4 de enero de 2007

Aumenta la oposición a la guerra entre los militares

by Marc Cooper

The Nation - from the January 8, 2007 issue
posted December 20, 2006


Mark Dearden chooses his words with extreme precision.
And not just with the deliberateness of a 36-year-old
with a BA from Brigham Young, an MA in public health
from Tulane and an MD from George Washington University.
Dearden is also an active-duty lieutenant commander in
the Navy who joined in 1997 and is still considering the
possibility of a lifetime military career. "So this was
a very difficult decision for me to come to," he says in
a quiet, thoughtful voice. "I don't take this decision

Nor should he. Just a few weeks ago Dearden took the
dramatic step of signing a petition to Congress--what's
being called by its organizers an Appeal for Redress--
opposing the war in Iraq and calling for the withdrawal
of US troops. When the Appeal is delivered to Capitol
Hill in mid-January, all the names of its almost 1,000
uniformed endorsers will be seen by members of Congress,
if they care to look. But with his Nation interview,
Dearden is now going public. And while the military
cannot take reprisals against those who have supported
the Appeal, many of the signers agree that there are an
infinite number of ways they can be punished, including
internal evaluations, denial of promotions and harsh
assignments or postings. "I'm expressing a right of
people in the military to contact their elected
representatives, and I have done nothing illegal or
disrespectful," says Dearden, now an anesthesiology
resident at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. After
two tours in Iraq attached to a Marine battalion,
including participation in the initial 2003 invasion,
Dearden says that signing the Appeal gave him "closure"
on what he describes as very tough deployments. "It gave
me peace," he says.

Dearden has indeed joined the most significant movement
of organized and dissident GIs seen in America since
1969, when 1,366 active-duty service members signed a
full-page ad in the New York Times calling for an end to
the Vietnam War. The Appeal for Redress, surfacing only
in late October, has taken anti-Iraq War sentiment
that's been simmering within the ranks and surfaced it
as a mainstream plea backed by the enormous moral
authority of active-duty personnel. It's an undeniable
barometer of rising military dissent and provides a
strong argument that the best way to support the troops
is to recognize their demand to be withdrawn from Iraq.
While clearly inspired by the GI movement of the Vietnam
era, it takes a much different tack. Instead of
attacking or confronting the military, as the resistance
movement of the 1960s often did, the Appeal works within
the military's legal framework.

The Appeal was posted as a simple three-sentence
statement on a website managed by a Navy seaman:

As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in
uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in
Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all
American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in
Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is
time for U.S. troops to come home.

The Appeal comes as the natural culmination of previous
flickerings of military discontent with official Iraq
policy. The bogging down of the war, along with the Bush
Administration's use of a "backdoor draft"--the
extension of tours of duty and an unprecedented call-up
of active and inactive reserves--has stoked the
discontent. Two years ago, some two dozen Army
reservists refused to carry out a supply mission in
Iraq, complaining that their vehicles were unsafe.
Twenty Florida National Guard members petitioned their
commanders to bring the troops home. In Kansas, Army
reserve family members collected 8,000 signatures on a
website protesting extended tours. While figures are
difficult to confirm, counselors at the GI Rights
Hotline estimate that as many as 1,000 or more troops
and reservists go AWOL every month, not wanting to serve
in Iraq. About 200 to 300 have fled to Canada, according
to military rights lawyers. And in a half-dozen or so
high-profile cases, uniformed personnel are facing
court-martial and jail for refusing deployment to Iraq.

Therein resides the power of the Appeal for Redress. Its
signers don't marginalize themselves as lawbreakers,
resisters or deserters. Potential signers have been
assured they are sending a communication to Congress
protected under the Military Whistleblower Protection
Act and will not be subject to reprisal. The result has
been electrifying. In the two months since it surfaced,
almost three times as many people have signed it as are
members of the two-year-old Iraq Veterans Against the
War. Almost three-quarters of the signers are active
duty (the rest are reserves), and include several dozen
officers, of whom a handful are colonels.

