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 Post subject: 5500 US deserters: We won't fight in Iraq ...
PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2005 11:14 am 
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5500 US deserters: We won't fight in Iraq
Date: Thursday, March 17 @ 10:07:08 EST
Topic: War & Terrorism



By Doug Lorimer, Green Left Weekly

On February 25, US Army officials at Fort Stewart, Georgia, announced that Sergeant Kevin Benderman, a 40-year-old army mechanic who refused to deploy to Iraq for a second tour of duty, will be court-martialed on desertion charges. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison.

After having spent 10 years in the US military, Benderman missed his unit's deployment flight to Iraq on January 7. Ten days earlier, he had given his commanders notice that he planned to seek a discharge as a conscientious objector, saying he had become opposed to the war after having served eight months in Iraq in 2003.

Benderman joins a growing number of soldiers who are protesting the Iraq war by refusing orders, going AWOL, fleeing to Canada or speaking out. CBS News reported on December 8 that the Pentagon has admitted that at least 5500 US military personnel have deserted since the war started in Iraq.

Furthermore, Steve Morse of the GI Rights Hotline says that the number of calls they have received has grown from 17,000 in 2001 to more than 32,000 in 2004. He says that about 30% are from soldiers who are AWOL or are thinking about deserting.



"Many people don't [desert] lightly, and they would like to do right by the country. But they see what's going on, and they can't do it", Morse told the February 20 St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

That is what motivated 39-year-old US Army veteran Carl Webb to desert. "I won't kill if I feel I'm on the wrong side. This is a war about oil and profits", he told the St Louis Post-Dispatch.

Unemployed and facing eviction from his home in Austin, Texas, Webb enlisted in the Texas National Guard in 2001, after a seven-year break from the US military. He expected to serve for only three years. But in July 2004, less than two months shy of his service completion date, the military told Webb that under the "stop-loss" program he would serve 525 more days and that his unit was being deployed to Iraq.

The "stop-loss" program, which made its first appearance in the Gulf War of the early 1990s, keeps US soldiers scheduled for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan from leaving when their term of service ends. "This policy is practically an unofficial draft", Webb told the February 10 Workers World weekly. "It is conscription against a person's will."

Webb said he had ruled out seeking conscientious-objector status because he couldn't meet the military's criteria for such status -- basically, opposition to all wars. "I'm not a pacifist... I'm refusing to go to war because I do not believe the US is on the right track. I think this war is not about liberating people, it's about oppressing them."

When his National Guard unit reported for training in August, Webb stayed away. He did the same when the unit left in January for Iraq. He is now a fugitive with a federal warrant out for his arrest.

"My case is different from some of the other soldiers who have deserted, either because they just don't want to go, or because they think these 'stop-loss' orders are illegal", Webb told Workers World. "I tell people that even if there was no stop-loss policy, even if the government wasn't illegally using the reserves and National Guard and retirees as they are, I would still be opposed to this war. I don't think it matters what category of service you're in -- whether you're in the reserves, National Guard or the regular army -- I think all military personnel should oppose fighting in this war of imperialism."

An anti-war soldier who has attracted international attention is 28-year-old Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia, who was released on February 15 after being sentenced to one year in a military prison for refusing to return to Iraq.

Mejia joined the US Army in 1995. Following a three-year stint with the regular army, he joined the Florida National Guard partly because he was promised tuition assistance at Florida's state universities.

Mejia's National Guard unit was called up for active duty in January 2003, and then deployed to Iraq in April 2003. He spent six months in combat in Iraq, then returned for a two-week furlough to the US. In March 2004 he turned himself in to the US military and filed an application for conscientious objector status, declaring that his experiences in Iraq had convinced him the war was illegal and immoral.

"The justification for this war is money, and no soldier should go to Iraq and give his life for oil", Mejia told the New York-based Citizen Soldier anti-war website. "I have witnessed the suffering of a people whose country is in ruins and who are further humiliated by the raids, patrols, curfews of an occupying army. My experience of this war has changed me forever.

