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Dissent spreads through U.S. military ranks

Published May 26, 2007 8:22 AM

Growing anger over the U.S. war in Iraq and growing understanding that the occupation is a complete failure are spreading through all ranks of the U.S. military. This dissidence shows itself in different ways among the rank-and-file troops and among the lifers and officers. But from an increase of angry letters to anti-war publications like GI Special to an increase of courts-martial, the signs of resistance are growing.

On May 18, Lieutenant Commander Matthew Diaz was sentenced after having been found guilty by a U.S. Navy court-martial of what the Navy considered a serious crime. While he faced a possible 14 years in prison, the 19-year Navy veteran’s sentence was six months confinement with pay and removal from the Navy, the officer equivalent of a less-than-honorable discharge.

Diaz was last assigned to investigate alleged abuses of prisoners at Guantánamo, that piece of Cuban territory the U.S. still occupies illegally. Washington has held prisoners of war grabbed in Afghanistan in 2002 and others it considers “terrorists” for the past four-five years at Guantánamo under concentration-camp conditions.

Following orders from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. had flouted international law and refused to release the names of the prisoners. Some legal scholars consider Rumsfeld guilty of war crimes for issuing these orders. Diaz, concerned about this abuse of human rights, sent, along with a Valentine’s card in February 2005, a list of the names of those prisoners to civil liberty attorneys in New York.

“My oath as a commissioned officer is to the Constitution of the United States,’’ Diaz said. “I’m not a criminal. I had observed the stonewalling, the obstacles we continued to place in the way of the attorneys,’’ Diaz told the media before his sentencing. “I knew my time was limited. ... I had to do something.’’

Many, perhaps a majority even here in the U.S., would consider Diaz a hero for doing that something. (See www.militaryproject.org)

Regarding other heroic military resisters, Spc. 4 Augustín Aguilar was recently released from military prison in Germany and returned to his home in California on May 10. He had been held eight months as a prisoner of conscience after he had gone AWOL as part of his refusal to redeploy to Iraq.

According to the group Courage to Resist (www.couragetoresist.org), Aguilar since May 10, “has shared his story of resistance at community gatherings in Sacramento, Carmel, and San Francisco. Highlights of Agustín’s first week as an anti-war activist also included presentations to day laborers, farm workers and their families in Stockton, and high school and college students in Watsonville.”

Far from being isolated or ostracized for his anti-war action, Aguilar was welcomed into a community of war resisters that includes Robert Zebala, Pablo Paredes and Camilo Mejía along with many Iraq war veterans who are now speaking out at anti-war gatherings and who get a popular reception.

Another war resister, Lt. Ehren Watada, whose court-martial is still pending after the military unilaterally decided to declare his first trial a mistrial last February, has now had the court-martial postponed once more. At first scheduled for June 23 at Ft. Lewis, the trial is now on hold until it is determined if re-starting the trial would mean that Watada faced “double jeopardy.” It is still possible that the Army will be forced to drop charges on Lt. Watada, the first officer to refuse duty in Iraq.

New trial at Fort Drum

A soldier in the 10th Mountain Division, a unit whose home base is Fort Drum in upstate New York and which is now breaking into homes in Baghdad, is facing a bad conduct discharge and a year in prison for going AWOL. On May 16 the Army announced that Spc. Eugene Cherry’s court-martial will begin June 25. Cherry has medical documentation that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He says he is being court-martialed because he went home to Chicago for help after the Army failed to provide him with adequate treatment.

“They don’t want the liability so they deny I have a problem, and because I tried to help myself, now they want to make me a criminal,” Spc. Eugene Cherry said in a telephone interview from Fort Drum with the Associated Press.

Cherry told his doctor that during his tour in Iraq as a medic, the most disturbing event he witnessed happened when an Army ordnance team tried to blow up a minivan it found loaded with explosives and flammables. The explosion flattened a three-story apartment building nearby, injuring residents. Cherry tried to help an Iraqi woman he found face down. When he turned her over, he found half her face was blown off. That’s when the bad dreams and depression started, Cherry says. (See www.differentdrummercafe.org)

Horror at the war and U.S. actions aren’t the only forces driving military dissidence. There is also the realization that the U.S. is losing the war.

Some U.S. officers in Iraq assigned to work with puppet Iraqi troops have objected to the troops’ arresting Iraqi civilians who apparently had committed no crime, nor had they even committed an act that the U.S. occupiers could consider a crime. One U.S. officer was recently reprimanded by a U.S. general when he released 35 prisoners he believed had been arrested without good reason.

Some of these U.S. officers consider the imprisonment of innocent civilians a war crime they want no responsibility for. Plus they consider it counter-productive.

Even the admiral has misgivings

Some of the top officers, who normally have no trouble ordering strategic bombing strikes that will cause hundreds of thousands of casualties, and who certainly have no moral compunctions about starting a war, are beginning to balk at following Bush administration leadership. An Inter Press Service story released May 19 reports that Admiral William Fallon, chief of CENTCOM and a Bush appointee himself, expressed “strong opposition in February to an administration plan to increase the number of carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf from two to three and vowed privately there would be no war against Iran as long as he was chief of CENTCOM, according to sources with access to his thinking.”

According to this unnamed source, Fallon said that he was not alone, and that, “There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box.” This statement, publicized a week after Vice President Dick Cheney threatened war with Iran from the deck of an aircraft carrier in the Gulf off the coast of that country, and about the same time that Iraq war architect Paul Wolfowitz was forced to resign from heading the World Bank, has the ring of truth even if there is no easy way of checking it.

Fallon is a loyal officer of U.S. imperialism, whose class interests and privileges are tied to U.S. military domination of the world. His words—assuming the IPS report is true—reflect the skepticism among the ruling class for the Bush administration’s leadership. They reflect the impact of four years of heroic Iraqi resistance that has stalemated the U.S. attempt to dominate that country.

In a different way, the Iraqi resistance has stimulated the honest dissidence and refusal to participate in war crimes expressed by the lower ranking officers and enlisted persons. The signs that this dissidence is growing and spreading in the Armed Forces are the best news for those who want to end the ugly and criminal occupation of Iraq.

E-mail: jcat@workers.org