Today, the US military announced: "A Marine assigned to Multi National Force-West died Mar. 14 in a noncombat related incident in Al Anbar Province." And they announced: "A Soldier assigned to Multi National Force-West was killed Mar. 14 while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar Province." ICCC puts the total number of US service members who have died in Iraq since the start of the illegal war at 3203.
Zach notes Dean Kuipers' "Walking Away From War" (LA City Beat):
U.S. Army Specialist Agustin Aguayo went to war in Iraq, but not the way most soldiers do. He trained as an Army medic, and while still going through basic training, he came to the realization that he was opposed to war and didn't want to support it, even as a medic. He applied for conscientious objector status, but was denied, and was sent to Iraq, where he served from 2004 to 2005. Unable to get official recognition for his evolving beliefs, he did what he thought was right: Assigned to guard duty, he refused to load his weapon. He served a year in a combat zone with no bullets in his gun.
He got lucky, served honorably, and got out. But when the Army called him up for another tour, he decided enough was enough. Two MPs were sent to pick him up at his barracks in Germany, but as they waited for him to pack he fled out a window and escaped, eventually making his way back to Los Angeles to join his wife, Helga, and his two twin daughters. He later turned himself in at Fort Irwin.
On March 6, the gentle and soft-spoken Aguayo was convicted of desertion and missing movement at a court martial in Germany and sentenced to eight months in prison. He has joined a growing list of active-duty soldiers like San Diego sailor Pablo Paredes who have been prosecuted for resisting the war in Iraq for reasons including moral aversion to violence and claims that the war itself was based on official deception and is therefore illegal. A list of active war resister cases on Unitedforpeace.org includes 18 soldiers -- a relatively small number, but activists say it represents a tiny fraction of those who have quietly fled the U.S. armed services. Still, the sentence was far short of the seven-year maximum sentence, and peace activists see this as a good sign.
"I think this sends a fairly good message," says Jim Feldman, an attorney with the offices of Peter Goldberg, who is representing Aguayo in his federal civil case over his conscientious objector status. "People who really are sincere, the Army judges are not going to come down hard on 'em. The judges seem to recognize that as a mitigating circumstance."
"At the same time, I think they are taking a tough stand, because eight months in prison is still a long time in prison, especially for refusing to serve in a war because your conscience says it's wrong to kill people, or because you feel that this particular war is illegal," says Kelly Dougherty, who attended the trial. A former Sgt. E-5 in the Colorado National Guard who served in Iraq, Dougherty is co-founder and executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
"They could certainly be prosecuting people more," she adds. "But the sentences that they are giving are being handed down as a message to others serving in the military not to apply for CO status and not to refuse to go to Iraq."
The U.S. Department of Defense says it does not keep central statistics on desertion, but told reporters recently that 8,000 soldiers have been AWOL at one time or another since the war began in March 2003. The Pentagon told the Gannett News Service in 2006 that a total of 40,000 soldiers have deserted from all branches of the U.S. military since 2000, but that the numbers have been decreasing since it began what it calls the "war on terror" in Afghanistan. Several hundred of those soldiers have fled to Canada, according to unconfirmed reports, but only a few have identified themselves and thus face prosecution.
Those prosecutions are risky for the military. While they make it clear that the U.S. armed forces cannot condone desertion, many of those who stand trial, like Aguayo, are otherwise model soldiers and become lightning rods for public outrage over a very unpopular war.
Also from LA City Beat, Marissa notes these events:
Saturday, March 17
Come Together. Ozomatli, Jackson Browne, and tens of thousands of other Southern California peace demonstrators are expected to gather in Hollywood for a protest marking the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq. Participants gather at noon at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, and march to Hollywood and Highland, where Ozomatli and Browne perform at 2 p.m. For more details, call the ANSWER Coalition at (323) 464-1636 or visit Answerla.org. Free peace signs and postcards available at Anti-war.us.
A Separate Peace. Orange County activists host their own area peace rally at Pioneer Park, 12722 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove. Noon. Info: Ocpeace.org.
Remember. Organizers of the Arlington West soldiers' memorial near the Santa Monica Pier mark the fourth anniversary of the Iraq war with live music, screenings of interviews with families who lost loved ones in the war, and readings of the names of war dead. The memorial will stand from 7 a.m. Saturday through sundown Sunday, with an overnight candlelight vigil Saturday. To volunteer, call Veterans for Peace at (323) 934-4351 or visit Arlingtonwestsantamonica.org.
There will be actions across the US and if there's one in your area you want noted, e-mail. Meanwhile, Reuters reports:
A South Korean soldier may be a U.S. military deserter after he left his U.S. base and joined the South Korean army, apparently to avoid a tour of duty in Iraq, the defense ministry in Seoul said on Thursday.
The South Korean army private second class, whose identity was given only as Kim, joined the U.S. military in 2003 to become a permanent U.S. citizen on condition that he would serve in Iraq, a ministry official said.
In 2005, he visited his home country on leave just before his U.S. unit was to be deployed to Iraq and never went back, the South Korean defense ministry official.
Instead, as he still held a South Korean passport, he was called up by the South Korean military and began serving late last year due to mandatory military enlistment.
And we'll close this excerpt from Noam N. Levey's "Liberal lawmakers may sway key vote on Iraq war" (Los Angeles Times):
Barbara Lee once called for a U.S. Department of Peace. Lynn Woolsey tried to revoke the Boy Scouts' federal charter because the group excludes gays. And Maxine Waters accused the CIA of helping import cocaine into South Los Angeles.
Their ideas made them folk heroes to the American left.
But like slightly eccentric relatives at a family reunion, Reps. Lee, Woolsey and Waters were rarely invited to sit at the head table in Washington.
The three California Democrats -- who have been waging a passionate, four-year campaign to end the war in Iraq -- find themselves in the mainstream as Congress begins debate today on a crucial war spending bill. And the group they lead, the more than 80-member Out of Iraq Caucus, controls the fate of the most important war vote since the 2003 invasion.
Reporters seek out the three liberal lawmakers, recording their daily proclamations. Waters, the fiery chairwoman of the caucus, is a frequent guest on national news programs.
And as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) labors to find the votes to pass the bill, she is seeking them out. Last week, she invited the three to her office to try to persuade them to support the measure, which would require the withdrawal of American combat forces from Iraq by no later than August 2008."
They have really become the conscience of the caucus," said Tom Andrews, a former Democratic congressman who heads the national Win Without War coalition.
Andrews credits the three with forcing Pelosi to insist on a timeline for withdrawal.
Lee, Woolsey and Waters have reservations about Pelosi's bill. They are demanding the withdrawal of combat troops by the end of this year.
Levey appears unaware of what the CIA's inspector general report said (but that's true of the LA Times period), Dennis Kucinich (and others) are still calling for a Department of Peace and Woolsey's argument re: the Boy Scouts isn't as out of step as the opening paragraph would have you believe. Nor are the three women themselves.
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