May 29, 2009

Dale Landry's Federal Court Appeal Hearing, a campaigner's Perspective

The following is Laura's report on Dale Landry's appeal hearing. She does an excellent job of presenting Dale and his case. His attorney presented all the points affecting his case. I got to see her representing Jeremy Hinzman earlier this year. She was brilliant back then, but Laura points out that she felt hopeful after the Hinzman appeal and yet the judge ruled against him. 

from July, 2008 photo of Dale Landry from the Guelf Mercury
I attended the Federal Court hearing for war resister Dale Landry yesterday. I'm not sure I can reproduce the same level of detail I did for Jeremy Hinzman's hearing, but I'll try to relate the highlights.

A handful of core campaigners showed up at the court for the vigil, but everyone had to go to work, except Newfie Campaign Friend and I. Refugee lawyer Geraldine Sadoway, who was Alyssa Manning's mentor at the Parkdale legal clinic, was there with another young lawyer, and a group of people were there who might have been law students. But mostly it was just NCF and me. And as the hearing was very long and I had to catch a bus, during the Crown arguments, I scurried off and left NCF alone.

* * * *

Dale Landry was an airman in the United States Air Force. He served as a loadmaster in Afghanistan, which means he was involved in transporting detainees. There, he developed a strong moral objection to his military duties.

Dale was scheduled to be deployed to Iraq, where he would also be involved in transporting innocent civilians who were arrested and detained. Knowing he wanted no part of that, he tried for two years to be excused from deployment. For his efforts, he was continually harassed, but deployment was inevitable.

Dale attempted to apply for conscientious objector status, even knowing he wouldn't qualify for it. Almost no one in the US military qualifies as a conscientious objector as defined by the US Department of Defense: being opposed to all wars, always, for any reason, on specifically religious grounds.

In addition, conscientious objector applications have to travel up the chain of command; any officer, at any point, can pull the plug. Still, Dale knew it might be important, and made the attempt. He submitted his application, and his commanding officer shredded it on the spot.

In August of 2007, the Air Force gave Dale two options. He could submit to punishment for missing movement - 30 days of "corrective custody," meaning hard labour and incarceration - then be deployed to Iraq. Or he could be court martialled, then either dishonourably discharged (a felony conviction), or deployed to Iraq.

Dale made a third choice: he came to Canada and applied for refugee status. The IRB rejected Dale's claim, but the Federal Court granted him leave to appeal that decision. Yesterday, Alyssa Manning argued Dale's case in front of Justice Sean Harrington of the Federal Court of Canada.

Alyssa demonstrated how the Immigration and Refugee Board did not adequately assess Dale's qualifications for refugee status, by not analyzing his claim in relation to paragraph 171 of the Handbook of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That paragraph states, in part:
...the type of military action with which an individual does not wish to be associated is condemned by the international community as contrary to basic rules of human conduct, punishment for desertion or draft-evasion itself be regarded as persecution.
Alyssa also referred to paragraph 169 of the Refugee Handbook, which states:
A deserter or draft-evader may also be considered a refugee if it can be shown that he would suffer disproportionately severe punishment for the military offence on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. The same would apply if it can be shown that he has a well-founded fear of persecution on these grounds above and beyond the punishment for desertion.
Alyssa relied heavily on two previous decisions in war resister cases, those of Joshua Key and Corey Glass, for whom the court ordered a new IRB hearing and a new H&C review, respectively. (Josh's hearing, a landmark in our battle to Let Them Stay, is next week.)

Using these decisions and others, Alyssa showed that if the specific duties a soldier is ordered to perform violate the Geneva Conventions and have been condemned by the international legal community - even if those orders fall well short of the legal definition of a war crime or crime against humanity - that a soldier has a responsibility to refuse those orders. And any punishment stemming from that refusal constitutes persecution.

The soldier needn't object to all wars, or to the particular war as a whole. The soldier needn't prove war crimes were committed. (In fact, if the soldier was involved in the commission of war crimes, Canada would consider him a Excluded Person and he could not apply for refugee status.) However, Alyssa showed, a soldier has a fundamental right not to violate the dignity of others.

When Alyssa said "condemned by the international legal community," the judge asked, "Like rendition, waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques?". The last one sounded sarcastic, like he knew full well what "enhanced interrogation" really meant.

Alyssa argued that the severity of the punishment for deserting is not the central issue - that any punishment meted out for a person's moral or political beliefs is persecution. The Immigration Minister's assertion that war resisters will be afforded due process in the US is beside the point.

In addition, in the court martials of war resisters such as Camilo Mejia, Stephen Funk, Kevin Benderman and others, the specific orders that soldiers object to have been consistently excluded as evidence. Therefore, when it comes to the real reasons for the soldier's objections, there is no due process anyway.

Alyssa cited the new evidence, especially as demonstrated by military lawyer Eric Seitz, that war resisters who speak out publicly against the Iraq War are first selected for prosecution and then singled out for harsher punishment. She showed how the IRB did not adequately assess the risk to Dale and others. The IRB said there is state protection from these risks and due process involved, but they never assessed what the risks are, which is a large part of their mandate.

Alyssa also argued that, regardless of Paragraph 171, the IRB's conclusions about state protection in the US were unreasonable. The IRB continues to insist that US war resisters could have availed themselves of options they do not actually have. In its decision, for example, the IRB characterizes Article 15, under which Dale would have received "corrective custody" plus deployment to Iraq, as a dispute resolution mechanism.

According to the IRB and the Ministry, war resisters can supposedly apply for conscientious objector status, and "let the process take its full course" - a process for which they do not qualify, and over which they have no control. And they can supposedly take their cases to the US Supreme Court. This is, of course, a ridiculous fantasy. Or a brazen lie. Take your pick.

One amusing moment came as the judge addressed Alyssa and drew an analogy to a corporate whistleblower who ends up getting fired. Alyssa paused for a moment, then replied, "In this case, the applicant wants to get fired."

When Alyssa noted that a soldier has a duty to refuse illegal orders, the judge noted that a soldier also has a duty to loyalty. Alyssa said international standards, beginning with the Nuremberg Trials, through the Geneva Conventions and more recent affirmations, make it clear that the duty to refuse illegal orders trumps loyalty.

