Rebellion stirring in the military ranks?

2005-05-26

Richard Moore

--------------------------------------------------------
From: "Stephanie McDowall" <•••@••.•••>
To: <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Supporting dissent is not enough.
Date: Wed, 25 May 2005 14:20:46 -0700

Supporting dissent is not enough

Camilo Mejia , ZNet

May 24, 2005

Just about a year a go I was tried by a special Court-Martial
at Fort Stewart, Georgia. The charge: desertion with the
intent to avoid hazardous duty. My case received a lot of
attention from the media, mainly because I was the first Iraq
veteran to have been to combat, returned on a two-week
furlough, and publicly refused to return to Iraq while
denouncing the war as illegal, and who then surrendered
himself to military authorities. For the first time since the
invasion of Iraq the military had to deal with the delicate
issue of public dissent within the ranks.

The command at Fort Stewart restricted me to the base, and
never allow me to leave even to confer with my attorneys, and
requests to travel with them to Florida, and to meet with them
off the base, all to help them prepare a better case, were all
denied. I was housed in a barracks building with about ten
rooms, yet I was the only one there. Between my surrender and
the Court-Martial, reporters were told they could interview me
off base, while I was told I could give interviews, but was
prohibited from leaving the fort.

On the day of my trial, access to the base was restricted to
military personnel, my attorneys, and a few family members.
Everyone else was directed to gate number three, but the signs
leading to that gate were taken down during the three days of
my trial. The entire block of the courthouse was barricaded,
and there were civilian and military police officers
patrolling the area, and they had trained dogs sniffing the
area. Reporters were contained in a media center about a mile
away from the courthouse, and everyone's computers, cameras,
recording devices, and cell phones were confiscated prior to
entering the courtroom.

All of our pretrial motions were struck down, and many key
witnesses and crucial pieces of evidence were not allowed in
the case. Violations of army regulations by my unit, and
violations of international law and the supreme law of the
land by the military, were readily ignored, and the
prosecution was allowed to bring the entire case down to the
question of whether I got on a plane or not, thus receiving an
easy, undeserved victory.

Before the end of the trial, members of my unit had already
been to my barracks room. When my relatives got to my quarters
to claim my belongings, immediately after the sentencing, the
room had been swept clean. But the raiders forgot to take the
lock they cut in order to get to my wall-locker. My mother
later used that lock in a press conference to show the
military had packed my things even before they could know I
was going away. An officer then quickly approached my mother
to kindly escort her to where my possessions had been taken.

But not even a year after being sent to a confinement facility
in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where I spent nine months of a
twelve-month sentence, I found myself in San Diego's 32nd
Street Naval Station, where Petty Officer 3rd Class Pablo
Paredes was being tried by a special Court-Martial. The
charges: Unauthorized Absence and Missing Movement.

His case, like mine, received much attention, not because of
the nature of his charges, but because on December 6th of last
year, Pablo publicly denounced the war as criminal and illegal
while refusing to board his ship, the USS Bonhomme Richard,
before it left for the war in Iraq.

The military judge found Pablo guilty of Missing Movement but
not guilty of Unauthorized Absence, and even though the
sentence included two months of hard labor and three months of
restriction within the base, Pablo received no jail time, and
no punitive discharge from the Navy. The same day of Pablo's
Court-Martial, a military judge from Fort Stewart, found that
Army Sergeant Kevin Benderman, another public war resistor,
had been sent to trial by a biased hearing officer, and
temporarily dropped the general Court-Martial against him, a
type of trial that could have sent him to jail for up to five
years. Another investigation, to be conducted on May 26, will
determine by what type of Court-Martial Kevin is tried.

These findings represent important accomplishments for the
antiwar movement, as they seem to indicate that military
authorities are handling public dissent within the ranks with
a bit more caution, as more members of the military are
speaking out against the occupation. It would be interesting
to see if these are isolated cases, or if the military is
indeed making an effort to uphold the law.

Service men and women should know that expert testimony at my
trial as well as at Pablo's trial, was that the invasion and
occupation of Iraq are illegal under international, domestic,
and military law. At my trial, professor Francis Boyle of the
University of Illinois, testified that the Iraqi invasion and
its aftermath is a crime against humanity, and a violation of
Army Field Manual 27-10, which incorporates the Geneva
Conventions. At Pablo's trial, Professor Marjory Cohn from San
Diego's Thomas Jefferson School of Law, testified that the war
in Iraq violates the United Nations Charter, which authorizes
the use of force only in self defense, or with the Security
Council's approval. She also noted that according to the
Nuremberg Principle and the Army Field Manual, disobeying an
unlawful order is a duty, and claiming to be following
superior orders constitutes no legal defense in the commission
of war crimes. Interestingly, neither at my trial nor at
Pablo's, did the prosecution ever put on evidence to counter
the defense international law expert testimony.

America is going through a historical transformation, from
disguised to almost openly admitted (and defended)
imperialism. In a time when peaceful protesters are being put
in cages, or free speech zones, in a time when international
law is being ignored or circumvented in order to conduct and
justify torture, in a time when schools are being forced to
make their students' files available to the war machine, in a
time when the fear and pain of the nation are being used to
fabricate support for a criminal war of imperial domination,
it becomes imperative that members of the armed forces act
upon their principles.

An empire cannot survive without an imperial military, a
military whose members do not question the orders of their
superiors, a military whose members who choose to refuse, do
so quietly to save their skins, a military whose members
rather die and kill against their moral judgments than
question the authority of their command.

It is too easy to just tell service men and women to follow
their conscience, whatever that means; this advice puts the
burden back on their shoulders and brings no sacrifice to the
adviser. But peace does not come easily, so I tell all members
of the military that whenever faced with an order, and
everything in their mind and soul, and each and every cell in
their bodies screams at them to refuse and resist, then by God
do so. Jail will mean nothing when 'breaking the law' became
their duty to humanity.

Pablo's trial not only marked an important step towards
resistance, but it also brought doubt to the minds of many
sailors who were present during his Court-Martial. They may
not yet agree with the antiwar movement, some probably never
will, but for the first time many of them witnessed an open
debate about the immorality of the Iraq invasion and
occupation. Perhaps for a moment doubt brought a sense of
humanity back into their hardened system of military values.
This would not have been possible had Pablo not put his
physical freedom on the line. His sacrifice was small compared
to the sacrifice of the over 100,000 Iraqi dead, but perhaps
it is the unity of small sacrifices, like Pablo's, that can
bring about major changes into the heart of our nation.

We probably should stop fearing so much for our personal
safety and start looking more closely at the sacrifice of
others, perhaps we will be inspired and empowered to put more
of ourselves on the line for the benefit of those who are
really suffering. The light of others should not blind the
path to our own resistance. Perhaps a good place to find our
own light will be the trial of war resister Sgt. Kevin
Benderman. Maybe I'll see you there, maybe we can shine
together.

To find out more information about Kevin Benderman's
Court-Martial, or to contribute to his defense, please visit:
<http://www.bendermandefense.org/>http://www.bendermandefense.
org/

Article by Camilo E. Mejia, former prisoner of conscience,
Iraq war veteran, war resister, and member of Iraq Veterans
Against the War. Camilo's conscientious objector application
is still pending. He served nine months in confinement for
refusing to return to Iraq after a two-week leave.

:: Article nr. 12044 sent on 25-may-2005 09:57 ECT

:: The address of this page is : http://www.uruknet.info/?p=12044

:: The incoming address of this article is :
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