John Catalinotto / Workers World – 2005-01-28 18:33:31
NEW YORK (December 23, 2004) — A series of events in early December signaled a major shift in political consciousness within the US Armed Forces. Together they struck fear in the hearts of the general staff.
A sailor, a soldier, a Marine, and two National Guard soldiers committed acts of courage. They killed no Iraqis, nor did they rescue wounded comrades under fire. This kind of courage took a different form for each GI, from refusing to kill to confronting the unpopular secretary of defense. JUST SAY ‘NO’
Petty Officer Third Class Pablo Paredes had received orders to ship out on the USS Bonhomme Richard and carry 3,000 Marines to Iraq. On a pier in San Diego on Dec. 6, Paredes said “no” to these orders.
Paredes, who grew up in the Bronx borough of New York City, knew he would be pretty safe stationed on the ship. He knew he would probably go to prison for refusing. But he also knew at least 100 of the 3,000 Marines wouldn’t come back. And he objected to the unjustified loss of human life in Iraq.
In 2000, Paredes had signed up at age 17 for a six-year stint in the Navy. Now, as he refused his orders, he said, “I’d rather do military prison time than 6 months of dirty work for a war that I and many others do not support. War should be an absolute last resort and even then must be considered thoroughly.”
His immigrant family and his wife are 100-percent behind him. Paredes has his own web site where readers can find his position in full. (SwiftSmartVeterans.com)
Three hundred people cheered and applauded Victor Paredes when he spoke of his brother’s determination to refuse to go to Iraq on Dec. 11 at an anti-war meeting of veterans’ groups and military families in New York. The Navy backed off from arresting Paredes on Dec.6 with media present. Now, charged with desertion, he is arranging his legal defense to prepare for turning himself in. ASYLUM IN CANADA
Army Pfc. Jeremy Hinzman faced Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) in Toronto for an asylum hearing the same week. He had left Ft. Bragg, N.C., months before when his paratrooper unit in the 82nd Airborne Division was ordered to Iraq. For Hinzman, the war in Iraq is illegal, and if he participates he will be a war criminal.
The young paratrooper believes he deserves no punishment for taking this stand. “Serving even one day in prison for refusing to comply with an illegal order is too long.”
Hinzman had said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” program, “I was told in basic training that if I’m given an illegal or immoral order, it is my duty to disobey it, and I feel that invading and occupying Iraq is an illegal and immoral thing to do.”
Hinzman is in Toronto with his Vietnamese-born wife and 2-year-old son. He is the first in court of three U.S. troops now in Canada who are publicly appealing for official asylum. The Canadian government, which has refused to join the “coalition of the willing” in Iraq, is under pressure from Washington to reject U.S. military resisters.
Presiding IRB member Brian Goodman says the legality or illegality of the war will not be an issue in his ruling, to be made by February 2005. It will be based, said Goodman, only on whether Hinzman has a reasonable fear of persecution for his religious or political beliefs, or faces the risk of cruel and unusual punishment if he returns to the U.S. CONFESSION OF WAR CRIMES
Despite Goodman’s statement, Hinzman made a strong political case.
Marine Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey, a 12-year veteran, was at the Toronto hearing Dec. 8 testifying on Hinzman’s behalf. Massey, who spent three months in Iraq, told how his unit–the 7th Marines weapons company — killed more than 30 Iraqi civilians in one 48-hour period at a checkpoint in the Rashid neighborhood in southern Baghdad.
“I know in my heart that these vehicles that came up, that they were civilians,” he said. “But I had to act on my orders. It’s a struggle within my heart.” He said that Hinzman would likely be forced to commit atrocities that violate the Geneva Conventions if he goes to Iraq.
A large majority of Canadians and Quebecois oppose the war on Iraq.
In addition, there are over 30,000 former US citizens who took asylum in Canada during the Vietnam War who side with Hinzman, including Hinzman’s attorney, Jeffry House. (SoldierSayNo.org) ‘SHOCK AND AWE’ FOR RUMSFELD
Spec. Thomas Wilson is with the 278th Regimental Combat Team, composed mainly of members of the Tennessee Army National Guard.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke to 2,300 of these Guard members in a hangar in Kuwait before television cameras.