Selecting soldiers who refuse illegal orders for prosecution constitutes persecution.

Selecting soldiers who speak out against the war for harsher punishment is further persecution.

The judge asked, "So you're guaranteed status in Canada if you shout from the rooftops once you get here?"

NCF and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows, but of course Alyssa was prepared. She made it clear that Dale spoke out against the war before coming to Canada, and before this pattern of selective punishment was documented.

* * * *

I won't attempt to reproduce the Crown's case. They said Alyssa had misinterpreted the Hinzman decision, that the Key decision had no bearing on Dale's case, and that Dale was looking for "an easy exit from the military". Twice (in the portion I heard) the judge interrupted to correct the Crown. Once: 
"Of course he was not able to quit the military, that was the problem."
And again: 
"But he deserted in order not to commit unlawful acts."
Their case was brief and dishonest.

If I had witnessed this proceeding last year, I would have come away feeling very hopeful for a victory. But I felt that way after the Jeremy's hearing, and Judge Russell ruled against. So I'm certainly not making any predictions about this.

Josh's IRB hearing is on June 3. It has the potential to be a turning point in the campaign to make Canada a refuge from militarism. Stay tuned.

May 28, 2009

Colonizing Culture

I attended a Winter Soldier Hearing in Rochester a short while ago. One of the panelists, Michael Schwartz, had just published his book, War Without End, The Iraq War in Context. After reading his book, I am constantly looking at our role over there through what has became a clearer insight. The whole idea behind 'shock and awe' was to intentionally destroy their culture. It wasn't just an oversight or poor planning. The looting of the museums and the destruction of infrastructure was all done to make it easier to control the people.

It is hard for me to look at any "successful" reduction of resistance on the part of Iraqis as a sign of progress. It always looks like we're beating the last thread of culture out of the Iraqis and calling it success. 

This article by Dahr Jamail does an excellent job. He says, 
"It is not difficult to see that the extent of devastation caused by the invasion and occupation of Iraq goes beyond loss of life, livelihood and property. The historical and cultural roots of the nation have been destroyed."

An Iraqi boy walks down a street in southern Baqouba, surrounded by US Army soldiers. 
(Photo: Marko Drobnjakovic / AP)

by: Dahr Jamail, t r u t h o u t | Perspective



    The geo-strategic expansion of the American empire is an accepted fact of contemporary history. I have been writing in these columns about the impact of the US occupation on the people of Iraq in the wake of the "hard" colonization via F-16s, tanks, 2,000-pound bombs, white phosphorous and cluster bombs.

    Here I offer a brief glimpse into the less obvious but far more insidious phenomenon of "soft" colonization. That scholars and political thinkers have talked at length of such processes only establishes the uncomfortable reality that history is bound to repeat itself in all its ugliness, unless the human civilization makes a concerted effort to eliminate the use of brute force from human affairs.

    Gandhi, the apostle of non-violent resistance said:
"I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. I refuse to live in other people's houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave."
    This is an idea rendered irrelevant in the current scenario, where the mightier among the world's nations have secured the mandate to invade, with impunity, any society and any state that can be exploited for resources. Unlike earlier times, modern-day invasions are invariably camouflaged by a façade of elaborate deceit that claims altruistic intent as the motive of assault. In this new scheme of things, resistance is deemed as insurgency and dissent is unpatriotic. Those that are invaded do not have the luxury to decide between being beggar and slave. Culture would be the last thing on their minds as they struggle to stay alive. Yet it is the loss of their culture that ultimately causes the disintegration of these societies to the absolute advantage of their victors.

    It is said that history is written by the victor. What is not said is that destroying the enemy is only half the purpose of a victor. The other half is the subjugation and drastic alteration of the self-perception of the enemy, so as to gain unquestioned control over every aspect of the subjugated state, its populace and its resources, so that having won victory it can get on with the "much bigger business of plunder," according to Franz Fanon, philosopher, psychiatrist, author and a pre-eminent thinker of the twentieth century.

    At one level we have the Human Terrain System (HTS) I have written about previously wherein social scientists are embedded with combat units, ostensibly to help the occupiers better understand the cultures they are occupying. The veiled intent is to exploit existing schisms and fault-lines in these societies to the occupier's own advantage through the policy of divide and conquer.

    As Edward Said stated in "Orientalism":
"... there is a difference between knowledge of other peoples and other times that is the result of understanding, compassion, careful study and analysis for their own sakes, and on the other hand knowledge - if that is what it is - that is part of an overall campaign of self-affirmation, belligerency, and outright war. There is, after all, a profound difference between the will to understand for purposes of coexistence and humanistic enlargement of horizons, and the will to dominate for the purposes of control and external enlargement of horizons, and the will to dominate for the purposes of control and external dominion."
    It is extremely obvious that the HTS belongs to this second category.
    At another unquestioned level, the "democratization" and "modernization" of a "barbaric" society goes on. The embedded scholars of HTS evidently find no evidence of these cultures having withstood decades of international isolation and assault, yet sustained their sovereignty by the sheer dint of their education, culture and a well-integrated diverse social fabric. So the US sets up a range of state-funded programs, ostensibly to empower the women and youth of the target society, in the ways of democracy and modern civilization. Whether or not that suspect goal is accomplished, the badgered collective consciousness of the invaded people, traumatized by loss and conflict, does begin to submit to the "norms" of behavior prescribed by the victor, even when they are in violation of actual norms of society that may have prevailed prior to invasion.


    Fanon said:
"A national culture under colonial domination is a contested culture whose destruction is sought in systematic fashion."
    Describing the psychopathology of colonization he said, 
"Every effort is made to bring the colonized person to admit the inferiority of his culture which has been transformed into instinctive patterns of behavior, to recognize the unreality of his 'nation', and, in the last extreme, the confused and imperfect character of his own biological structure."

