Sunday, July 29, 2007

Where Have All the War Resisters Gone?


In The Times of London Saturday, Catherine Philip's "Goodbye Uncle Sam" explored the journeys of three member of the US military and how they ended up in Canada. Phil McDowell, Chris Teske and Dean Walcott's journey, Phillips noted, follows that of "African slaves fleeing the South, aided by abolitionists who sheltered them along the way. Then, in the Sixties, thousands of young men took the same route in evading the draft for Vietnam. And now, a steady trickle of soldiers, broken on the battlefields of Iraq, is once again following suit."

As Teske, Walcott and McDowell shared their stories, we were again reminded of what a huge failure independent media in the US has been on this continuing story.

In the July/August 2005 issue of FAIR's Extra!, Pat Arnow wondered "Where Have All the Bodies Gone?" (pp. 18 - 20) focusing on the pictures kept from us of the illegal war. (Arnow returned to that topic for the March/Arpil 2007 issue with "From Self-Censorship to Official Censorship.") And it's an issue worth exploring, even when everyone pretends to look the other way on the overly praised story by The Nation this month which bragged in its own introduction of having "dozens" of photos of abuse to Iraqis but wasn't willing to run even one. Arnow concluded "Where Have All the Bodies Gone" by noting, "Of course, it's not supposed to be the job of mainstream media to shape a consensus, whether pro- or anti-war -- but to report reality."

How does independent media define it's job and why has it steadfastly refused to cover this topic?

Agustin Aguayo was court-martialed in Germany for desertion. Desertion guidelines say 30 days or more AWOL. Aguayo was gone from September 2nd through September 26th and he turned himself in. So how did he land a desertion charge?

That's a question independent media could be asking. That's an issue they could be raising.

Camilo Mejia self-checked out only after the US military ignored their own regulations (and a decision by the military) that non-US citizens could not exceed an eight-year contract, they could not be stop lost or the victims of a backdoor draft. Why did Mejia have to self-checkout and why has that detail not only not been explored but lost from the telling of his story by the media?

Ehren Watada has already been the victim of one kangaroo court (February 2006's court-martial that ended in a ruling, over the objection of the defense, of a mistrial). Why is the US military now attempting a second -- regardless of the Constitution's provision against double-jeopardy and regardless of the vast amounts of money the government's already wasted?

Kevin Benderman's CO form was refused by a superior officer -- he refused to take it. But the myth repeated by the mainstream media (and unexplored by independent media) is that the military grants X number of CO's a year and blah blah blah.

There's the more laughable myth that the US military does not try to track down those who self-checkout. They tracked Kyle Snyder throughout California, they tracked Joshua Key across the US boundary into Canada. They have an investigative unit that checks MySpace and other sites for clues, combs through the press for leads, etc. What they do, which the press won't tell you, is then send out the police to arrest. But the US military has been tracking self-checkouts for some time.

These are among the details that should outrage. But in addition to those details, there are the stories that aren't being told about the experiences of being a war resister. One vet writes two of us on the hard decision forced on them when the US decided to start an illegal war and the vet had to resign from the military (through official channels). The family of another, who self-checked out, writes of the Christmas holiday. A sister of a war resister who went to Canada writes to note how proud she is of her brother. A war resister in Canada writes to let us know he exists. When do these stories get told?

After the war, as Amy Goodman often asks? When it's all over.

Though not all cite Jeremy Hinzman, the first war resister to go to Canada and go public, many who go to Canada do. They hear of him or the War Resisters Support Campaign in Canada. Two war resisters Kat and C.I. met last week while speaking out against the illegal war are currently underground in this country and cite Kyle Snyder.

There is a point. When war resisters have turned themselves in, the military's gone out of the way to isolate them. Camilo Mejia writes about this being done to him in his book Road from Ar Ramaid: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia and talk to any war resister and they tell the same story unless, after turning themselves in, they're sent back to their former units. The reason for that is that the US military is afraid war resistance will spread. It's already spreading.

With the limited coverage it has received, it's already spreading. The names of Jeremy Hinzman, Brandon Hughey and others are known. For those currently grappling with issues such as the legality of the illegal war, those names and others provide a path.

The link Catherine Philips makes between the Underground Railroad and today's war resisters isn't a stretch. In both instances, people were seen as property. The real issue with war resisters, and this is said to be what makes some at The Nation uncomfortable, is whether we want a US military that follows orders blindly or one made up of citizens who can disagree or change their minds. The position that rag is taking is one you hear from those who condemn war resisters which, in its most cleaned up form, translates as "You signed a contract."

It's a funny sort of legal 'expert' who worries about the contract. When the contract's broken in the military's favor, they aren't there harping "They signed a contract." The US military regularly allows and encourages recruiters to make promises that will never be kept but that doesn't concern the "contract" crowd either. They aren't concerned when someone's contract has reached the end and the military extends it.

Our own point of view is that anyone in the service who feels compelled to refuse duty should do so. If they are given an unlawful order or are participating in an illegal war, they should refuse. That isn't just our opinion, that's also the opinion laid out in the Nuremberg Trials. That's also a principle enshrined in the US Army Field Manual FM 27-10, The Law of Land Warfare. But somehow that fact is overlooked.

So is the reality of what gets signed up for. Put aside, for a moment, the recruiters phony promises, no one signs up expecting they'll be sent into an illegal war. Some who sign up after the illegal war began (March 2003) educate themselves either before or after they go to Iraq. The talking point there is that it's a "volunteer army" today which apparently translates to those using that talking point as "volunteering to follow any order no matter how illegal or insane." Congress has failed in its duty, the White House is breaking the law but the ones who are wrong are the service members who resist?

Last week, David Lindorff wrote of the possibility of martial law being imposed in the US and concluded with this, "If we are headed for martial law, better that it be with a broken military. Maybe if it’s broken badly enough, the administration will be afraid to test the idea."

The question those who continue to maintain all orders should be blindly followed is, should martial law come to the US, how would they feel then?

And the question to ask of independent media is why have you repeatedly shown so little interest in war resisters?
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