Interviews with more than two dozen signers, both in
Iraq and on domestic US military bases from Fort Stewart
in the east to Hawaii's Hickam Air Force Base, reveal a
movement that includes low-level grunts and high-ranking
officers, as well as a rich diversity of racial,
economic and educational backgrounds. The signers
offered a variety of motivations--ideological,
practical, strategic and moral--but all agreed the war
was no longer worth fighting and that the troops should
be brought home. As the debate on Iraq sharpens in the
wake of the Baker-Hamilton report and as a new
Democratic Congress is seated, the collective voice of
active-duty opponents of the war is likely to add
considerable clout to the antiwar movement.

This Martin Luther King holiday weekend, members of the
Appeal will appear on Capitol Hill to formally present
the petition to Congress to press their case. For an
all-volunteer force, says Eugene Fidell, president of
the National Institute of Military Justice, "it's simply

The genius of the Appeal resides not only in its
simplicity but also in its nonconfrontational tone.
"This is not about resistance. This is about working
inside the democratic process," says lawyer J.E. McNeil,
who helps run the GI Rights Hotline and who has helped
advise the Appeal organizers. "This is about being proud
of being a soldier, an airman or a marine, about being
proud of your duty without giving up your rights as a

This was certainly the attraction for Dearden and for
many other signers interviewed. "I love the military,"
Dearden says. "I was thrilled to find this legal outlet
for what I felt. If more active duty knew there were
legal and respectful ways to make their opinion known,
they would eagerly join."

The inspiration to create the Appeal came to 29-year-old
Seaman Jonathan Hutto earlier this year while he was
floating off Iraq on the aircraft carrier Theodore
Roosevelt. Born into an Atlanta family of civil rights
activists, a former student body president at Howard
University, and someone who had worked with Amnesty
International and the ACLU, Hutto was not the most
typical of Navy enlistees when he joined up in 2003. But
with $48,000 in student loans to pay off and with a
young child to support, he thought the Navy would be a
"good transition."

As the war in Iraq worsened, Hutto felt he could no
longer maintain his silence. He had an impeccable
service record, having been named "sailor of the
quarter" among his junior enlisted shipmates. But he had
to do something to come out against a war he thought
immoral and unnecessary. That's when one of his former
professors sent him a thirty-year anniversary copy of
Soldiers in Revolt by David Cortright. Now a Notre Dame
professor and one of America's leading peace activists,
Cortright wrote his book as a chronicle of the 1960s GI
movement he helped to found. "The title alone just hit
me," says Hutto, as we talk in a Washington-area
coffeehouse, on a day he's off duty from his Norfolk
base. "This was all new to me. And I got to thinking,
What's to prevent active-duty folks from doing the same
sort of thing right now?"

Hutto immediately contacted Cortright and started
talking over the idea of the Appeal with a few close
friends. Last June Hutto organized a Friday night
screening of the antiwar documentary Sir! No Sir! at the
local YMCA just off the Norfolk naval base. Filmmaker
David Zeiger's documentary reconstructs the GI movement
of the Vietnam era. Cortright came as guest speaker and
found a receptive crowd of about seventy-five.

One of those who attended the talk was 22-year-old Liam
Madden, who had joined the Marines in 2002. "I was
visiting a friend in Norfolk and thought we were going
to a bar," he remembers. Instead, his buddy took him to
the YMCA event and they caught the last half of
Cortright's speech. Madden had already completed an Iraq
tour in Anbar province with an all-reserve unit and had
come back disillusioned with the war. "If anything, it
convinced me that no tangible results could be achieved
in Iraq," he says. "No one was safer. No one was happier
because we were there."

Hutto, Madden, Cortright and a few others moved ahead
with the idea of the Appeal. On October 29 Hutto
published an op-ed piece announcing it in the Navy
Times. Three days earlier the Appeal had appeared on the

"Amazing," is how Cortright describes the chain of
events that grew out of that YMCA meeting. "That
encounter alone was one of the most fascinating moments
of my last thirty-five years," he says over lunch in
Washington. "Even I wasn't prepared for the depth and
intensity of feeling against this war by so many active-
duty members. I'm stunned. It's been moving so fast we
can barely think it through."