"One of our sergeants shot a small boy who was carrying an AK-47 rifle. The other two children who were walking with him ran away as the wounded child began crawling for his life. A second shot stopped him, but he was still alive. When an Iraqi tried to take him to a civilian hospital, army medics from our unit intercepted him and insisted on taking the injured boy to a military facility. There, he was denied medical care because a different unit was supposed to treat our unit's wounded. After another medical unit refused to treat the child, he died.

"Another time, my platoon responded to a political protest in Ramadi that had turned violent. My squad took a defensive position on a rooftop after some protesters started throwing grenades at the mayor's office. We were ordered to shoot anyone who threw anything that looked like a grenade.

"A young Iraqi emerged from the crowd carrying something in his right hand. Just before he threw it, we all opened fire, killing him. The object turned out to be a grenade, which exploded far from everyone. I know that the man we killed had no chance of hurting us -- he was too far away. My platoon leader later told us that we killed three other Iraqis during this same protest although I didn't see them die.

"Going home on leave in October 2003 provided me with the opportunity to put my thoughts in order and to listen to what my conscience had to say. People would ask me about my war experiences and answering them took me back to all the horrors -- the firefights, the ambushes, the time I saw a young Iraqi dragged by his shoulders through a pool of his own blood, the time a man was decapitated by our machine-gun fire and the time my friend shot a child through the chest.

"Coming home gave me the clarity to see the line between military duty and moral obligation. My feelings against the war dictated that I could no longer be a part of it. Acting upon my principles became incompatible with my role in the military and by putting my weapon down I chose to reassert myself as a human being."

While there are not as many deserters and anti-war soldiers as during the peak of the US movement against the Vietnam War in the early 1970s, soldiers and their families are organising against this war much earlier on than their counterparts did during the Vietnam War. Thus, Iraq Veterans Against the War was founded in July 2004, a little over a year after the war began. Vietnam Veterans Against the War was created in April 1967, about five years after the US war in Vietnam officially started.

And unlike the Vietnam War, military families have been at the forefront of demonstrations against the Iraq war. More than 2000 families belong to Military Families Speak Out, which was formed in November 2002, four months before the US invaded Iraq.

Stan Goff, a former career soldier with the US Special Forces, whose son is an army mechanic in Iraq, has played a prominent role in the organisation of antiwar military families through the Bring Them Home Now! movement. "We're not saying bring the troops home because they're suffering hardship and danger", he told In These Times magazine in September 2003. "Most soldiers know that hardship and danger are part of their job. What we're saying is bring the troops home because they are facing hardship and danger in a war that is immoral and illegal."

http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2005/619/619p14.htm

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 19, 2005 12:27 am 
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Sir,

Here's another article related to what you posted:

'They can't train you for the reality of Iraq. You can't have a mass grave with dogs eating the people in it'

Two years after the war began, a growing number of US troops are refusing to return to Iraq

Suzanne Goldenberg in Fort Stewart, Georgia
Saturday March 19, 2005
The Guardian

At the same time that Kevin Benderman's unit was called up for a second tour in Iraq with the Third Infantry Division, two soldiers tried to kill themselves and another had a relative shoot him in the leg. Seventeen went awol or ran off to Canada, and Sergeant Benderman, whose family has sent a son to every war since the American revolution, defied his genes and nine years of military training and followed his conscience.

As the division packed its gear to leave Fort Stewart, Sgt Benderman applied for a discharge as a conscientious objector - an act seen as a betrayal by many in a military unit considered the heart of the US army, the "Walking Pride of Uncle Sam".

Two years ago today, the columns of the Third ID roared up from the Kuwaiti desert for the push towards Baghdad. When the city fell, the Marines controlled the neighbourhoods on the east side of the Tigris and the Third ID had the west. It was, according to the army command, an occasion for pride.

Some of the men and women who were there remain unconvinced. Like Sgt Benderman, who served six months in Iraq at the start of the war, they were scarred by their experience, and angry at being called again to combat so soon.