    Fanon's speech to the Congress of Black African Writers in 1959 is an uncanny description of Iraq's tragedy today:
"Colonial domination, because it is total and tends to over-simplify, very soon manages to disrupt in spectacular fashion the cultural life of a conquered people. This cultural obliteration is made possible by the negation of national reality, by new legal relations introduced by the occupying power, by the banishment of the natives and their customs to outlying districts by colonial society, by expropriation, and by the systematic enslaving of men and women ...
    "For culture is first the expression of a nation, the expression of its preferences, of its taboos and of its patterns. It is at every stage of the whole of society that other taboos, values and patterns are formed. A national culture is the sum total of all these appraisals; it is the result of internal and external extensions exerted over society as a whole and also at every level of that society. In the colonial situation, culture, which is doubly deprived of the support of the nation and of the state, falls away and dies."
    At times we may witness blatant violations as in the distribution of backpacks with US flags to Iraqi children.

    A more repulsive example is the Skin White Serum. One of many companies engaged in selling skin-bleaching cream is Skin White Research Labs. They proudly sell Skin White Serum in "over 30 countries." There are countless other companies involved in this market, selling similar products, like Skin White Bleaching Cream and Xtreme White.

    The hidden message here is that, politically, those in the culture being colonized should seek to cover their brown skin, which is in fact part of their ethnic identity, and aspire to the culture, power and influence of the dominant culture at the expense of their own.

    Somewhat less subtle is the corporate colonization of Iraq's culture. An example of this is Iraqi girls carrying Barbie backpacks in the Sadr City area of Baghdad.

    In Iraq and Afghanistan, the dominant culture for a while now has been the US military. Since it has all the firepower and the brute force, it sets the norms and the standard. This is done by repeated suggestions through propaganda, and advertisements suggesting that the local population is of lesser worth than the occupiers of their country in their appearance, their beliefs, their customs and their way of life.

    The material practices of society sustain its culture, which is the lifeline of identity, and affirmation that the progress of a nation depends on. Social custom, production systems, education, art and architecture are a few of the visible pillars of culture.

    Community and custom become the first casualties when an entire people, unequal in the face of military might, struggle to survive under perpetual fear of loss and death. In a state of vacuum, the threatened society will grasp whatever is offered by the occupier as a "better" way of living. In the process it is bound to lose its own tried and tested self-sustaining modes of living.

    With the destruction of infrastructure, education, health and livelihood sources are destroyed. When rehabilitation and restoration come packaged in alien systems of knowledge (read-USAID), that, too, is accepted in the absence of what existed earlier.

    Literature, art and architecture meet with more systemic demolition.

    My artist friends in Baghdad have reported,
"The occupation forces encouraged the rebels to loot museum and libraries. Five thousand years of history and art were irretrievably lost in hours. It is a loss for the world, not Iraq alone. Buildings can be fixed, so can electricity, but where can I find another Khalid al-Rahal to make me a new statue for Abu Fafar al-Mansoor? How will I replace the artifacts dating back to thousands of years? Iraq is altered forever."
    I have heard from ordinary men and women in Iraq, 
"We need our art, because it connects us with what has brought us here, and reminds us of where we are headed."
Dr. Saad Eskander has been director general of whatever remains of Iraq's National Archive and Library and he says,
"This building was burned twice, and looted. We have lost sixty percent of our archival collections like maps, historical records and photographs. Twenty-five percent of our books were lost ... It has crippled our culture, and culture reaches to the bottom of peoples' hearts, whereas politics do not."

    It is not difficult to see that the extent of devastation caused by the invasion and occupation of Iraq goes beyond loss of life, livelihood and property. The historical and cultural roots of the nation have been destroyed.
-thanks to Truthout

May 27, 2009

Iraq Veteran, Josh Steiber, walks and bikes across the country listening, learning and sharing his evolvement with all who will listen.

Josh Steiber, an Iraq Vet turned Conscientious Objector
Josh Steiber, who will begin his on-foot and bicycle, cross-country journey just after Memorial Day on May 27th in Washington, D.C., is now available for phone interviews or in-person interviews if you are able to meet him somewhere along his route. Please see website for listing of cities and expected dates and email to schedule either type of interview. He plans to be in the following states: Washington, DC; Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Montana, Washington and California.

With the military announcing successes in Iraq and seeking to repeat it's surge strategy in Afghanistan, the nature of these policies begs further examination. Are these tactics as successful as the military proclaims? What were the costs and human factors of these accomplishments? What are the effects?

A first-hand testimony can be heard from Iraq veteran Josh Stieber. Steiber was deployed to Baghdad as part of the Surge from Feb 07 to Apr 09. He spent the majority of his deployment living outside of larger military installations, working with his infantry company in converted warehouses and police stations. Spending time as a humvee driver, machine gunner, detainee guard, radio transmission operator, and a little bit of everything in between, Steiber has a broad range of firsthand experiences within the Army and of daily Iraqi life.

Upon return from his deployment, Steiber's experiences lead him to apply as a conscientious objector. Nearly a year of investigation into the sincerity of his claim was conducted until he was unanimously approved by the Department of the Army Conscientious Objection Review Board. He spent the meantime studying and preparing his cross-country trip where he hopes to share his experiences while learning about alternatives to military involvement.

Josh Steiber's background as a staunch supporter of war for nationalistic and religious reasons, helps him explain his former point of view towards peace organizations and draw upon the common good will of people of differing inclinations and beliefs.

His journey highlights twelve various organizations that actively and peacefully involve themselves in bettering the world around them. After removing himself from violent means of solving problems, he seeks to learn about and promote nonviolent means. These organizations are diverse, including everything from micro-loans to adoption to school building in the Middle East. Along the way, Stieber welcomes opportunities to share his experiences and learn from others who are proactive as he conducts his "Contagious Love Experiment,” as his project has been named.

The web page for his project includes Steiber's brief biography, a map of the route he will travel, and explanations of the organizations he'll be visiting and why he chose them. It also includes a sample letter for a letter-writing campaign he will be encouraging along the way, asking people to express their appreciation of soldier's dedications while respectfully presenting other points of view. The page, Contagious Love Experiment, will also serve as the blog he will be updating throughout his travels.

May 26, 2009

Cycle for Sight. Toronto to Collingwood to Cure Blindness

Ride For Sight is an annual motorcycle fundraising event that takes place in cities and towns all across Canada, supporting research into cures for blindness. 

This year, a small group of people have organized a complimentary green event: Cycle For Sight. On June 20, participants will cycle 133 kilometres from Toronto to Collingwood, Ontario.

