The Army refiled five charges against 1st Lt.
Ehren Watada late last week, paving the way for a possible second court-martial
for the highest-ranking member of the military to publicly refuse to deploy
to Iraq. When his first court-martial ended in a mistrial on Feb. 7, serious
debate had not yet begun to surface on the emerging opposition to the war within
the military, the legality of the war, and the right of military personnel to
publicly disobey illegal orders. Though it's unclear that a second court-martial
may legally proceed, the possibility brings these issues back into focus.
was one of two journalists subpoenaed to testify in Lt. Watada's court-martial.
I objected on the grounds that members of the military must be free to speak
with journalists without fear of retribution or censure. That so few critical
voices in the military are given an ongoing platform in the media contributes
to an inaccurate view of the Iraq War and erroneous ideas about how to ameliorate
the problems. Supporting the troops requires that we listen to what they have
Opposition Is Growing
Army Specialist Mark
Wilkerson was just sentenced to seven months in prison for refusing to return
to Iraq. Last year, he wrote:
"In the year I was in Iraq, I saw kids waving American flags in the
first months. Then they threw rocks. Then they planted IEDs. Then they blew
themselves up in city squares full of people.
Hundreds of billions of
American dollars, thousands of American lives, and tens of thousands of Iraqi
lives have all been wasted in this war. I feel as though many more soldiers
want to say things like this, but are afraid of retribution, and who's really
Ivan Brobeck, a
Marine who went to Canada rather than return to Iraq, was released from prison
Feb. 6, just in time for the birth of his first child. Army Medic Agustín
Aguayo awaits a March 6 court-martial in Germany and is facing up to seven
years in prison. He's a conscientious objector who refused to load his gun during
the year he spent as a combat medic in Iraq. Despite nearly three years of attempting
to have his conscientious objector status approved, Aguayo was ordered back
to Iraq. When his commanding officers threatened to send him to Iraq in shackles,
he climbed out his bedroom window and went AWOL into Germany. According to the
Pentagon, there are at least 8,000 soldiers who have quietly gone AWOL. Hundreds
more have gone to Canada.
The Appeal for Redress has
received over 1,600 active-duty signatures. The online petition says, "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." What began as a simple online petition has exploded into
public dissent: soldiers are attending antiwar demonstrations and holding press
conferences. Liam Madden, one of the appeal's founders, embarked on a cross-country
speaking tour just two weeks after being released from the Marines.
Last February, a Zogby poll showed that 72
percent of soldiers wanted the U.S. to leave Iraq by the end of 2006. Opinion
has not grown more sanguine. Though soldiers have stinging criticisms of the
Iraq War, we rarely get to hear them. Instead, Lt. Watada is relentlessly juxtaposed
with soldiers who have no apparent qualms about their orders.
Speaking Against the War
When Lt. Watada announced his opposition to the
Iraq War on June 7, 2006, many called him a coward. He took an oath, they argued,
and must obey orders regardless of the war's legality. Even those sympathetic
to Lt. Watada's beliefs sometimes appear uneasy with his public opposition to
the Iraq War, especially when speaking to members of the press.
Whether members of the military should abandon
individual responsibility when they go to war is a
debate worth having. While members of the military
agree to certain speech restrictions, the extent of
those limitations is by no means immutable. In fact,
it is one of several questions in Lt. Watada's
Members of the military agree not to speak contemptuously about the commander
in chief. Lt. Watada expressed himself respectfully, out of uniform, off base,
and after work hours. It seems that the specter of military law is so dark and
mysterious a force that ordinary civilians have ceded their ability to question
the authority of those that wield it.
Why is our civilian society so comfortable allowing
the military to determine the parameters of acceptable
speech during a time of war? Lt. Watada – along with
the thousands of men and women who are returning from
Iraq today – is uniquely positioned to speak about the
military mission in Iraq. What do we lose when we
allow the systematic exclusion of their voices?
The Iraq War is messy. It's inconvenient. The absence of soldiers denouncing
the war in mainstream consciousness likely has something to do with the public's
unwillingness to face the war itself. What does it mean if this war is actually
illegal? Is each of us complicit in the perpetration of a war not thoroughly
vetted by the media, debated by Congress, nor considered by the public? The
starkness of the answers is reflected in the faces of the men and women returning
from battle. But if we don't hear from Ivan Brobeck, Mark Wilkerson, Agustín
Aguayo, and the hundreds of other Iraq veterans returning to the United States
isolated and disillusioned, it's easier to believe that everything is going