Cortright sees an enhanced if not central political role
for the rising active-duty movement. "They have been
there and seen it, seen the disaster," he says. "It's
much more real for them than for others in the peace
movement. MoveOn and other groups got focused on the
election while vets, families and active-duty folks are
still suffering the burdens of the war." He adds, "Some
of our liberal friends will again soon start focusing on
the '08 election. So these active-duty folks over the
next two years could become a key force in pushing for

The most compelling voices among the active dissenters
who have signed the Appeal are those of troops still on
the front lines in Iraq. Among them is a thirtysomething
Army major, a Distinguished Military Graduate from a
prestigious Southern university. Now on his second tour,
"Major Frank," as I will call him, was first deployed to
Baghdad just weeks after the 2003 invasion. "I believed
wholeheartedly in the mission to oust Saddam Hussein,"
he says, "and would have been proud to die liberating
Iraq from the evil dictator, because at the same time I
felt I was protecting my country and my family [from]
weapons of mass destruction."

Now, Frank says, he sees no point in the war, and no
end. His Iraqi unit is 97 percent Shiite and is
sympathetic to the extremist militia of fundamentalist
cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. "We are merely being used as
military pawns in a political struggle for Iraq," he
says. "So, yes! I am opposed to our brave men and women
dying every day for nothing because we cannot control
this civil war."

Frank says he can pinpoint the precise moment when he
turned against the war: last June 23. He was on patrol
with his Iraqi unit when they came upon an illegal
checkpoint set up by Sadr's Mahdi militia. The militants
were using ambulances taken from the Ministry of Health
to block the roads, thereby preventing American troops
from maneuvering. He was flabbergasted when the Iraqi
Army troops refused not only to take down the checkpoint
but also returned to the militia a number of automatic
weapons that had been seized from them by the army.

This sort of depressing reality is what prompted Frank
to sign the Appeal. "I proudly joined the Appeal for
Redress out of the sense of hopelessness that I had
inside for what we are actually doing here," he says.
He's angry with both the Bush Administration and the top
brass in Iraq. "They sit behind their desks in the Green
Zone and filter reports to their bosses. No one wants to
admit that we are failing." Frank says he's quite open
about his views, and finds overwhelming support for them
among his fellow soldiers. "Yes, yes, yes," he says, "My
entire team feels the same way I do. And the other
battalion [trainers] that I have come across feel that
way, including my commanders.... In fact, I have not had
one person in the last five months disagree with me. The
typical response is, 'I know what you mean.'"

That sentiment was, indeed, echoed by an Army officer
and signer of the Appeal who wanted to be identified
only by his real last name. Lieutenant Smith, a 24-year-
old Kansan deployed with an infantry unit in Baghdad,
joined up six years ago not only because he saw the
military as a route to pay for college but also because
he felt it was an obligation to "pay back" America for
the opportunities it affords. His doubts about the war,
strong from the beginning, only hardened. "I became very
angry after two friends from college were killed, both
in their 20s," Smith says. "I started to wonder what
they had died for. Both were killed by roadside bombs
near the area where my unit operates now. And when I
found out about them before I deployed, my outlook
changed. I started to lose any sense of satisfaction
with what I was doing for the Army because what I was
doing was in some roundabout way supporting what had
just killed two friends."

Smith says it was his stateside father-in-law who
directed him to the online Appeal. Smith had heard about
another Army lieutenant, Ehren Watada, who has been
resisting deployment to Iraq on the grounds that the war
is unconstitutional and who now faces court-martial [see
sidebar page 14]. But that was not a route he wished to
travel. "I have an antiwar history from college," Smith
says. "But I hate what Lieutenant Ehren Watada did and
the way he did it. I wanted a way to say I thought the
war was wrong without looking like a coward." At the
same time, however, Smith says that he wants his voice
to be heard. "I hope the Appeal will cement in the mind
of Congress growing unrest about the war," he says.
"Congress got a mandate from Americans that the war was
not popular, and now they can get an official mandate
from troops serving abroad that we feel the same way but
are limited in the way we can express it."