Two friends of mine, Phil McDowell and Jamine Aponte, are among the riders. Phil and Jamine came to Canada when Phil refused to participate in the war in Iraq. 

Phil volunteered for the US Army after 9/11, and was sent to Iraq. He served a full tour of duty, and was disgusted by the human-rights violations he saw there, and by discovering that the war was based on lies. When he came home, Phil separated from the Army with an honourable discharge. He was then involuntarily re-enlisted: stop-lossed. After exploring all his legal options - and finding he had none - Phil came to Canada, and Jamine followed. They have been living and working in Toronto for almost three years.

Cyling 133 kilometers for charity is typical Phil and Jamine. They're both athletic and outdoorsy, environmentally conscious, and always ready to give of themselves.

I've sponsored each of them with a small donation. Perhaps you will, too, or make a small pledge for another rider.   -Laura
-Thanks to We Move To Canada.

May 24, 2009

Who Dies in War?

Memorial Day , 2009
Veterans for Peace:
Few really think about it, but many more innocent civilians die in war than soldiers. That is the message that Veterans For Peace would like people to think about on Memorial day.

Veterans For Peace National President Mike Ferner comments,
"We have been taught that the purpose of Memorial Day is to remember fallen service members. Veterans For Peace is here to tell the nation that the number of innocent civilians who die in war far outnumbers the combatants. It would be immoral to only remember those who fought and died in war and not pay respect to those who are victims. In the final analysis, the best way to remember both is to abolish this scourge of humanity." 
Veterans For Peace National Executive Director Michael T. McPhearson stated,
"As veterans this day holds special meaning for us. Many of our members have seen their buddies die in battle and we all know that only luck or grace allows us to be here today to remember the dead. We also know our actions are responsible for the enormous lose of life of innocent people simply trying to live their lives, who for no fault of their own were caught in the middle of madness. We are haunted by their deaths and stand in respectful silence to remember them, those of us who did not live to be veterans and those veterans who are no longer with us. We demand our government and all the governments of the world end this human made plague called war. There is a better way."
Across the nation, veterans, military families and friends will gather this weekend through Monday to remember fallen loved ones, comrades, service members and all lives lost to war. Veterans For Peace will commemorate these women, children and men with vigils and solemn programs. Several chapters will display temporary cemeteries to represent the over 4,985 U.S. fallen and untold numbers of civilians killed in current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other chapters will lay wreaths and flowers; have speakers and readings; and march in parades.

May 26 Vigil for War Resister Dale Landry

July, 2008 photo of Dale Landry on left from the Guelf Mercury
On Tuesday, May 26, Toronto-area supporters of US war resisters will gather outside the Federal Court to show support for former US soldier Dale Landry. Dale was granted leave to appeal the IRB's negative decision in his refugee claim.

Dale is a principled and outspoken activist on behalf of peace, and for all other war resisters. He lives in the Parkdale section of Toronto and works at reBoot Canada, a nonprofit company that provides computers, training and technical support to charities and low-income people. Dale is an active member of the War Resisters Support Campaign, and I'm honoured to call him my friend.

Dale is profiled in this story in the Dallas Observer, and this story from Guelph (he's the one of the left).

If you're in Toronto on Tuesday, please join us for a vigil in support of Dale, and if you can, attend the hearing.

When: Tuesday, May 26, 8:30 a.m.
Where: Federal Court Building, 180 Queen Street West (west of University)
Subway: Osgoode


-thanks to We Move To Canada

May 21, 2009

Sgt. Travis Bishop, Another Ft. Hood soldier says no to Afghanistan occupation

Travis Bishop opening for Toby Keith in Baghdad, Iraq.
Photo: Travis' Myspace page
By Sgt. Travis Bishop, Ft. Hood Soldier Voices. May 21, 2009

Like Afghanistan deployment refuser Spc. Victor Agosto, Sgt. Travis Bishop is also with Ft. Hood's 57th ESB.

Why am I doing what I’m doing? Why am I resisting? Refusing?

It wasn’t so long ago that I deployed to Iraq in support of the war on terror. I didn’t refuse then. Like a good Soldier, I did what I was told, and I spent 14 months stationed in Baghdad. It was a quiet enough deployment, I suppose. Mortars and rockets flew over the walls with unnerving frequency, but otherwise, it felt more like a move to a different duty station than a deployment to a warzone.

I didn’t see real combat. I didn’t come back with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I didn’t lose friends. Mine was, in my opinion, an average deployment. Go overseas, play X-Box and read for a year, come back with money that’s gone before you remember how you spent it. We talked and laughed about it once we came back, and talked about what we would do with the money we made from our next deployment, whenever that may be.

Back home, I received a hero’s welcome. That was the first time I felt unsettled over what I had done overseas. My hand was shook, my back was patted, and every night my belly was burning, full of free alcohol. I was a veteran of a foreign war, hailed as a hero, and yet I felt…unnerved; anxious. I felt as if I had a big secret inside me that threatened to burst out of me at any moment, exposing what I really was to the rest of the world…but I couldn’t figure out what the secret was. Not for a long, long time.

I was never plagued with nightmares from the war. I was plagued with guilt. I literally felt guilty for receiving the accolades that come from redeploying as a ‘hero,’ knowing that I had not paid the price for the Army’s true definition of a hero.
Here it goes:
Army Hero; noun. Soldier who has deployed overseas to a combat zone. Has participated in active combat. Has redeployed with PTSD, a bullet in their leg, and a time bomb in their head. Unable to rejoin the civilian world in a normal psychological state.

In my heart of hearts, I know I don’t fit this definition, or anything resembling it.

For a long time, my unit was set to redeploy to Iraq in August 2009. However, in February 2009, we were told there was a change of plans. Instead of Iraq, it would be Afghanistan. Instead of August, it would be the end of March, less than sixty days away. Rumor had it that, although we were told the rush was because of a Brigade Commander’s wishes, it was our Battalion Commander who requested our unit be put on the Afghanistan Troop Surge.

