Veterans’ conference helps develop GI resistance
By Jim McMahan
Published Aug 26, 2006 12:40 AM
Lt. Ehren Watada’s case highlighted a week of growing GI resistance that began at the national Veterans for Peace Convention in Seattle, Aug. 10-13, when Sgt. Ricky Clousing opened the events with a news conference announcing his opposition to the Iraq War. Sgt. Clousing stated his inten tion to turn himself in at nearby Ft. Lewis, Wash., and confront charges against him after being absent from the military.
The conference closed on the U.S./ Canadian border, where Kyle Snyder, an Iraq War veteran absent from the military, came forward as an objector. Snyder said if he returned to the army now he would be court-martialed by a military court “composed of generals who didn’t fight with me. If anybody has a right to judge me it should be the 35 soldiers I fought with for six months.”
Lt. Ehren Watada had addressed the Vets’ conference a day earlier. When he got up to speak he was backed up by 40 Iraq War veterans on the stage. Watada, who turned himself in earlier, is insisting on his right to refuse to participate in an illegal war in Iraq, and has a campaign to reach out to all service people and civilians to “Refuse Illegal War.” Watada offered the soldiers what he called a “radical idea. To stop an illegal and unjust war, soldiers and service members can choose to stop fighting it,” he said.
Such opposition gained momentum at Watada’s preliminary hearing on Aug. 16 and 17. On Aug. 16, about 500 people came to support Watada with an extended demonstration and rally outside the gates of Ft. Lewis. Among the supporters was Capt. James Yee, a Muslim chaplain formerly at the U.S.-run concentration camp for Islamic prisoners in Guantánamo, Cuba. Yee had spent 76 days in prison after being falsely charged with espionage in 2005, a charge that was dropped.
This hearing determines whether or not Watada will be court-martialed, which the defense expects. Lt. Watada has been formally charged with two counts of contempt for public officials (namely Presi dent George Bush), conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman, and missing movement (to Iraq). He faces over seven years in prison—over five years for simply expressing his opinion that Bush misled the people here into an illegal war.
Watada’s defense went on the offensive and put the war on trial during the 4 1/2-hour hearing. Law professor Francis Boyle, former Undersecretary General of the United Nations Dennis Halliday and former army officer Anne Wright all presen ted information on the illegality of the Iraq War—an opinion that has the backing of hundreds of legal scholars across the country.
Many people now consider Watada’s statements to be not only his right but his duty. The charges against him show the naked tyranny and contempt of the U.S. military command toward Watada and all service people.
Many soldiers have made statements in support of Ehren Watada too. Geoffrey Millard, a sergeant in the Army National Guard supports Lt. Watada. Millard was in Iraq in 2004-05 and said GI resistance is a growing trend. “American GIs are beginning to respect the Nuremburg principles,” said Millard. “They are resisting orders. They are going to jail, going to Canada, and going AWOL. And they’re talking about why they’re doing it.”
Supporters of Spec. Suzanne Swift announced an action on her behalf at the conclusion of Ehren Watada’s rally. Swift bases her refusal to return to Iraq on her experience of being sexually abused there, which included being raped by several members of her command. Her supporters announced an encampment outside the gates of Ft. Lewis to begin on Aug. 19. They are demanding an unconditional discharge from the army for Swift, prosecution of the officers who abused her and payment of her medical expenses, including those for post traumatic stress syndrome.
Service people and soldiers of the U.S., too often abused by the military brass, are refusing in growing number to report to Iraq. In doing so they are showing solidarity to the long suffering and resisting Iraqi masses.