Some within the ranks have been more outspoken about
that discontent, mostly as a product of accelerated
politicization and radicalization while in uniform. Take
the case of 28-year-old Californian Ronn Cantu, an Army
sergeant stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. Both his
grandfathers served in the Army, his father was drafted
into Vietnam and Cantu himself enlisted in 1998 as a
self-described "Bush conservative."

After serving out his contract, Cantu re-enlisted in
March 2003. "I was in junior college studying journalism
but couldn't re-adjust to civilian life. And as a
journalism major I was constantly watching and reading
the news, and I got totally sold that Iraq was a threat,
that it had WMD, that it was going to erase America off
the map."

Next thing he knew, Cantu was attached to an infantry
unit in Iraq. In charge of ammo, and after making more
than 300 harrowing convoys, he had seen enough. He voted
against Bush in 2004 and now strongly opposes the war.
While still on active duty he has not only signed the
Appeal but has joined Iraq Veterans Against the War. On
its website he's a contributor of pointed essays bucking
Bush Administration policy. He's also started his own
website--soldiervoices.net--where he's running his own
freewheeling online GI forum. A firm supporter of troop
withdrawal, Cantu has nevertheless enlisted for three
more years and is currently preparing for a second tour
of Iraq. "I'm going back with a job in military
intelligence. It's a job that I think can help end the
war," he says. "Working in human intelligence, I will be
able to talk to Iraqis and that way find and hear the

A few of the antiwar dissidents lean more toward
resistance than re-enlistment. Marc Train, 19, is an
Army grunt stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and a
signer of the Appeal. A native of Salina, Kansas, Train
joined the Army right out of high school, convinced that
he had no other real career prospects.

Some of his comrades in the Third Infantry Division are
scheduled to deploy to Iraq for a staggering third tour
of duty. For Train, it will be his first--if he doesn't
refuse. He says he wasn't very political before
enlisting, but now he's been radicalized. He realizes
now he joined the Army only to get a job and that he's
grown suspicious of the Administration's motives for war
in Iraq. "I think it's all about oil," he says. Train
has made clear to his superiors that he's not happy
about deploying to Iraq and might refuse to step over
the line when the mobilization order becomes effective
in January. He's already lost the security clearance for
the intelligence job he was trained for, and he's now
enmeshed in a series of official investigations. "I want
separation from the Army because I don't want to be just
a cog in the machine. I've registered as a member of the
Socialist Party USA."

Asked whether he will refuse duty if not given the
discharge he seeks, Train answers: "That's a very strong
question for me, a very strong consideration. Right now,
I'm about 70 percent leaning toward not going."

Some expert observers of military affairs, like Robert
Hodierne, senior managing editor of Army Times
Publishing, argue that the numbers of active-duty
soldiers and sailors who have signed on to the Appeal
and expressed some sort of public dissent aren't
impressive. "Dissent of that nature represents but a
small percentage of the people in uniform," Hodierne
says, pointing out that 1.4 million serve in the armed
forces. "What we are sensing is a great deal of
disenchantment with the way the war has been fought, not
whether it is or is not an unjust war."

But Kelly Dougherty, co-chair of the board of Iraq
Veterans Against the War, who served with the Colorado
Army National Guard in Iraq in 2003-04, says that
critics like Hodierne are underestimating the level of
dissent in the ranks. "Critics will say 800 or 1,000
signers isn't significant. I think it is," she says from
her Philadelphia headquarters. "For everyone who has
heard about the Appeal there are so many dozens of
others who agree with it but have not heard about it or
agree with it but are intimidated by the military." The
military, meanwhile, has so far taken a hands-off
approach to the Appeal. None of the active-duty
personnel interviewed for this piece reported any
reprisals. "The only official word I've gotten came from
my public affairs officer," said Appeal founder Hutto.
"He told me the rules: Don't do anything while in
uniform or while on duty. And that was that."

Commander Chris Sims, spokesman for the Atlantic Fleet
Naval Air Force, says that Hutto violates no military
regulations if he's off-duty when speaking out. And
Pentagon spokesman Maj. Stewart Upton, when asked about
the Appeal, said: "Members of the armed forces are free
to communicate with Congress in a lawful manner that
doesn't violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice."