Once again, in good Soldier mode, I prepared to deploy. This time I was a Sergeant, and I had Soldiers to take care of, one of which my best friend. These things drove me to be well prepared. We had things to do, and not much time to do them in. I rarely gave myself time to think about what it was we were actually deploying for. When I did, I started to question everything.

Why are we going? What purpose does it serve? Nothing sat right. I began to read the Bible again. More and more I saw things like ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘love thy enemy.’ These were things that went directly against the war we were in, and they were spoken by Jesus himself. Could I really deploy again, and compromise my beliefs, just because I was told to? Would I be able to live with that? What if I had to take a life, and knew that if I hadn’t deployed, I would never have been put in that situation?

I became afraid to voice my opinion, knowing that if I spoke to the wrong person, I would face persecution and ridicule. I told my best friend, who voiced the same opinions to me, but it seemed he was content to deploy, do his time, make some money, and then get out of the Army upon his return. I respected his opinion, didn’t try to talk him out of it, and let it be.

The rest of the pre-deployment phase went uneventfully. We loaded our gear, got our trucks ready, and inspected our equipment. We went to the field several times, and although my team and other teams never fully accomplished the missions we were given, Command congratulated us on a successful field mission, and said we were more than ready to deploy. I started to worry again after that.

I worried when they said I was leaving early with the cargo. I worried again when our cargo flights were suddenly ‘cancelled,’ and the main body of our unit deployed to Afghanistan before us, the ‘advanced’ party. Once again, I got the feeling that we were rushing into something before we were even close to being ready. Weeks went by, and groups of us went out on separate days, sometimes only two Soldiers at a time.

A few days before I was set to deploy, I was approached by members of an organization who told me that I had a choice. They told me that they were here to support me, and that if I really was against the war our country was currently in, I could choose not to go. All those old feelings and worries came back with a vengeance, and I began to question the war again. After a full day of thinking, the only reason I had come up with for me to go was the fact that my best friend was going too. And, in the end, I decided that, although he might hate me for it, he was better off with me not going in the long run. I had to put my needs before his, though it killed me inside, because a three year friendship is hard to come by in the Army. I hope that he can forgive me one day.

So the afternoon I was set to deploy, while everyone else was loading their gear in the van headed toward the airfield, I loaded my gear in my car, and left. It was the hardest decision I have ever made.

I plan on coming back; soon. I am not a deserter, and I wouldn’t go AWOL for months and risk ruining my chances at getting a good job later in life. I am a Patriot. I love my country, but I believe that this particular war is unjust, unconstitutional and a total abuse of our nation’s power and influence. And so, in the next few days, I will be speaking with my lawyer, and taking actions that will more than likely result in my discharge from the military, and possible jail time…and I am prepared to live with that.

My father said, ‘Do only what you can live with, because every morning you have to look at your face in the mirror when you shave. Ten years from now, you’ll still be shaving the same face.’

If I had deployed to Afghanistan, I don’t think I would have been able to look into another mirror again.

Pray for me.

Prior to refusing to deploy, Travis was best known for his acoustic country music CD "So here we go" and opening up for Toby Keith in Baghdad, Iraq.

Support this organization; they support our Resisters

Three Students Decline to Take the Military Test.

We need to watch what is happening to our children and stand with the students, parents, high school staff, faculty members and the community organizations. We have watched in communities like Rochester and Buffalo in New York,  Arcata and Eureka in California, Philadelphia's Franklin Mills Mall in Pennsylvania, Hillsboro in North Carolina and many others, people who are resisting the recruiters who push the limits of decency to prey on our kids. These quota-driven tricksters need to be educated about international laws, such as Article 3 of the United Nations Optional Protocol regarding the recruitment and training of child soldiers  (see below and video post).

At the same time we need to make sure are recruiters aren't being abused and pushed over the line by their superiors and unreasonable demands of the Pentagon. Their job should be only to help those that want a military career do just that, not trick innocent kids into signing contracts for deadly jobs they and have no interest in doing. That's a tough one. I'm going to need to become more evolved.

Cedar Ridge High's principal says they weren't being disciplined in being sent to a suspension classroom
HILLSBOROUGH - Three high school students were sent to an in-school suspension classroom after refusing to take a military aptitude test at Cedar Ridge High School on Tuesday.

Principal Gary Thornburg said the students were not being disciplined, but rather that the in-school suspension teacher was the staff person available to supervise them.

More than 300 juniors spent two hours Tuesday and again Wednesday in the school cafeteria taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.
Thornburg said the test, which the U.S. military calls the ASVAB, is traditionally administered to juniors at his school and is part of a larger career assessment program.

The military provides the tests, proctors and grading without charge. In exchange, the scores are sent to military branch recruiters and the school.

"This happens to be the best career assessment we've found," Thornburg said.

By federal law, the contact information for any junior or senior who doesn't sign an opt-out form is passed along to recruiters by the school district.

Thornburg said since students can keep their information private, he didn't understand why some would not want to take the test. The results are discussed with students in school advisory groups that can help them identify study and career choices, he said.

"I don't have a lot of patience with people who are refusing to take the assessment -- or refusing anything that their entire grade level is participating in," Thornburg said.

Dakota Ling, one of the juniors sent to the suspension classroom, said he didn't think he would benefit from the test. Ling, an honors student, has a better than 4.0 grade point average and plans to become a graphic designer.

"I just really don't want the military to have all the info it can on me," he said.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction does not encourage schools to give the ASVAB to students who have not expressed an interest in the military, spokeswoman Linda Fuller said.

Students in Durham and Wake counties have to sign up for the test. So do students in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and at the Orange County school system's other high school, Orange.

When it opened in 1996, East Chapel Hill High School tested all sophomores, said Winslow Carter, career development coordinator.

"We had such an outrage from the parents and the community that we didn't do that anymore," Carter said. He said he still thinks the aptitude test is valuable for nonmilitary career guidance.

Now, fewer than 10 students a year take the test at East Chapel Hill High School.

Chapel Hill Army recruiter Sgt. Jason Earl has seen that drop off in many area schools. He said recruiters understand that everyone who takes the test may not be interested in military service and that if a household asks them not to call back, they generally don't.

"We're not out here to harass," Earl said.
-thanks to or (919) 932-2005

It makes sense to show this short video from Buffalo again. We posted it a couple of months ago and think it would be relevant and useful for all to see again.

