August 1, 2009

Interview with Spc Victor Agosto, Fort Hood Soldier Refusing to Deploy to Afghanistan

Monday, July 20th, 2009
New America Media
Editor’s Note: President Obama has ordered 21,000 more troops to deploy to Afghanistan this summer, seeking to more than double the 32,000 deployed in the next few months. The move is controversial inside the military and a handful of soldiers -- like Specialist Victor Agosto of Miami, Fla. -- have refused to deploy. Agosto, who has already served one tour in Iraq, told his superiors that the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan is “immoral and unjust” and “does not make America safer.” He faces a Special Court Martial, with a maximum punishment of one year in prison and a bad conduct discharge. Agosto spoke with NAM editor Aaron Glantz from the U.S. Army base at Fort Hood, Texas.

Why did you decide to join the army?
I’d been in college for two years and I was tired of it. I wanted to be something. I wanted to see the world. I was in Miami Dade College and I really didn’t have a clear idea of what I was going to do. I was just focusing on my classes for my associate’s degree. I had always wanted to join the army, but I had initially wanted to graduate from college first so I could have a commission, but then I just decided to go in and be enlisted.

Is your opposition to the war in Afghanistan based at all on your previous military experience in Iraq?
I would say, not really. I was in Iraq when I turned against it, but it wasn’t because I had a traumatic experience or anything like that. I never shot anyone. I never got shot at. I never felt I was in any danger or anything like that. I was on the FOB [the base] the whole time. I was doing I.T. work: configuring computers, routers, servers, switches, providing customer service.
So you didn’t see or do anything while you were in Iraq that caused you to have any particular opinion about it one way or the other?
I guess the main thing that got my mind going was seeing how much money the contractors were making, and how little sense that made to me. And I guess that just got me thinking, exploring in that direction. Something is not right here. It’s a jump from that to concluding that the war is not right but that’s what got the ball rolling.

And once the ball got rolling, how did you get to the next step?
Well, I was reading books, like Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival. That was the one that just totally shattered any conception I had about moral superiority or good intentions.

Obviously there are many theoreticians writing various things about American policy. Why did this resonate with you?
Well it was just that the stated reasons for the war didn’t make sense.

And so the reasons that you concluded after doing your reading were what?
Ultimately, just for more control and to project American power. Obviously, there’s oil in Iraq. And American corporations stand to benefit a great deal from controlling the oil fields, but the main thing is just that there are benefits to obtaining control, and it’s the same in Afghanistan.

But the big difference of course is that there is no oil in Afghanistan.

That’s right.

So how did you go from having this particular feeling about the war in Iraq to refusing to deploy to Afghanistan, which is of course a different war. And there are a lot of people who would say ‘Iraq is a bad war but Afghanistan is a good war, because the people who attached us on 9/11 were based out of Afghanistan.’
Well, to me there really isn’t a difference. To me the main thing is control, just to project power. If you look at what the goal of the war in Afghanistan was -– to make American people safer -- an occupation can’t accomplish that. Those things can’t be accomplished through military means. The occupation in both places just increases resentment against Americans and actually endangers the soldiers that are there because the occupation fuels the insurgency. We go after an insurgent and kill several innocents in the process and it just creates more insurgents. And the process would continue like that indefinitely. And I think that those in power know this. And so the reason that we’re there can’t be to make the American people safer.

And that’s what you wrote in a statement to military counselors that you would not deploy to Afghanistan because it is “immoral and unjust” and “does not make the American people any safer.” What would make the American people safer in your opinion?
Well I think that the terrorist networks gain recruits from populations that have been oppressed. Until these grievances are addressed, there will always be a fresh supply of people who will join up with these extremist groups and decide that they want to attack America. There is really no battlefield solution to terrorism.

People say, 'Look, I know the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan are not necessarily the most productive, but imagine there were no American soldiers there -– the Taliban would just take over again.'
I don’t really see that as worse than what we’re doing now. As I said before, until we actually address the grievances of people in that part of the world, we’re really not going to defeat terrorism. Being there does make things worse. It wouldn’t be an ideal situation to just leave and then perhaps the Taliban would re-establish control over the country, but that to me would be better than what’s going on right now.

How do the other soldiers that you interact with at Fort Hood feel about your decision to refuse to go?
They’ve been generally positive. I really don’t get a lot of negative feedback from people. I know that negative feeling exists but people don’t usually come up to me and tell me that. And when they have, they always set it up saying they really respect me and stuff, but they disagree with what I’m doing. It’s never a bitter type of response.

Why did you decide to contest this head-on instead of just passively resisting during your deployment to Afghanistan, since as you describe it, you’re more of a back office soldier?
I guess a combination of things. I concluded some time while I was in Iraq that these wars were wrong, but I wasn’t ready to make that jump because I feared the consequences. But after a while I got to meet a lot of people in the peace community who would be supportive of me if I were to take such an action. That, combined with the fact that I just wasn’t sure if I could live with myself if I were to deploy, if I actually got on a plane and went over there. It made it almost a no-brainer for me and something I needed to do.

You’re facing a Special Court Martial, where you face a bad conduct discharge and a year in prison. Suppose you were to get a bad conduct discharge and some amount of prison time. How would you compare that to deploying to Afghanistan?
I’d say it’s more than a fair deal. I mean, if those are my two options, I’d say that’s a no-brainer right there. I would much rather go to prison for a year than go to Afghanistan for a year.

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