Sunday, May 13, 2007

Editorial: The silence that harms


The second day of the court-martial started at eight-thirty the next morning. The first order of business was to interview members of the jury. All the members of the panel had regular monthly meetings with the commanding general at the base, General Webster -- the general who had ultimate and absolute authority over the trial. Lousis's questions, therefore, focused on possible bias and prejudice. He asked the members if they thought I was guilty of desertion simply for being accused of it, or, put another way, whether I could still be proved innocent after being charged with the crime.
Louis also asked the members if they felt under any command pressure to vote on a certain verdict, or if anyone had told them it was their duty to convict. The question would have seemed silly to me just a day or two before, but after the judge had given the prosecution everything they requested and denied all our motions, I understood what Louis's concerns were. In the end, two of the highest-ranking jurors, both colonels, were dismissed. One had a reputation of being soft on convicting, while the other had a reputation of being hard. But it occurred to me during this process that everyone in the court worked for the same boss. In the case of The United States v. Staff Sergeant Camilo E. Mejia-Castillo, just about everyone there, including me and one of the defense attorneys, plus the judge, the jury, most of the witnesses, the accuser, and the prosecution, worked for the U.S. government. Perhaps that's why the Uniform Code of Military Justice has a conviction rate of 98 percent.

The above, from Camilo Mejia's Road from Ar Ramaid: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia (pp. 274 - 275) just out from The New Press, addresses his own court-martial but should also be applied when considering that Ehren Watada faces pretrial motions on May 20th with a court-martial set to begin July 16th.

In Road from Ar Ramaid, Mejia tells his story. In doing so, he follows Joshua Key (The Deserter's Tale). That's important. It's important for the historical record, it's important to raise awareness. Monica Benderman (wife of Kevin Benderman) has written of walking into a bookstore and searching in vain for a section of war resistance. She and her husband aren't just complaining about that, they're writing their own book.

Joshua Key's book has been reviewed around the world including in the US where it's racked up praise from a number of daily newspapers. Mainstream daily newspapers have reviewed the book. Who hasn't?

Well don't point at The Progressive. Their May 2007 issue reviews the book. Now The Progressive is a monthly and there is one section for one review. Which means that the magazine could have, at most, run five reviews at this point. The Nation, a weekly, offers multiple reviews each week. But somehow hasn't gotten around to reviewing the book.

We're reminded of the silence that greeted Sir! No Sir! as well. Or, for that matter, Peter Laufer's Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq. It's amazing that an independent, left media can demonstrate so little interest.

But that's what's happened.

How did we get to this point?

Dona can remember a time, in the early days of the illegal war, when a woman and a man, married with children (including at least one infant) were briefly in the (mainstream) news. Both parents were being deployed and the woman was attempting to fight the deployment due to the issue of their children. She brought it up to a supposedly enlightened educator who shrugged and said, "She shouldn't have joined up."

She shouldn't have joined up? The Bully Boy shouldn't have started an illegal war.

It's really interesting how this goes. A war resister might be in the "wrong" for self-checking out but there's no attempt to prosecute Bully Boy for starting the war. A war resister may be held accountable for his or her own actions, but the Bully Boy that put them over there to begin with, by lying and breaking the law, has not been held accountable.

As the list of war resisters grows all the time (and it does, it's only The Nation that shrinks) we have to marvel over some of 'best and brightest' (we're laughing too) in indy media who can't say a word. Aren't they among the first to tell us that a problem isn't an individual issue, it's systematic?

But somehow, they treat war resisters as something to be ignored, an individual story not worth covering because (in their minds) is so small and minute.

The reality is that the Bully Boy broke the law and that war resisters are only to responding to that. The reality is that Camilo Mejia's response didn't happen because one day Mejia decided he didn't care for fatigues. Some have been in Iraq and have witnessed events that underscored for them the illegal nature of the war. Some, Jeremy Hinzman for instance, grasped the war was illegal as it began.

But these decisions that are being made, these courageous stands taken, are not the result of individuals just taking a fancy, they are in response to the illegal actions of the Bully Boy.

We hear a great deal about how Congress abdicates its responsibility on the war and how Congress refuses to address the issue of impeachment. Those are good points, valid ones. However, we firmly believe it is past time to hold independent media accountable when it abdicates its own responsibilities. Joshua Key's book is selling quite well and is stocked in a number of places. Jim and C.I. were on the road speaking on campuses last week and one of the pleasant shocks was finding out how many bookstores were carrying a book that The Nation can't even mention. Another pleasant surprise was discovering how many people were aware that The Progressive had reviewed the book. We believe in calling out. We also have no problem giving credit.

If you've seen Sir! No Sir!, you may remember the moment in the documentary where Jerry Lembcke is showing press coverage of war resisters during Vietnam and reminds, "This was stuff that was in living rooms all over America so people knew this. And this is an important piece we're talking about: how memory about the war has been rewritten, has been reconstructed. This is gone. This has been erased. This has been displaced."

All the easier to displace and erase when you never cover it in the first point.

This movement of resistance within the military taking place today is not over the fact that someone didn't like one day's grub. It is a direct response to the (illegal) actions of the Bully Boy. People are taking stands in response to that.

By not covering it, independent media not only harms the discussions and awareness of today's illegal war, they abdicate their responsibility to take part in the first writing of history. In doing so, they make it all the much harder for those attempting to prevent the next illegal wars. Your silence damages today and tomorrow -- in the short and long term.
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