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TV coverage shows broadening GI protest

Published Feb 28, 2007 1:19 AM

CBS’s news magazine “60 Minutes” coverage in late February of the GI “Appeal for Redress” reflected the widening of open opposition to the Iraq War within the U.S. military itself.

Jonathan Hutto and Liam Madden at
anti-war rally in Washington, D.C.,
on Jan. 27.
WW photo: John Catalinotto

The “Appeal for Redress” is a statement directed at Congress that includes this important phrase: “It is time for U.S. troops to come home.”

As of Feb. 22, more than 1,200 active-duty GIs had signed, with a few more adding their names every day. Then CBS posted podcasts on its website of interviews with the appeal’s organizers, Navy Seaman Jonathan Hutto and former Marine Sgt. Liam Madden, as well as with another eight or so signers. The interviews were broadcast on “60 Minutes” on Sunday evening, Feb. 25.

The publicity had its impact. Hundreds more active-duty GIs signed. Workers World spoke a day later with Petty Officer Hutto, who said: “It was a new breakthrough for the ‘Appeal for Redress.’ It cemented the appeal, making it clear that it was a legal activity that every active duty member of the U.S. armed forces has the right to participate in. Even for those who don’t agree, it made it clear that we had the right to do it.

“On Thursday [Feb. 22], we had 1,278 signatures reported on our site. Now, on Monday night, Feb. 26, there are 170 more, or 1,448. It is clear that when GIs know about the ‘Appeal’ and they know it is legal, they sign.”

By the next evening, the number had grown to 1,615, that is, over 150 in one day.

“As an activist,” Hutto said, “I know that over the long term you can’t depend on the corporate media to build the movement, but this experience shows that at times it can be a tool that activists can access.”

Hutto said that Madden and the others who participated and have been active in building the “Appeal for Redress” were all enthusiastic about the “60 Minutes” broadcast and the boost it gave the movement.

Asked what was next on his agenda, Hutto said: “We will be building for the march on the Pentagon on March 17 and our signers will also be taking part in the Veterans for Peace caravan that will gather at Fayetteville, N.C., that day, and then go to the Gulf Coast to expose the failed domestic policies of the government. We also endorse the Encampment to Stop the War set starting March 12 at the Capitol.”

Iraq war refusers

On the other front inside the military, the cases of three soldiers who refused to fight in Iraq are in the news.

Agustín Aguayo, an Army medic who has filed for conscientious-objector status, faces a court-martial on March 6 in Manheim, Germany. Aguayo is charged with desertion and missing movement because of his refusal to go to Iraq. If convicted of all charges, he faces a maximum of seven years in prison. For an entire year while in Iraq Aguayo refused to load his weapon.

Army Specialist Mark Wilkerson, who pled guilty to the charges against him, was sentenced on Feb. 22 to seven months in prison for refusing to return to Iraq. He had written about his experience there: “In the year I was in Iraq, I saw kids waving American flags in the first months. Then they threw rocks. Then they planted IEDs. Then they blew themselves up in city squares full of people. ... Hundreds of billions of American dollars, thousands of American lives, and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives have all been wasted in this war. I feel as though many more soldiers want to say things like this, but are afraid of retribution, and who’s really listening anyway.”

Wilkerson has been active in antiwar demonstrations and participated in the Camp Casey gathering in Texas in the summer of 2005, and later turned himself in at Camp Casey.

The first court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, perhaps the best known of the war resisters, ended on Feb. 7 in a mistrial. His attorney, Eric Seitz, argued at the time that by calling a mistrial the military had forfeited the trial, since to charge him again would be “double jeopardy,” a constitutional provision that prevents the government from trying someone twice for the same charge.

Nevertheless, on Feb. 23, the Army filed new charges on Watada, so he again faces six years in prison. No new trial has yet been scheduled.

Watada has spoken out clearly about his opposition to the war and shown how his refusal to go to Iraq grew as he studied the political situation in Iraq while preparing for his assignment.