Military Recruiting - JROTC Automatic Enrollment from Radio Civil Liberties on Vimeo.

Article 3 of the United Nations Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, ratified by 54 countries, has adopted 18 years of age as the acceptable minimum standard for Armed Forces recruitment and training of children.

Some of the students at Buffalo’s Hutch Tech were as young as 13 years old.

We need to watch, protest and change what is happening to our children.

May 20, 2009

Retired SU engineers concerned about Syracuse, NY gearing up with drones to be a front-line, war-fighting city

The (grim) Reaper
May 19, 2009
The first symptoms of a cancer that might be starting in Central New York are now appearing. We refer to the plans to base drone aircraft at Hancock Field that are used for fighting the war in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. These drones, titled Reapers, are being pushed as the replacement craft for the 174th Air National Guard. The first plan is to base them here in Syracuse and fly them, through civilian airspace, to Camp Drum where they will be used for training purposes. Once they are in Camp Drum they will be armed and then flown by remote control from the base in Syracuse and put through their paces. They will then be flown back to Syracuse. This carries severe problems with safety since the drones will be flown by personnel outside the normal air traffic control procedures.

However another and more insidious problem is created by this program. The plan is to use the base in Syracuse to control drones that are based in the war zone and that would perform their deadly missions under the control of personnel here in Syracuse. Thus we bring the war directly into our homes. As former Congressman Walsh said: "The pilots could be literally fighting a war in Iraq and at the end of their shift go home and be playing with their kids in Camillus". This Vietnam era thinking must not be allowed to spread into Central New York. If this plan is allowed to go through then Hancock Field becomes a military installation and thus must be protected much more securely than at present. We must not allow the military to take over our country.

On May 15 we met with Mike Whyland at the Syracuse office of Representative Maffei to discuss this situation with him. He received us most cordially and referred us to Brian Shaffner who is in the Washington office and is more directly involved with the drone situation. In a follow up conference call, Mr. Shaffner too was most cordial and listened to our concerns. He pointed out that he had talked with the people at Sensis who are expected to be working on technological approaches to solving the myriad of problems that arise from the decision to fly the drones through civilian airspace. He reported that the people at Sensis felt they could come up with a solution. We of course question what they have in mind since any solution will require adding radiating equipment to the drones since by design they are supposed to be nearly invisible. Also, from our collective experience with working with DOD sponsored projects it is very rare that a vendor will turn down a project suggested by the military. 

We inquired of Mr. Shaffner if he knew what the basing situation is with regard to the drones that are currently flying along the border with Canada. He said that as far as he knew we have a unique situation in Syracuse. We expect he will keep us informed.

It appears to us that this program to base drones and drone controllers in Syracuse has arisen with insufficient consideration of the long-term implications. It is obvious that the decision seems to be based upon the desire to fill the gap in the 174th when their F15s are decommissioned. But the economic problems encountered by this must be faced and not replaced with making Syracuse a base from which to conduct war. Another consideration mentioned by Mr. Shaffner was that the recruiting attraction presented by the 174th shouldn't be overlooked. But will 'The Drones from Syracuse' be an adequate replacement to 'The Boys from Syracuse'?
John D. BrulÈ John F. Jureller John V. Oldfield

Bellingham City Council Unanimous Vote for GI Sanctuary City Public Forum

Marchers took to the streets of Bellingham Saturday afternoon 

rallying for peace in the first annual Bellingham Peace March 

photo by Keith Daigle Western Front

A Victory for Peace & Sanctuary!

Last night, May 19th,  the Bellingham City Council voted 7-0 to host a Public Hearing on the matter of sanctuary for war resisters. Many people spoke eloquently in favor of such a hearing. Congratulations to Sanctuary City organizer Nick Spring and committee members who inspired a community movement around this issue. Please stay tuned to find out the date and location of the public forum. 

Check out this week’s Western Front newspaper for an article (see below) about Saturday’s Peace Walk hosted by Sanctuary City and co-sponsored by the Whatcom Peace & Justice Center, Community to Community Development, Whatcom Human Rights Task Force, and Veterans for Peace. What an awesome day of hope and resistance with 200 participants. Thanks to everyone who participated!

-thanks to Bellingham GI Sanctuary City.

Campaign proposes ordinance to protect AWOL soldiers

by Julia Means   

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bellingham Peace Walk participant Ron Felix held a sign saying “Bellingham GI Sanctuary City” as he walked from Maritime Heritage Park in downtown Bellingham to the Village Green in Fairhaven. The Whatcom Peace and Justice Center teamed up with the Bellingham GI Sanctuary City campaign for the walk, which focused on a theme of hope and resistance.

Fairhaven student and Sanctuary City organizer Nick Spring said a GI sanctuary city is a place where soldiers can reside if they wish to exercise their right to object war.

Felix said he believes because war exists, people need to gather together to show they oppose it.

“I feel like everyone that can be here is representing someone who can’t be,” Felix said.   

The event coordinator of the Bellingham Peace Walk, Channing Showalter, said she met veterans of the war in Iraq last year who inspired her to find out what is going on with the war in Iraq.

Showalter said one of the goals of the Peace Walk is to bring attention to the United States’ occupation and the realities of what the U.S. is doing in Iraq.  

Showalter said she believes when we know these realities, actions must be taken as a community, such as supporting GI war resistors.

“We are all going about our lives as if nothing is happening,” Showalter said.  “It’s a jumpstart voicing the realities of occupation.”

The Bellingham GI Sanctuary City campaign is proposing an ordinance to the Bellingham City Council that will spell out, in writing, Bellingham’s position on the execution of military warrents for soldiers who are absent without leave (AWOL), Spring said.  

The ordinance would exclude 'acting on federal warrants' in the job descriptions of Bellingham law enforcement officials, Showalter said.

“Right now our tax dollars are paying for them to work on this,” Showalter said.  “We need to focus on local issues.”

Currently, if a police officer pulls a person over, runs his or her license and finds is AWOL, the officer can arrest the soldier and contact the military, Spring said.    

The group’s belief is that it is the responsibility of the military, not the Bellingham Police, to act on the apprehension and detainment of service members absent from military services, he said.

