The Way Out of Iraq
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On May 11, Navy Petty Officer Pablo Paredes and U.S. Army Sgt. Kevin Benderman will stand before military court martial tribunals for refusing to participate in the Iraq war. These men applied for and were denied conscientious objector status because of their public statements against the continuing war. They now face military jail time and forfeiture of pay and benefits.
On May 2, Pablo's brother Victor Paredes, Kevin's wife Monica, and anti-war, veteran and military family organizers from across the country sent a public letter calling for May 10th to be a National Day of Action in Support of GI Resistance. Support actions are being organized in 20 cities, including San Diego, Baltimore, Buffalo, Burlington, Charlotte, Deerfield, Helena, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New Haven, New York City, Orlando, Ventura, Providence, Rochester, San Francisco, and Springfield. A group of supporters from across California will caravan to San Diego to be present at Pablo Paredes court-martial, where Paredes says he intends to "put the war on trial. After all, it's the real crime here."
There are thousands of other resisters. While many of them keep their resistance private, all of them are taking courageous stands against the war and in support of international law. GI resistance has the power to stop the war and occupation in Iraq. The Bush Administration can't fight war or maintain an occupation without obedient troops. Nor can they begin new wars without enough compliant soldiers. Courage to Resist, a new group of concerned community members, vets and military families, has helped organize the May 10th day of action as part of their goal to "organize support for military objectors to illegal war and occupation and the underlying policies of empire."
Courage to Resist's campaign has three key areas:
1. Supporting troops (or private or government employees) who refuse deployment or otherwise resist the war and occupation. 2. Counter-Recruitment. Use education to reduce the military's ability to recruit young people, disproportionately low income and of color. 3. Resisting the Draft and Draft Registration. Support young men to refuse to register for the selective service and prepare for mass resistance to a possible draft.
GI resistance within the military, together with massive desertion and draft resistance, is widely credited with being a key element in forcing the U.S. out of Vietnam. Steve Morse, a former U.S. Army soldier who was active in the antiwar GI movement during Vietnam and today coordinates the GI Rights Program of the Central Committee of Conscientious Objectors explains, "This was an unprecedented event in U.S. history. Underground newspapers, GI coffeehouses, petitions, demonstrations, black armbands, stockade revolts, the FTA (Fuck The Army Show), leaflets, discussion groups, civilian/veteran support and counseling, combat refusals of riot control training and duty, revolts on ships; these all occurred many times." By 1970, the Army had 65,643 deserters.
Much of the last year's resistance to the war has come from within troops themselves and their families: The entire 17 member Army Reserve platoon-the 343rd Quartermaster Company -- refused an order to go on a "suicide" supply mission in Iraq. Hundreds of enlisted men and women cheered when one of their own confronted Rumsfeld at his photo op speech in Iraq and almost two thousand former soldiers are fighting the "backdoor draft." In November 2004, 1,800 of 4,000 people notified (of 110,000 former "individual" ready reserves) are requesting exemption or appealing deployment and of 2,500 ordered to report to military bases 733 never showed up; hundreds have applied for conscientious objector status and the military has admitted that over 5,500 have gone AWOL sine the Iraq invasion. In addition to this resistance within the ranks, military families have become public anti-war spokespeople and frontline activists.
On Dec. 6, 2004, Pablo Paredes refused to board his Navy ship. Paredes explained, "Like all members of the military, I have been trained to recognize my personal responsibility for participating in war crimes. Since the war is itself illegal and has been characterized by repeated and consistent violations of international laws and treaties, of the Geneva Convention rules of war, and of generally accepted standards of human rights, I have a reasonable belief that my training required me to avoid participating in these crimes."
The invasion and occupation of Iraq has included War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and Acts of Torture in violation the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg Conventions and the UN Charter. The War Crimes Tribunals held after World War II declared, "anyone with knowledge of illegal activity and an opportunity to do something is a potential criminal under international law unless the person takes affirmative measures to prevent the commission of crimes." Additionally, the U.S. Military Code of Justice states that military personnel have a right and a duty to disobey illegal orders.
On Jan. 7, Sergeant Kevin Benderman refused to re-deploy out to Iraq, saying " since the governments want the wars then why don't we let the government fight the war? All of the politicians that want to fight a war are free to trade places with me at any time." Benderman is a 40-year old veteran from a military family who has received many awards, including four Good Conduct Medals; Benderman was deployed in Iraq from March to September of 2003 with the 4th Infantry Division. Twenty-two other soldiers in his unit also refused less publicly-- seventeen have gone AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave) and two attempted suicide. "U.S. military personnel," Benderman said, "are increasingly killing non-combatants. On my last deployment in Iraq, elements of my unit were instructed by a captain to fire on children throwing rocks at us."
Military personnel have a legal right to conscientious objector status based on their opposition to war, yet objectors like Pablo and Kevin, who have made their views public have had their claims rejected and been punished for speaking out.
How can we create a climate of massive visible support for GI resistance and spread the risks to civilian society, so we create a serious political and social consequence for cracking down on those who refuse orders/obey international law or assert their rights? How can we organize to protect soldiers of conscience from crackdowns for their standing up for international law or asserting their rights?
Courage to Resist suggests that as well as supporting military resisters directly, people can work directly to stop military recruiting. Students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, San Francisco State University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, New York University, University of Illinois, Chicago, and Southern Connecticut State University have been succesful in fighting recruitment on their campuses. Massive counter education of students and youth, increasing protests and direct action at recruiting centers have contributed (along with the losing war in Iraq) to the record low for military recruitment. Many recruiters, under intense pressure to produce bodies, have gone AWOL themselves.
In every branch of the military recruiting is has collapsed and the military is getting desperate. Morale is so low that Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly wrote that "stop loss" orders that involuntarily extending reservists' tours in war zones has pushed the Army Reserve to the point that it is "in grave danger of being unable to meet other operational requirements" and is "rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force.
It's clear that the anti-war movement needs a strategy and as usual it is the courage of young people in the military, on the campuses and in the streets who, by example, show us how to assert our people power. A people power strategy can stop the war and occupation if we clearly articulate it and organize and organize relentless innovative campaigns against the pillars the war. We need to find the courage and the heart that is in root of the word courage, le coeur, to assert our power as communities, as movements and as people to reverse the policies of empire behind both the war in Iraq and the war at home. It's clear that Pablo Paredes, Kevin Benderman and other GI resisters have the courage to resist. Do we?
David Solnit is an organizer with Courage to Resist, editor of Globalize Liberation: How to Uproot the System and Build a Better World (City Lights, 2004).