number of generals who have been promoted and promoted again and continue to perpetuate the lies [that] paint a rosy picture of the situation in Iraq," he said.
. . .
Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War hope this week's hearing will spark an investigation by a full Congressional committee and speed the end of the wars.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) praised the veterans who spoke Thursday. "I want to thank you for having more courage than many members of Congress have -- for coming here in defiance of what you have been instructed and taught to do," she said. "They attempted to tell you that you should be satisfied by everything that you saw and everything that you did and everything you witnessed, but you're not. I praise and honor you for that."
The veterans' testimony, however, may be overshadowed by an unrelated legislative maneuver that occurred just steps away from their hearing room Thursday: the House of Representatives defeated a $162.5 billion proposal to continue funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While many antiwar activists were elated by the news from the House floor, their victory will likely be only symbolic, and short-lived.
President George W. Bush had threatened to veto the spending bill anyway, citing the time line it would have imposed for withdrawing troops, and what he described as unnecessary domestic spending. Knowing that, and angered over the way Democratic leaders handled the bill, 131 Republicans abstained from the vote. That left those who opposed the new funding with a surprising plurality of the vote.
And more from resisters themseves, this Wednesday night in Toronto.