“We’re just trying to get it out there that this makes sense,” Spring said.

The group wants to create a public forum in the form of a town hall meeting, so Bellingham community members can discuss the issues surrounding AWOL soldiers and the responsibilities of the Bellingham Police, Spring said.

City Councilman Terry Bornemann said he made a motion for the Bellingham City Council to sponsor a public meeting for the sanctuary city forum.   The motion was seconded at the committee meeting Monday, May 18.

Bornemann served in the Vietnam War and said he understands how difficult it can be for soldiers who face the moral decision to engage in the war or leave because they feel it is an illegal war.  He said he agrees with the ordinance and that it should not be the responsibility of the local police. 

“I don’t know if it’s something we need to spend our resources on,” Bornemann said.

Councilman Stan Snapp said he is supportive of the public forum, but he has some concerns about the ordinance and the idea of a sanctuary city.

“I’m for the public meeting because it’s a public issue and is controversial as well,” Snapp said.

Council members have been approached for some time on the idea of a sanctuary city, Snapp said.  He said the idea of a sanctuary city is a little over the line for him personally.

“It’s beyond a moral issue of war,” Snapp said.  “It’s about a patriotic commitment.  Once you sign on [with the military], you sign on.”

Evan Knappenberger, an Iraq veteran and community activist, enlisted in the army and was forced to sign away his benefits when he was asked to serve a longer term than originally agreed upon.

Knappenberger said he wants the military to recognize that people change their minds and might not want to continue in the war.

“The reason I [tell my story] is to negate what happened to me happening to someone else,” Knappenberger said.  “We need to make a change and see a difference.”

Resister André Shepard: Letter to Supporters, May 19, 2009

"The numerous efforts have given me the strength to continue on this difficult path"
Dear Friends and Supporters:

I want to use this time to extend my heartfelt thanks for everything that you all have done. It touches my heart to see so much love and support that you have shown me. The numerous efforts from some many people around the globe have given me the strength to continue on this difficult path. My appreciation goes out to all of you.

Currently we are awaiting a decision from the Federal Office for Migration in Germany, as to the ruling on this case. This could last several more months as they must carefully consider the arguments presented on the legality of this conflict. I as well as my lawyer feel that the law is on my side since the American Government´s reasons to the war have been found to be without merit on all levels. Provided the decision is against us, I resolve to take this fight to the next level, i.e. bring this before an open court. It is in everyone´s best interest to be aware that this fight is not about a single solder´s bid for freedom; rather it is about whether or not the United States intentionally violated International Law and ultimately its own laws regarding Wars of Aggression. Since the answer is so obvious, it should only be a matter of time before we get a ruling to that effect. Nevertheless, we have to remain vigilant in our efforts to claim victory.

For the last six months, we have been fighting not only for my freedom, but to lay the foundations to bring about the end of these Wars of Aggression. It is important to consider that although the War on Iraq is the centerpiece of our arguments, we need to take a closer look at the War on Afghanistan as well. Since Washington has opted to escalate the war in Afghanistan, many articles on the subject have since been published, showing that once again we are not being told what we ought to about the nature of this conflict. It saddens me to say that we have once again been hoodwinked into thinking that the actions of our leaders were made purely by “good intentions”. After reviewing numerous amounts of information, reviewing soldier´s stories as well as speaking with a member of the Afghanistan Parliament, Malloli Joia, I have come to the conclusion that the War in Afghanistan is just another one of the Powers that Be´s war for profit. We must sound the alarm on the destructive nature of this war, as well as the crimes against humanity being perpetuated.

On the campaign front, things are going quite well. We have collected around 3,000 signatures for solidarity to the cause. We also have collected money through the fundraising campaign to help cover the legal costs for this historic fight, but we still need your help. We have received letters from around the world from people from all walks of life, blessing me with thoughts and prayers of support. We have traveled throughout different regions in Germany, attending events and conferences that feature not only me, but other soldiers from around the world who have also decided to resist our Governments imperialistic designs. The media coverage was also overwhelming, with this story being featured in numerous major news outlets, such as /Der Spiegel, Die Frankfurter Rundschau, Democracy Now!, Courage to Resist, /and hundreds of others. 

Even though we have made quite a splash on the world stage as of late our work is not done. We plan to build on our successes as well as pushing the envelope a little more in order to get the decision makers' attention. I ask each and every one of you to please get involved by spreading the word to as many people as possible. I also would like to ask everyone on both sides of the Atlantic to write their representatives in Government asking their leadership to look into this case and to report back to you on the progress. I sincerely believe with the combination of public support as well as the rule of law, we will be victorious.

In closing, I wish to thank all of you again for the wonderful show of support that you have provided. Our future looks very bright despite the obstacles that lie ahead. In the near future I will have a website that will make it easier for everyone no matter where you are living to be able to follow this case and to be able to see how you can help. May God bless all of you.

Until next time,
Sincerely, André Shepherd

Sign letter of support for André.

Robert H. Jackson, U.S. Supreme Court Justice:
"It is not the function of our government to keep the Citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the Citizen to keep the government from falling into error."
-thanks to Connection e.V. - International Support of Conscientious Objectors and Deserters
 and Meike Capps-Schubert

May 19, 2009

Army arrests objector who thought he was discharged

After five months in the Army, Dustin Che Stevens sat down during Airborne graduation in order to refuse graduation. He was told to go home and wait for his discharge. Seven years later, he was arrested for desertion. "I started reading [literature on conscientious objection] and started thinking for myself. I knew that in my heart and in my mind that I could not kill anyone... I went back and told them that." Today Dustin awaits a court martial, unless he "volunteers" to deploy to Afghanistan.

See Courage to Resist to listen to recorded interview.

Urgent deadline for Cliff Cornell. You Can Help!

 Ask that his sentence be reduced 

Cliff's civilian lawyer, James Branum, will be filing appeal papers for Cliff Cornell. He is asking that people write letters of support requesting that his 12 month sentence be reduced. 

We think it is absurd that Cliff is facing prison time for refusing to fight in an illegal war. On top of that the 12 month sentence saddles Cliff with additional problems after he completes his sentence. Here in the States the 12 months  will count as a felony. This will prevent him from voting in some states. He seems like a man I would like to see at the polls. A felony conviction will also make it difficult for Cliff to return to his life and friends in Canada if  that is his choice. 

