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GI refuses to go to Afghanistan, sentenced to 30 days

Published Aug 17, 2009 6:45 PM

Iraq War veteran Victor Agosto was sentenced to 30 days in jail on Aug. 5 for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan after the Army extended his enlistment. Agosto returned from a 13-month combat tour in Iraq in late 2007. Victor told the court martial in Fort Hood, Texas, he believes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan violate international law.

At the hearing, in response to his sentence, which included a reduction to the rank of private, he ripped a patch symbolizing his specialist rank off his uniform to cheers from several dozen members of the Killeen, Texas, anti-war community.

As guards escorted him away after the hearing, “He flashed a peace sign as supporters did the same and raised fists. Despite a guard’s repeated warnings of ‘no pictures,’ cameras clicked and film rolled,” reported Alice Embree on the Austin-based Rag Blog.

“At 7:00,” the Rag Blog reports, “protesters stood across from the sprawling military base–the country’s largest–holding signs of support for Victor and chanting. Drivers passing by flashed peace signs, held thumbs up and honked, proving that there is more of a bond than most would suspect between the peace movement and the soldiers and military families ground down by multiple deployments in seemingly unending wars.”

Attorney James Branum, who co-chairs the National Lawyers Guild’s Military Law Task Force and serves as Agosto’s legal adviser, said Victor was not charged with desertion or absence without leave (AWOL) but with disobeying orders. The penalty was the maximum specified under a plea agreement with military prosecutors.

Agosto refused deployment to Afghanistan in April, after learning the Army was keeping him beyond his enlistment date, under the hated “stop-loss” policy. “There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan,” Victor wrote on a military counseling statement (a routine piece of Army paperwork) which he turned in on May 1 to the commander of a Ft. Hood unit headed for Afghanistan. “The occupation is immoral and unjust. It does not make the American people any safer. It has the opposite effect.” (Democracy Now! Aug. 5)

Agosto received strong support from Under the Hood, a GI coffee house in Killeen near Fort Hood, as well as a whole network of supporters both locally and nationally. Courage to Resist, based in Oakland, Calif., set up a defense fund for him, as they have for many GI resisters. (See couragetoresist.org.)

Widespread resistance ‘under the radar’

“While some GI resisters go public,” writes Courage to Resist organizer Sarah Lazar, “much resistance happens silently, under the radar, in circles of trusted friends, in the small acts that fly in the face of military obedience and command. [The] stories serve as a reminder that there are multiple ways to resist military control, and despite military efforts to quash dissent, these varied forms of resistance are as ongoing as the wars themselves.” Army AWOL rates are the highest since 1980, Lazar observes, and the desertion rate has jumped 80 percent since the start of the Iraq War, according to the Associated Press.

In early August Lazar published an interview with two GIs who recently won discharges. (truthout.org) Their stories give a glimpse into the world of GI resistance—the oft-hidden side of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They describe widespread “work slowdowns, letter-writing campaigns, and one-on-one organizing with fellow soldiers.”

The GIs tell “how they convinced several in their unit to deliberately fail physical training, called public attention to the insufficient training and gear ... and found creative ways to encourage soldiers to ‘drop the military before the military drops you.’ They tell how they dealt with the fear and intimidation of standing up to their command, and about friends and comrades who fell victim to ‘broken Joe’ syndrome ... . It’s like where folks kind of see the despair already so they just kind of reiterate it in their own individual ways ... like the war is bullshit anyway, it’s not as if it’s legitimate and I can feel ashamed, it’s actually illegitimate and I can feel proud to dog it.”

Courage to Resist presented a workshop on supporting GI resistance Aug. 7 at the annual Veterans For Peace/Iraq Veterans Against the War convention in College Park, Md. Both organizations, with a combined membership approaching 10,000, are committed to ongoing support for organizing resistance among active-duty GIs.