Interview: The Month Of Living Dangerously
Unions: Staying Mum
Economics: Precious Metals
Industrial: The Cold 100
History: The Vinegar Hill Mob
Legal: Free Agents
Politics: Under The Influence
International: How Swede It Was
Review: Keating's Men Slam Dance on Howard
The Locker Room
The Power of Ones
Work Choice: US Military Style
As Australians massed and rallied in June against Howard's WorkChoice legislation, in the US an American Army officer at Fort Lewis, Washington, had already made his own work choice.
On Thursday June 22, US Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada refused an order to deploy with his unit to the war in Iraq, while stating that he would serve in Afghanistan. A precedent was set.
Lesser ranks have variously refused assignment to the war in Iraq; for example, currently serving a fifteen-month stretch in the Fort Lewis hoosegow is Sergeant Kevin Benderman, mechanic, a veteran of one tour of Iraq war duty, who refused an order to go on a second tour of duty in January 2005.
The first military dissident to be imprisoned for his stand against the Iraq war was Stephen Funk, a young Marine Corps reservist who spent six-months in military prison in 2004 for refusing to participate in the war in Iraq.
Lieutenant Watada is the first US commissioned officer to take a public stand against the war in Iraq by refusing to deploy.
In a media statement Watada explained "the war in Iraq violates our democratic system of checks and balances."
"It usurps international treaties and conventions that by virtue of the Constitution become American law. The wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of the Iraqi people with only limited accountability is not only a terrible moral injustice, but a contradiction to the Army's own Law of Land Warfare. My participation would make me party to war crimes".
Aged 28, Watada is the clean-cut American officer type that recruiting posters love. A native of Hawaii, a university graduate with a finance degree, and a former Eagle Scout, he joined the US Army in 2003, undertook officer training, and initially supported the war under the impression the Weapons of Mass Destruction story was true.
His pro-Iraq war enthusiasm was dampened by the eventual realization that intelligence had been manipulated and falsified by the Bush Administration and others. After a lot of reading and thinking, by January 2006 Watada concluded he could not be part of the war, informed his military superiors of his concerns, and tried to resign his commission. This was refused, so he refused deployment, and he is now restricted to Fort Lewis. Watada now possibly faces court-martial and prison.
Lt. Watada and Sgt. Benderman are not isolated examples of dissidence within the US armed forces. Since the US and its motley gaggle of allies invaded Iraq in the quest for non-existent WMD, over 8000 serving US military personnel have variously deserted. Listed as AWOL, Absent Without Leave, they have gone into hiding, to the extent the military term AWOL is now being widely reinterpreted as 'Against The War of Lies'.
An unknown number of serving military personnel, estimated to be hundreds, have applied for conscientious objector status; to qualify, an applicant has to be opposed to all wars, not a specific war. As the processing of applications can take anything from six-months to two years, the real statistic is unknown. According to US Army sources, 87 conscientious objector applications have been approved, and 101 denied since January 2003. At least ten serving military personnel who applied for conscientious objector status with regard to the war in Iraq, and were denied the status, have been court-martialed and imprisoned for publicly refusing orders to deploy to Iraq.
The US military likes to hide dissent within the ranks. According to retired US Army Colonel Ann Wright, it works like this. Individual non-public "resistance in the military generally results in an administrative discharge without publicity. Thousands have turned themselves in to military authorities and have been administratively discharged from the military. US military bases discharge dozens of war resisters each week". Wright is also a former senior and highly decorated US diplomat who resigned from her US Embassy posting in 2003 in protest against the Iraq War.
In October 2004, 18 Army reservists on duty in Iraq, refused to participate in convoy duty, citing inadequate equipment, poor leadership, and contaminated fuel as their reasons. No court-martials ensued, but some of the soldiers faced lesser and non-judicial punishment, such as reduction of rank. The Army did not release specific details, claiming considerations of privacy, and did some quick quality control patch-up behind the scenes to fix problems at the work face.
During the Vietnam War, tens of thousands of American military resisters and deserters sought refuge in Canada. Today, Canada is again the chosen destination for about 400 of the AWOL deserters; they are being assisted by a network of people who were active in the anti-Vietnam War movement. Twenty-four US military dissidents have gone public in Canada, and are seeking status as political refugees, a test for the conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
American military dissidents do not stand alone in their homeland. An array of professional websites, hotlines, and organizations have mushroomed to support and defend them. Legal advice is only a phone call away. Considerable effort is being made to encourage resistance and conscientious objection within the armed forces to what is regarded as 'the illegal war in Iraq' and the 'policies of empire'.
Much of the support network involves military families, and veterans of the war in Iraq, the Gulf war, and the Vietnam war. The First United Methodist Church of Tacoma, Washington, near Fort Lewis, recently became the first US church to offer sanctuary to Iraq war military resisters.
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