Army court-martials resister for blowing whistle on ‘bait-and-kill’
Published Jul 19, 2008 9:27 AM
Private First Class James Burmeister faces a Special Court Martial at Fort Knox
on July 16. The charges are AWOL and desertion. He returned to Fort Knox
voluntarily in March, after living 10 months in Canada with his spouse and
infant child. He refused redeployment to Iraq while on leave in May 2007.
PFC James Burmeister exposed the Army's “bait-and-kill”
program, and is now being punished for it.
In most such cases at Fort Knox, the Army has in recent years quietly dismissed
the resister with a less than honorable discharge “for the good of the
military.” This time it’s different. The brass
“offered” Burmeister a year in military prison and a dishonorable
discharge if he agreed to plead guilty.
Burmeister refused the offer. His father, Erich, says the Army is making an
example of James for denouncing a secret “bait-and-switch” program
he was forced to participate in while in Iraq. In media interviews last year in
Canada, James described the program as a war crime he was forced to commit.
Shortly afterward, the program’s details came out in the Washington
“Baiting is putting an object out there that we know they will use, with
the intention of destroying the enemy,” the Post quoted Capt. Matthew
Didier, leader of an elite sniper scout platoon. “We would put an item
out there and watch it. If someone found the item, picked it up and attempted
to leave with the item, we would engage the individual.”
The Post reported that “Eugene Fidell, president of the National
Institute of Military Justice, said such a baiting program ... raises troubling
possibilities, such as what happens when civilians pick up the items. ...
‘You might as well ask every Iraqi to walk around with a target on his
back,’ Fidell said.” (Sept. 24, 2007)
James had asked to be classified as a conscientious objector following his
training in Germany, but his request was ignored by his commander. Instead, he
became a machine gunner. “Our unit’s job seemed to be more about
targeting a largely innocent civilian population or deliberately attracting
confrontation,” he wrote in his deposition seeking asylum in Canada.
“These citizens were almost always unarmed. In some cases the Iraqi
victims looked to me like they were children.” (Eugene Weekly, May
In Iraq, Burmeister had been knocked unconscious and his face filled with
shrapnel when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb. The shrapnel wounds left
him with a traumatic brain injury, and he suffers from severe Post-Traumatic
Stress Disorder. His parents insist that he urgently needs medical and
psychological help, not jail time.
His parents have waged an unceasing struggle for the Army to release him. They
called on their representative, Peter DeFazio, to launch a congressional
inquiry into James’s case, but have so far heard nothing. James’
mother, Helen Burmeister, flew to Fort Knox in June, with help from anti-war
ex-Colonel Ann Wright. Helen spoke directly to the base commander there,
demanding that her son be discharged in lieu of a court martial. She then
joined supporters from Veterans for Peace and Vietnam Vets Against the War
On July 8 the Army invited Helen to attend her son’s court martial on
July 16. This time both she and her husband Erich are going. They’re
determined to keep James out of jail. “I bought a one-way ticket,”
Erich told Workers World. “I’m not leaving without my son. If I
have to sit outside the base and wait for him, I’ll do it. Even if I have
to go on a hunger strike, that’s what I’ll do. My son does not
deserve another day in jail.”
In an interview with Courage to Resist, Erich said: “[James] struggles
with PTSD, yet he is quartered within earshot of the shooting range and tank
training area, daily hearing the gunfire and explosions. He has been prescribed
a dangerous cocktail of anti-psychotic drugs and sleep aids by Army doctors,
while the command decides if they want to send him to prison, as a coward, a
soldier who faced death, and followed orders to ‘shoot to kill.’
The cowards—George Bush and Dick Cheney, those in Congress and the
generals with the blood on their hands—why are they the punishers instead
of the punished?” (couragetoresist.org, May 12)
Supporters can contact the Fort Knox post commander, General Campbell, to
demand a speedy discharge and no further punishment for James. Send email to
[email protected], or call the Fort Knox public affairs office at
502-624-7451. Ask that they discharge PFC James Burmeister now so that he can
get the help that he needs.
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