One of the leading voices of dissent inside the
U.S. Army has been promoted.
Sgt. Ronn Cantu who signed a petition to Congress demanding the U.S.
withdraw from Iraq and gave interviews to the news shows 60 Minutes
and Democracy Now!, as well as IPS detailing his opposition has
seen his rank upgraded to staff sergeant. Some observers say Cantu's promotion
shows the military is now so stressed by the ongoing war it is finding it difficult
to crack down on dissent within the ranks.
Few members of the armed forces have made their disgust for the war in Iraq
more public than Ronn Cantu. The 30-year-old Los Angeles native began speaking
out during his second tour in Iraq, launching an online forum for antiwar GIs
at SoldierVoices.net, signing petitions
against the war, and giving interviews to major U.S. media outlets while still
stationed in Baghdad.
Now, as a staff sergeant, Cantu says he'll teach the soldiers under him to
follow the Geneva Conventions and other laws of war.
"There's a lot of soldiers out there who wouldn't recognize an unlawful
order if it bit them on the behind," he said. "So I'm going to make
sure the nine guys under me are very aware of the laws of armed conflict. I
just want to make sure that they keep their ethics and moral standards and
keep out of trouble should anything happen."
Cantu hopes the soldiers under his command will behave differently than his
unit did during his first tour in Iraq.
"We had a policy of 'making a statement,'" he told IPS. "If
a bomb went off on our convoy, all of the guns would go off and we'd pretty
much just pass punishment on the area we were in: windows, cars on the side
of the road, farm animals, sheep. It was a revenge thing."
Most service members who speak out are not given the same treatment Ronn Cantu
got. Like Cantu, Former Marine Corps Sgt. Liam Madden signed the Appeal for
Redress, an online petition to Congress from active-duty service members demanding
an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq.
After co-founding the Appeal, Madden began holding workshops about the politics
of the war on his base at Quantico, Va., bringing down the wrath of his chain
"Basically, they just gave me a lousy jobs and told all my peers they
were not allowed to talk to Sgt. Madden," he said. "It was a pretty
"All the peers that I had met and become acquainted with were basically
shut off and if any of them were to talk with me in the barracks or off duty
they were very nervous about it," he added.
Many observers believe the Army is unable to effectively punish soldiers like
Cantu and Madden because it's close to its breaking point. Last month, top
Army officials told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it is under serious
strain and must reduce the length of combat tours as soon as possible.
Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, said, "The cumulative effects
of the last six-plus years at war have left our Army out of balance."
"There are certainly reasons for the military to overlook many issues
today," said Jeff Paterson, the project director of Courage to Resist,
which helps troops speak out against the war from within the military. He says
the depleted state of the Army has military brass increasingly reluctant to
expel soldiers who oppose the war. So people who work within the rules
like Sgt. Ronn Cantu are promoted.
"In recruiting, they're overlooking whether you have a high school diploma,
they're overlooking whether you have a criminal history, and once you're in
the military, they're overlooking injuries and now apparently they're
even overlooking people who speak out against the war," Paterson said.
"So long as you do your job, there's a basis for the military to say 'We
need your body in Iraq' regardless of whether we do or don't like what you're
Cantu has said his superiors told him he was being promoted because he's served
close to 10 years in the military and has met all training requirements. It's
unclear whether Cantu slipped through the cracks or the Army purposefully overlooked
his activist work.
"I was pretty surprised," he told IPS, laughing. "It doesn't
make much sense. I'd say honestly I just slipped through some bureaucratic
(Inter Press Service)