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"I Contributed to Death and Human Suffering": How One War Resister's Case Puts the Afghan War On Trial

Victor Agosto argues that, in accordance to the Nuremburg Principles, the war in Afghanistan is an illegal war.

U.S. Army Specialist Victor Agosto served a 13-month deployment in Iraq with the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion. "What I did there, I know I contributed to death and human suffering," Agosto told Truthout from Fort Hood, in Killeen, Texas, in May, "It's hard to quantify how much I caused, but I know I contributed to it."

His experience in Iraq, coupled with educating himself about U.S. foreign policy and international law, has led Agosto to refuse to deploy to Afghanistan. "It's a matter of what I'm willing to live with," he said of his recent decision, "I'm not willing to participate in this occupation, knowing it is completely wrong."

Agosto's lawyer, James Branum, who is also the legal adviser to the GI Rights Hotline and co-chair of the Military Law Task Force, told Truthout during a phone interview on July 10 that, contrary to mainstream opinion that believes Afghanistan to be a "justified" war, the invasion and ongoing occupation are actually in violation of the U.S. Constitution and international law.

"Victor is approaching this from the standpoint of law and ethics," Branum explained, "It's his own personal ethics and principles of the Nuremburg Principles, that the war in Afghanistan does not meet the criteria for lawful war under the UN Charter, which says that member nations who joined the UN, as did the US, should give up war forever, aside from two exceptions: that the war is in self-defense, and that the use of force was authorized by the UN Security Council. The nation of Afghanistan did not attack the United States. The Taliban may have, but the nation and people of Afghanistan did not. And under U.S. Law, the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, any treaty enacted by the U.S. is now the "supreme law of the land." So when the United States signed the UN Charter, we made that our law as well."

The Supremacy Clause is a clause in the United States Constitution, Article VI, Paragraph 2. The clause establishes the Constitution, Federal Statutes, and U.S. treaties as "the supreme law of the land." The text establishes these as the highest form of law in the American legal system, mandating that state judges uphold them, even if state laws or constitutions conflict.

This was also the basis for the stand taken by Lt. Ehren Watada of the US Army, who in 2006 was the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse a combat deployment to Iraq.

In an article for Truthout published August 14, 2006, I posted the text of a speech given by Watada at a National Convention of Veterans for Peace in Seattle, Washington, where I was present.

Watada outlined the principled stand he took, which applies to that of Victor Agosto today:

"The oath we take swears allegiance not to one man but to a document of principles and laws designed to protect the people. Enlisting in the military does not relinquish one's right to seek the truth - neither does it excuse one from rational thought nor the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. "I was only following orders" is never an excuse.

"The Nuremburg Trials showed America and the World that citizenry as well as soldiers have the unrelinquishable obligation to refuse complicity in war crimes perpetrated by their government. Widespread torture and inhumane treatment of detainees is a war crime. A war of aggression born through an unofficial policy of prevention is a crime against the peace. An occupation violating the very essence of international humanitarian law and sovereignty is a crime against humanity. These crimes are funded by our tax dollars. Should citizens choose to remain silent through self-imposed ignorance or choice, it makes them as culpable as the Soldier in these crimes.