Rumsfeld asked the troops to pose some “tough questions.” He must have expected them to remain humble before his authority. Instead of being held in awe, Rumsfeld got shocked.
Wilson brought up the unarmored Humvees that the resistance regularly blows up in Iraq. He asked Rumsfeld why do “we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?”
The 2,300 troops applauded and cheered him. Rumsfeld looked stunned.
His quick answer failed to hide his indifference toward the fate of the ordinary Gis: “You go to war with the Army you have,” blustered the Pentagon boss. “They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”
He looked like he wished he had an army of robots. Rumsfeld hustled off to his armored car and left. His answer to the troops became the butt of late-night comedy routines. It was another nail in the coffin of the Rumsfeld Doctrine that planned for a cost-effective, high-tech world conquest.
Rumsfeld on the Run
The defense secretary was the architect of the war. He had rushed into it prepared only for a quick, brutal victory over Iraq. Along with the neocons in the Bush administration and the bulk of the US ruling class, Rumsfeld had completely underestimated the courage and determination of the Iraqi people to fight for their sovereignty.
The Bush administration tried to spin Rumsfeld’s televised disaster to show that the troops were pro-war but wanted the best weapons.
Bush said he agreed with the troops’ desire for armor.
Yet the clash was in an imperialist army, not a debating society.
Troops are forbidden to sass their lieutenant, let alone embarrass the Pentagon CEO. The Kuwait meeting with Rumsfeld was supposed to be a pro-war public relations ploy. It turned instead into an exercise in insubordination in a war zone.
Sue the *#%@*&@$
National Guard Spec. David Qualls from Arkansas went beyond questioning the Pentagon brass. On Dec. 6, Qualls and seven still unnamed US soldiers sued the government to challenge its “stop loss” policy that has forced thousands of soldiers to remain in the military beyond their scheduled retirement.
Qualls had been in Iraq since last March, in a combat zone north of Baghdad. After five years of active duty, Qualls had signed up for a one-year stint in the Guard. His year was up, but the military forced an extension on him.
The court ruled against Qualls’ request for a restraining order to stop him from being sent back. As of Dec. 14, Qualls was in a hospital in Arkansas, suffering from distress. According to media reports, he fears retribution from the military in Iraq.
The Pentagon generals can still intimidate the troops, but they have shown signs of their own fear. They recently decided to use only non- judicial Article 15s to punish the 23 members of the 343rd Quartermaster Company who refused to drive their unarmored trucks on what they considered a “suicide mission” across Iraq last October.
The punishments for Article 15s are loss of rank and pay, but no jail time and no loss of honorable discharge. If the Pentagon brass wanted to avoid court-martialing these troops, it’s because they feared a massive rush of support for what under different circumstances the officers might call “mutiny.” SUPPORT FROM ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT
People active in GI organizing in 1968 would probably agree that the mood among the troops now is even more anti-war than it was then. All the symptoms of big problems in the military are there.
The Pentagon reports 5,500 deserters. Only 50 percent of troops are re- enlisting. As many as one-third of the Inactive Reserve, called now to unexpected duty, are failing to show up. Even the news that Iraqi war veterans are already beginning to show up among the homeless, many suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, is a reminder of the Vietnam days.
The International Action Center (IAC), with the youth group FIST and the GI support group SNAFU, on Dec. 4 devoted an afternoon session to GI organizing and support work. The 300 mostly young people present were enthusiastic both about stopping any draft and about supporting Gis and anti-war veterans.
On Dec. 11 a similar sized but somewhat older gathering pulled together by Veterans for Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out and others spent over three hours on the problems and conflicts of anti-war Gis and veterans during the current occupation of Iraq.
Master Sgt. Stan Goff, a Special Ops veteran and anti-war activist, told the Dec. 11 crowd that it was time to “delegitimize, disobey and disrupt” the military. (BringThemHomeNow.org)
Tom Barton, who has been publishing the web newsletter GI Special for over a year, read aloud letters from troops in Iraq who have been pasting up anti-war stickers on battle ruins. (militaryproject.org)
Dustin Langley of SNAFU reported his group’s web site had recently doubled its “hits,” and repeated his message to resisting Gis and civilian supporters: “We’ve got to show the troops we have their back.” (join-snafu.org)
Catalinotto was an organizer with the American Servicemen’s Union from 1967-1970.
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