Support the Troops Who Refuse to Fight

Submitted by Liz Rivera Goldstein, Teen Peace Project

The Department of Defense estimates that there are about 8,000 AWOL service members (Absent Without Official Leave).  The GI Rights hotline is currently getting about 3,000 calls a month, and most of the calls are from people that are AWOL or deserters.  There are many reasons, both personal and political, for refusing military service, but a growing number are speaking out against the illegality and immorality of the Iraq war and the orders they are being told to carry out.   When a service member speaks out publicly, they are often denied conscientious objector status or are given severe jail sentences. Camilo Mejia and Kevin Benderman served one year in prison and Pablo Paredes, and Katherine Jashinski served shorter jail sentences.

The military does not want service members to speak publicly against the war.  It is against the Uniform Code of Military Justice for service members to criticize their superior officers - including the president.  Lt. Watada is facing 6 additional years in prison for criticizing the president - he does not have freedom of speech because he is in the military.

We can support war resisters by helping publicize their cases, keeping pressure on the military to treat their cases fairly, sending donations for legal support, and sending letters of personal support.

Websites on war resistance and supporting those who refuse to fight:
  • This site has many links to war resisters and support sites
  • - Lt. Ehren Watada's information

    Lt. Ehren Watada is facing almost 8 years in prison for refusing orders to go to Iraq and for speaking out against the war.  An additional possible year in prison was added after a speech he gave at the VFP convention in August.  His court martial hearing will be in November or December.  Suzanne Swift was sexually harassed and raped by her commanding officers, and is facing court martial and jail time.  She is suffering from PTSD, and was arrested in Oregon and held in jail before being returned to Fort Lewis, WA.  Kyle Snyder has been in Canada for over a year, and recently turned himself in to Fort Knox, thinking he had a deal for discharge from the army.  When he got to Fort Knox, the army said he would have to rejoin his unit at Fort Leonard Wood and told him to take the bus to the base in Missouri.  Kyle has since gone AWOL again.

    War Resistance in Canada

    In 2004, Jeremy Hinzeman was denied conscientious objector status by the US military, and so he went to Canada to seek refugee status.  He was the first American soldier to resist the Iraq war by going to Canada, and there are now more than 20 service members who have applied for refugee status.  According to War Resisters Canada, there are at least 200 US service people in Canada, who are considering filing claims for refugee status, and an unknown number who are AWOL in Canada while they consider what to do next.  The Canadian immigration board has denied four cases for refugee status, and two cases have been denied on appeal in Canadian federal courts.  Since WWII, Canada has been obligated under international law to accept refugees from illegal wars.

    War Resisters Canada provides support to US war resisters in the following ways:

    A place to live, food to eat, money, friends and emotional support.  Individuals offer short term and long term housing.   Fundraisers are held to raise legal fees.  It takes almost 6 months to get a work permit, so war resisters have no way to legally work, or have health care, or housing and other needs met.

    Legal support.  Legal cases are difficult and long.  There are many appeals, and so far, no one has yet to be successful in getting Canada to grant refugee status.

    Political change - working to change laws to welcome and accept US war resisters.  A petition gathering effort has begun to change Canadian refugee laws, led by efforts of Quakers, Unitarians, and labor unions.  War Resisters CA supports Canadian efforts to hold US feet to the fire on following international war laws and treaties.

    They have begun to get requests from Canadian war resisters serving in Afghanistan

    There are many progressive Canadians and other war resisters from the current and past wars who are ready to help war resisters.     

    I often hear the remark that if there were a draft today, there would be more young people speaking out against the war, and this would bring the war to an end.  But we had a draft for over 10 years during the Viet Nam war.  I believe that it was the returning combat veterans who shared their stories publicly, which turned the tide and helped end that war. 

    Each service member who has spoken out has been followed by more war resisters who have come forward to oppose the war.  They need the support of the peace movement.  Their stories of conscience and war experiences shed light on the horror and illegality of the Iraq war.  Their stories are similar to accounts from other wars, and will continue to be repeated unless we keep working to end the Iraq war and prevent future wars.