But mostly he doesn't belong in prison at all.

According to Courage to Resist:
Your letter to the Commander of Fort Stewart, Georgia requesting that Iraq War resister Cliff Cornell's 12-months prison sentence be reduced is urgently requested. Cliff was convicted of desertion on April 28, 2009 after being denied sanctuary in Canada. These letters of support will be collected by Cliff's civilian lawyer James Branum and submitted to the military through the official appeals process.

Address letters to: COMMANDER, Fort Stewart and fax to 866-757-8785. Please do not send letters directly to the CG but through Cliff's lawyer at the fax number provided.

Basic guidelines for letters:

Good points to raise:
Cliff's good character
The importance of acting upon conscience
The severity of the sentence, especially since a 12 month sentence is a felony in the US.

Things to avoid:
Partisan politics
Any attacks on the Army itself. For example, you can say the war is bad; however, but don't say the Army is an evil institution.

Letters should include the full name and contact information of the author, including e-mail. This is requested so that Cliff's lawyer can contact you if needed.

Letters need to be received by May 31, 2009 so that they can be submitted as part of the formal appeals process.

I hope you will make time to help Cliff by faxing a simple letter of support. Tell others about it. Even if they won't let him free of reduce his sentence substantially, a one day reduction saves him from a felony conviction.
(Cliff: sorry about typing your name wrong in the title. I don't know what I was thinking, but it's all better now)

May 14, 2009

Lt. Ehren Watada Wins Victory; Legal Limbo Continues

(Photo: F.L. Morris / The Honolulu Star-Bulletin)
Thursday 14 May 2009
by: Sari Gelzer, t r u t h o u t | Report

The Justice Department has decided to drop its attempt to retry Lt. Ehren Watada for refusing to deploy to Iraq.

Editor's Note: 
Truthout reporter Sari Gelzer worked on Truthout's original reporting of the announcement by Lt. Ehren Watada that he would refuse deployment to Iraq. Gelzer was threatened by the US Army with a subpoena, which sought to compel her to testify about her coverage of Watada's announcement. Her video of the event became a key piece of evidence in the Army's case against Watada. Gelzer rebuffed the Army's request for testimony against Watada. - ma/TO

In a victory for Lt. Ehren Watada, the Justice Department decided last week that it would drop attempts to retry the officer for his refusal to deploy to Iraq.

Watada's lawyer, James Lobsenz, believes the decision was a case of legal realism. "They were going to have a really difficult time explaining why double jeopardy wasn't violated," said Lobsenz in reference to Watada's first court-martial, which ended in mistrial and would have violated his Fifth Amendment right to not be charged for the same crime twice.

Watada faces two remaining charges stemming from his public statements on the illegal and immoral nature of the Iraq war. The fate of Watada's continued legal limbo is currently in the hands of Fort Lewis officials who will decide how to proceed with the charges of conduct unbecoming an officer.

It has been almost three years since Watada became the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse to go to Iraq. His decision was not that of a conscientious objector opposed to war in general, but of an officer who felt that participating in the Iraq war was akin to committing a crime. After being denied a resignation from the US army, Watada refused to deploy to Iraq in June 2006 due to his belief that the war violated international and US constitutional laws.

"It is my conclusion as an officer of the Armed Forces that the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law ... As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must as an officer of honor and integrity refuse that order," Watada said in a public statement.

Jeff Paterson of Courage to Resist, an organization that supports military resisters, including Watada, believes that the officer's stance had a profound impact on military members and American citizens.

"Ehren Watada was instrumental in putting the issue of the legality of the Iraq war front and center for not only military resisters but for activists in general at a time when it wasn't as widely discussed as it is today," said Paterson.

Watada's lawyers attempted to raise the issue of the legality of the war in the initial court-martial, since it was Watada's basis for refusing to deploy. However, the military judge ruled against the defense attorney's attempts to bring in scholars as witnesses to testify to the illegality of the war.

Watada's former attorney, Eric Seitz, told Time magazine that he believed the main reason the mistrial occurred was because the military didn't want to discuss the reason behind Watada's decision not to deploy: "I think whenever a prosecutor tries to keep out the substance of why a person acted, when it relates directly to the charges that are there, it creates an untenable series of contradictions."

Lobsenz, Watada's current lawyer, says he is hopeful that "the Army will decide not to attempt to resuscitate the other two charges and go forward with them."

Lobsenz's hope is based on the belief that the charges aren't very strong.

"One because there is a strong argument that they are also barred by double jeopardy. And two, there is a strong argument that they are barred by a doctrine about breach of a plea agreement," said Lobsenz.

In addition, Lobsenz argued that Watada's First Amendment rights also give reason for the remaining charges against Watada to be dropped.

Watada's public stand against the US military has been the strongest of its kind to this date, commented Paterson.

"Until a whole unit refuses to fight, I don't think there is any individual case that's going to resonate like Ehren's," said Paterson.

Watada's lawyer said that he is focused on his client's future. Once these charges are dropped, Lobsenz said, Watada can "get around to figuring out a way in which he can end his military service and get on with life in the civilian sector."
-thanks to Truthout

Winter Soldier Southwest Held in Pasadena, California

“I can not mend what I’ve broken.” 

On Sunday, May 10, Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan gave testimony about their service in Iraq, treatment after returning home, PTSD and other issues in Winter Soldier Southwest.  Members of Military Families Speak Out and Veterans For Peace also testified.  

Read the report back from VFP Member Horace Coleman:

"You’d think that a day listening to what most people avoid acknowledging would be hazardous to your weekend. However, the crowd leaving after the Question & Answer session seemed uplifted. Perhaps it was seeing and hearing intelligent, articulate and informed war veterans who’d walked the walk and performed more practical patriotism in harsh conditions than most war hawks and arm chair patriots ever would.

"Maybe it was people saying in front of God and every one that they’d drunk some government Kool-Aid, experienced pain, loss and fallen down but gotten up again and were moving on. It could have been the call to abandon partisan politics and unite to forward common goals good for the country."  [READ MORE]