Lawyer J.E. McNeil at the GI Rights Hotline is convinced
that the benign response from the higher command
reflects the level of doubt that currently permeates the
military. "There are enough people in the military who
agree with these guys is why they are not getting much
flak," she says. "I think there's a lot of sympathy
among officers. We talk to them all the time. And while
a lot of them don't want to stand up publicly, we know
they admire those who have signed the Appeal. Admire
them and support them."

One barometer of discontent is the sheer number of calls
and inquiries that keep pouring in to the GI Rights
Hotline, holding steady for the past year at about 3,000
a month. From the National Lawyers Guild Military Law
Task Force comes a similar report. "There's no let-up,
we're swamped all the time," says San Francisco-based
co-chair Marti Hiken. "And whenever a reserve unit is
activated, our phones begin ringing off the hook. We
hear from people who didn't even know they were still in
the reserves and can't understand what's happening to

That so-called backdoor draft, the mobilizing not only
of National Guard and Army reserves but even of the
Individual Ready Reserve (the IRR was called up for the
first time since the Gulf War) has been a major catalyst
for the military antiwar movement. It helped fuel the
founding of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) four
years ago and has since helped it grow to include more
than 3,000 families.

Two years before the media focused the spotlight on
Cindy Sheehan, the Gold Star mother who camped out for
weeks at a time near Crawford, Texas, trying to confront
George W. Bush on the reasons for her son Casey's death
in Iraq, Nancy Lessin and her husband, Charley
Richardson--with a son in the Marines--began publicly
campaigning against the war. One of the organizations
sponsoring the Appeal, MFSO brought a few dozen military
families to the Washington Mall on Veterans Day weekend
to lobby for a meeting with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.
By the time their plane touched the ground, however,
Rumsfeld had been dumped and instead they met with a
representative of incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Lessin, who works as a safety and health coordinator for
the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, describes that meeting as
cordial but unsatisfying. She expresses fear that even
with an incoming Democratic Congress, or maybe as a
result of it, there will be too much room for
distraction. Whether it moves toward impeachment or the
convening of protracted hearings or endless debate over
the Baker-Hamilton report, Lessin argues it's all beside
the central point. "What we are looking for from
Congress is action, not words," says Lessin. "We're
worried the Democrats will focus the headlines on
hearings, on how bad the management of the war has
been--but we know that already. To the politicians who
say we need two or three months to consider this or that
plan, we ask: What do you say looking in the eye of one
of those whose child is killed in those two or three

Soon, some of those Congress members will have the
opportunity to look in the eyes of not only the parents
but also the troops. Appeal organizers, working on the
Martin Luther King Day appearance on the Hill, are
hoping to help galvanize Democratic support for a more
explicit pro-withdrawal position. So far, only veteran
antiwar Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has
explicitly endorsed the Appeal. Senator Patrick Leahy of
Vermont has made some complimentary remarks. How much
support the Appeal can muster on the Hill in the coming
weeks could be a watershed test for Democrats.

Phil Waste, a 67-year-old retired elevator repairman
turned activist with MFSO, with three sons and two
grandchildren who have served or are currently deployed
in Iraq, thinks the window of opportunity for Democrats
to take up the call of organized active-duty dissidents
is narrow. If the new Congressional majority dawdles
over the war, the Democrats will become targets of the
antiwar protesters. "I think those who say they oppose
this war have to act now, not months from now," he says.
"And I am most definitely talking about the Democrats.
This past election was a referendum on the war, and that
mandate better be heeded. If not, two years from now
they will be out on their butts. And I along with
everyone else I know will work my ass off to see that

[Marc Cooper is a Nation contributing editor and a
contributor to The Notion. He is a visiting professor of
journalism and associate director of the Institute for
Justice and Journalism at the USC Annenberg School for
Communication. His books include Pinochet and Me: A
Chilean Anti-Memoir and Roll Over Che Guevara: Travels
of a Radical Reporter. His work has been recognized by
the Society of Professional Journalists, PEN America and
the California Associated Press TV and Radio