They may not be part of any organised anti-war movement, but the conscientious objectors, runaways, and other irregular protesters suggest that, two years on, the war is taking a heavy toll. "They can't train you for the reality. You can't have a mass grave with dogs eating the people in it," Sgt Benderman told the Guardian. "It's not like practising for a football game, or cramming for a test in college. You can go out there and train, but until you actually experience war first hand you don't know what it's like."

A large man in his uniform, with blue eyes and a southern drawl, the 40-year-old is every inch the soldier. He has spent nearly 10 years in the army, signing up for a second stint in 2000 because he felt he had not done his duty to his country. The war did away with that feeling, with the sergeant horrified by Iraqi civilian deaths and the behaviour of the young menhe commanded, who he said treated war like bumping off targets in a video game.

Unthinkable

"I didn't turn into the pope overnight. I am still Kevin Benderman, but I am trying to find a better way of living," he said.

Once such dissent would have been unthinkable - as would the growing disquiet within the ranks of the US army as its forces rotate into Iraq on second and even third tours. Open resistance remains relatively rare. Only a handful of troops have filed conscientious objector applications; Vietnam, which was fought by conscripts, produced 190,000 such petitions.

But the conscripts only had one tour. Soldiers' advocates and peace activists believe the first signs of opposition within the military could slowly grow - as it did for Vietnam - turning disgruntled soldiers and their families into powerful anti-war advocates. A number of Iraq veterans have begun to speak out. The root causes for more widespread dissent are there. Longer and repeat deployments have worn down regulars and reservists. So has the rising toll, with more than 1,500 US soldiers dead and 11,000 wounded. Recruitment and re-enlistment rates are down - especially for African-Americans, a 40% drop in the past five years - increasing the strain on the Pentagon.

Between 40,000 and 50,000 military personnel are in Iraq despite serious medical conditions that should have ruled them out of combat, according to the National Gulf War Resource Centre. The GI Rights Hotline, which counsels troops, says it fielded 32,000 calls last year from soldiers seeking an exit from the military, or suffering from post-combat stress.

Others vote with their feet. Last year the Pentagon admitted that 5,500 of its forces had gone awol, although it claims many returned to their units after resolving personal crises. Some abandoned the country altogether - like Chris Cornell, a Third ID private. At 24, he had been in the military for two years, joining up in search of a better life than in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas. Army life had begun to pall - "because of the crap that goes on" - when the division began to prepare for Iraq. He didn't want to go. "I didn't sign up to kill people. I couldn't live with myself," he told the Guardian. At first, he tried to get a medical discharge, deliberately failing dozens of physical training tests.

Then, weeks before his unit's January 10 departure, his sergeant called the troops in for a talk. "He got up there in front of the whole battery and he told us we were going to Iraq, whether we liked it or not."

Pte Cornell went home on leave and consulted the activists he calls his adopted family. They suggested Canada - terra incognita for a southerner like Pte Cornell - and he landed in Toronto, jobless, sleeping in someone else's flat, and seeking political asylum. He was the seventh US soldier to apply for refugee status in Canada, and a half dozen more with Canadian parents or spouses are claiming citizenship, according to Jeffrey House, a Toronto lawyer handling many of the claims. But there could be hundreds more who have gone to ground. "I believe there a number of people here illegally," he says. "No one would suspect them by their accent, and so they just disappear."

Among those who serve, resentment is high, fuelled by "stop loss" orders by which the Pentagon hangs on to troops past their release date, and shortages of armoured vehicles and other protective gear. Emails and blogs from Iraq regularly rail against their officers and the war.

The high command does not want to hear them, soldiers' advocates say, because it does not want to encourage dissent. When Sgt Benderman tried to file his papers as a conscientious objector in December, his commanding officer called him a coward. Last month he was ordered to face a court martial for desertion. He could face seven years in prison.

Now, away from his unit in the war zone, Sgt Benderman waits for the army to hear his case. Each morning he leaves his home in Hinesville, Georgia, to report for 6.30am drill. Others in his situation have gone underground, but Sgt Benderman views that option with distaste. So does his wife, Monica, who says: "If you really believe in what you are doing, then why run?"

