The Tide is Changing: Military Personnel Are Refusing to Fight in Iraq
First Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse to deply to Iraq with his "Stryker Brigade" later this month, held a press conference on June 7 in which he stated his reasons for speaking out rather than applying for conscientious objector status. Since going public with his decision, the First United Methodist Church of Tacoma, Washington has declared itself a sanctuary for servicemen and women who also refuse to go to war:
"Our initiative was because of Lieutenant Watada's gesture and a clear sense that we have, as a reconciling congregation, deeply involved in justice issues throughout the city, that any war, particularly this one, is inconsistent with Christian teachings," the Rev. Monty Smith said Wednesday night.Watch Lt. Watada's speech here:
My name is Ehren Watada. I am a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and I have served for 3 years.Monica Benderman is the wife of Sgt. Kevin Benderman, who is currently in a military prison. At a recent Congressional briefing about conscientious objection, she stated: "My husband went to war. He saw mass graves filled with dead bodies of old people, women and children. He watched dogs feeding on their bodies. ... When he returned home, my husband and I wrote publicly about our feelings for this and all war. ... My husband took the course available to him and filed a Conscientious Objector application. His command, in an effort to punish him for his humanity, and because they could not do so for the public comments that he and I had made, chose to disregard his application, and ... found a way to put him in prison. ... My husband violated no regulations. His command violated many. The command's flagrant disregard for military regulations and laws of humanity sent my husband to jail as a prisoner of conscience."
It is my duty as a commissioned officer of the United States Army to speak out against grave injustices. My moral and legal obligation is to the Constitution and not those who would issue unlawful orders. I stand before you today because it is my job to serve and protect those soldiers, the American people, and innocent Iraqis with no voice.
It is my conclusion as an officer of the Armed Forces that the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law. Although I have tried to resign out of protest, I am forced to participate in a war that is manifestly illegal. As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must as an officer of honor and integrity refuse that order.
The war in Iraq violates our democratic system of checks and balances. It usurps international treaties and conventions that by virtue of the Constitution become American law. The wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of the Iraqi people with only limited accountability is not only a terrible moral injustice, but a contradiction to the Army's own Law of Land Warfare. My participation would make me party to war crimes.
Normally, those in the military have allowed others to speak for them and act on their behalf. That time has come to an end. I have appealed to my commanders to see the larger issues of our actions. But justice has not been forthcoming. My oath of office is to protect and defend America's laws and its people. By refusing unlawful orders for an illegal war, I fulfill that oath today.
Ann Wright is a retired Army Colonel and former State Department diplomat. After 16 years in the diplomatic corps, she resigned in May 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She said today: "I was in the military for 29 years and what many soldiers are doing today is just extraordinary. When I resigned from the diplomatic corps, there were no ill effects on me other than quitting a job. But many of these soldiers are risking a great deal for their principles."