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Surge in GI/vet resistance and support

Published Dec 12, 2008 11:24 PM

Signs of a surge in GI resistance have emerged recently. The surge is matched by strong expressions of support from people in the U.S. and elsewhere.

PFC André Shepherd, Darnell Stephen
Summers from Germany’s Stop the War
Brigade, and Chris Capps, IVAW regional
organizer for Europe.
Photo: IVAW/Germany

In Germany, Army Specialist André Shepherd asked for asylum on Nov. 27. The 31-year-old African-American served in Iraq between September 2004 and February 2005 as an “Apache” helicopter mechanic. He has been living underground in Germany since going AWOL last year.

Shepherd has had strong support from the Germany-based Military Counseling Network, Stop the War Brigade and Connection eV, as well as Iraq Veterans Against the War—especially IVAW-Germany.

His lawyer, Reinhard Marx, observes that under a 2004 European directive—now part of German law—that a country must grant asylum to military resisters if the conflicts they are fleeing from are being conducted in an unlawful manner.

“Legally, his prospects are looking very good,” Marx said. A German federal court ruled in 2005 that the U.S. war in Iraq violates international law. Chris Capps, IVAW regional organizer for Europe, reports that “André is having his first hearing Tuesday, Dec. 9, and he will be writing a post on our blog.” (www.ivaw-europe.blogspot.com)

Shepherd’s asylum application is the first such move by a U.S. war resister in Europe since the U.S. invaded and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I could not in good conscience continue to serve,” Shepherd said at a news conference. (Reuters, Nov. 27) “We have destroyed nations, killed leaders, raided homes, tortured, kidnapped, lied, and manipulated not just citizens and leaders of our enemies, but of our allies as well.

“It is a sickening feeling to realize that I took part in what was basically a daily slaughter of a proud people.”

He added that after he “heard about people being ripped to shreds from the machine guns or being blown to bits by the Hellfire missiles” and “buildings and infrastructures being destroyed, I began to feel ashamed about what I was doing.

“I am remorseful for my contribution to these heinous acts, and I swear that I will never make these mistakes again.”

“When enlisting,” he commented, “I took an oath to ‘support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.’ I had to choose between ignoring my beliefs and leaving the military illegally. For me, the correct path was clear: I had to leave.”

Shepherd is applying for asylum in Germany, where the Nuremberg trials took place 60 years ago. “One of the main things that were established during these trials,” he observed, “was that one cannot defend one’s actions by claiming to have merely been following orders.

“If I had stayed in the U.S. Army and continued to participate in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I could not legally argue that I was ‘just doing my job.’ Here in Germany it was established that everyone, even a soldier, must take responsibility for his or her actions, no matter how many superiors are giving orders.”

If successful, Shepherd’s application will create a precedent for the U.S. military in Germany. After Iraq, the second-largest Pentagon presence overseas is housed there: 66,000 active-duty personnel. As an asylum seeker, Shepherd is now under the protection of the German federal government.

PTSD GI demands treatment

Meanwhile, at Fort Drum in upstate New York, Private Trevor L., 22, of Austin, Tex., turned himself in on Dec. 4 demanding treatment for severe post-traumatic stress disorder. He was accompanied by his lawyer, Tod Ensign, and had requested the support of the Common Council of Ithaca, N.Y., where he had spoken to supporters the night before.

Private L. served 15 months with a unit of the 10th Mountain Division in combat in Afghanistan where he suffered serious mental and physical injuries. Upon returning to Fort Drum, he was unable to get mental health care and eventually left the base in search of adequate treatment.

He returned to Fort Drum with a psychological evaluation, prepared by a Houston trauma specialist, stating that he suffers from “a severe post-traumatic stress disorder and a major depression, severe,” according to attorney Ensign, who is also director of Citizen Soldier, a GI/veterans’ rights advocacy group based in New York City. (blip.tv/file/1553993, Dec. 8)

Following the example of several other U.S. cities, Ithaca’s Common Council on Oct. 1 had unanimously proclaimed the city a “Community of Sanctuary” that “respects the right of its residents to support lawfully and proactively military personnel ... who are organizing to stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” (The Ithaca Journal, Oct. 2)

Ensign told Workers World that Private L.’s request to be assigned to a Warrior Transition Unit and either get special treatment or be dismissed was rejected by the base commander. Instead, he was ordered to return to his unit, which is slated to re-deploy to Afghanistan later this month.

Warrior Transition Units have been set up at all military bases in the U.S. to handle soldiers with physical or mental injuries. “The problem is they only have space for half as many soldiers as the number who need them,” Ensign said. The Army Times reported on Nov. 4 that the number of such units was expanded in October “in the wake of reports about poor conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., including shoddy housing and bureaucratic delays for outpatients there.”

Ensign intends to press for an administrative discharge for Private L.