Carl Webb, 39, a member of the Texas National Guard, claims he didn't have a choice. His protest is just as public as Sgt Benderman's - and even less conventional. He has been awol since last August but the military should not have any problems finding him. Mr Webb has posted his email address, phone number, and several photos of himself on a website setting out his opposition to the war

For years, the military had been his one constant in an otherwise anchorless life, and Mr Webb did stints in the regular army as well as various guard units. But by last July, when he was a month away from getting out, he got the call that he was being plucked from his unit to serve with a tank company near Baghdad.

"It was a total surprise. Even my command said this is some kind of a mistake, and I could file a hardship case," he told the Guardian. Mr Webb thought about filing a conscientious objector application, but decided he didn't fit the strict criteria. Now he is daring the Pentagon to try to get him because he figures that would encourage other opponents of the war.

"Most soldiers obey their orders because they are afraid of what could happen to them. They think, 'Oh, they are going to throw me in a dungeon, and put shackles on me, and I'll never see the light of day,' or they fear the isolation," he said.

"But just by being out there, I am going to give them ideas. I'm an example."

Iraq in figures: the toll of the conflict so far

1,512 US troops killed in Iraq
1,157 US troops killed in combat
355 US non-combat deaths
11,285 US troops wounded
86 UK troops killed in Iraq
35 UK troops killed in combat
91 troops from other states killed
17,053-19,422 estimated number of civilian casualties since the war started, according to Iraq Body Count
257 number of non-Iraqi civilians killed (30 of whom were British)
189 number of foreign nationals kidnapped since October 2003
47 number still captive
170,000 number of coalition troops in March 2003
175,000 number of coalition troops in Iraq in March 2005
45,000 number of British troops in March 2003
8,930 number of UK troops in Iraq in March 2005
30 number of countries identified as members of the coalition backing the war in March 2003
38 number of countries which have provided troops in Iraq at some point
24 number of states currently providing troops in Iraq
5 number of countries currently planning to withdraw troops from Iraq
18,000 latest estimate of strength of insurgency
1,000 estimated number of foreign fighters involved in the insurgency

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0, ... 89,00.html


-Eva


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 19, 2005 9:08 am 
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Was it Einstein who said something along the line of wars would end when the soldiers refused to fight them?

Catherine

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 Post subject: Soldiers ..
PostPosted: Sat Mar 19, 2005 8:41 pm 
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Catherine - I think this is what you mean, but not sure. "The pioneers of a warless world are the [youth] who refuse military service. ~Albert Einstein"

Eva - Thanks for the related article.

In the 1960's, Donovan, a (pacifist) singer / song writer from Britain released a song called "Universal Soldier" and it pretty much fits with what is going on today. Here are the lyrics ...

He's five foot-two, and he's six feet-four,
He fights with missiles and with spears.
He's all of thirty-one, and he's only seventeen,
He's been a soldier for a thousand years.

He'a a Catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jain,
A Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew.
And he knows he shouldn't kill,
And he knows he always will,
Kill you for me my friend and me for you.

And he's fighting for Canada,
He's fighting for France,
He's fighting for the USA,
And he's fighting for the Russians,
And he's fighting for Japan,
And he thinks we'll put an end to war this way.

And he's fighting for Democracy,
He's fighting for the Reds,
He says it's for the peace of all.
He's the one who must decide,
Who's to live and who's to die,
And he never sees the writing on the wall.

But without him,
How would Hitler have condemned him at Labau?
Without him Caesar would have stood alone,
He's the one who gives his body
As a weapon of the war,
And without him all this killing can't go on.

He's the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame,
His orders come from far away no more,
They come from here and there and you and me,
And brothers can't you see,
This is not the way we put an end to war.

Donovan

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 19, 2005 9:21 pm 
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That was it, Sir. Thanks. I was in a hurry this morning and didn't have time to try to look it up.

Universal Soldier...just as timely now as it was when it was first written.

Catherine

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"Democrats work to help people who need help.
That other party, they work for people who don't need help.
That's all there is to it."

~Harry S. Truman


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