Thursday, June 12, 2008

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Two years ago this month, Ehren Watada became the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq. He cited the illegality of the Iraq War. In August 2006, an Article 32 hearing was held. In February 2007, a kangaroo court-martial took place. Over defense objection, Judge Toilet (John Head) ruled a mistrial. Toilet insisted that a new court-martial would take place immediately (March 2007 was when Head said it would take place). It has never taken place. The Constitution forbids double jeopardy and the US military has been trying to get around the Constitution but were stopped last November by US District Judge Benjamin Settle.

Tara McKelvey reports on Watada in "The Officers' War" (American Prospect):

Watada, 30, is an unlikely icon of war resistance. At 5 feet 7 inches, he is unimposing and even shy, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and sandals, with his dark hair cut Army-short and his ears sticking out. He was raised in Honolulu, where his father, Bob, worked for decades in campaign-finance reform, and his mother, Carolyn Ho, was a high school guidance counselor. Watada, an Eagle Scout, joined the Army in March 2003, his senior year at Hawaii Pacific University and, like everyone who enlists, pledged an oath that members of the U.S. military have taken since 1789. "It doesn't say, 'I, Ehren Watada, will do as I'm told.' It says I will protect the Constitution," Watada says. He supports war in principle and is not a conscientious objector--in fact, he offered to go to Afghanistan (his commanders turned him down). "I'm against the Iraq War," he says. "By law, the war is wrong."
Watada is the only officer who has both spoken out publicly against the war and refused to deploy. His decision has placed him at the center of a media firestorm and embroiled him in a court battle with the government. In November 2007, a federal judge, Benjamin Settle, halted court-martial proceedings against Watada, saying some legal issues needed to be resolved. Today, Watada remains in the Army despite his fervent wish to leave, as he awaits the outcome of the legal dispute.
Although it may have once seemed that way, Watada is not alone in his beliefs. He is part of a growing group of career military officers who have devoted their lives to the armed forces but, in recent months and years, have turned on the institution they once swore to uphold and obey. Their reasons are complex, varied, and personal, ranging from opposition to the civilian leadership in Washington to an understandable desire to resume their lives as spouses and parents. But the trigger for their unhappiness with the military is the same across the board: Iraq.

McKelvey deserves credit for reporting on Watada. We don't normally link to American Prospect because it's not news or an opinion journal, it's a partisan outlet (doubt it, use the link and read the paragraph that comes after the above). Monday we noted James Reese's nonsense sent in to the Toronto Star. Vic highlights the replies to the paper Reese's letter has received:

James R. Reese, a retired U.S. army major, writes, "I can no longer remain silent while apologists for Iraq war deserters accuse my country of war crimes and denigrate our armed forces."

In what appears to be a feeble attempt to put a positive spin on two dark points in U.S. history, he argues that the abuses at both Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and My Lai in Vietnam were reported by soldiers. He fails to note, however, that both of these heinous events were perpetrated by U.S. soldiers.

Reese also notes that "it is not the policy of the U.S. or its army to violate the Geneva or Hague conventions." Sure, while it may not be a formal policy to violate either of these noted conventions, they are being violated just the same. Consider extraordinary rendition and waterboarding.

Finally, he says, "The deserters from the U.S. army were not draftees; they were volunteers. They joined the army of their own free will. These people who have come to Canada are not heroes."

The argument that current U.S. deserters are professional soldiers and not draftees has been uttered many times by people who hold viewpoints similar to those of Reese. However, the argument is largely irrelevant. If a war is illegal and unjust, it is illegal and unjust to all aggressors, not just to those who didn't volunteer.

Reese is fully within his rights to consider U.S. military deserters as cowards, but he is wrong to imply that the U.S. always takes the moral high road. It clearly doesn't.

R. Glenn McGillivray, Oakville

Retired U.S. army major James R. Reese says he is opposed to Canada granting asylum to U.S. military deserters. He also states that he has taught the "law of war" to many soldiers, and that they are taught to disobey any order that they believe to be "illegal or immoral."

With that reasoning, all of the U.S. armed forces deployed in Iraq would have been fully justified in laying down their arms and deserting once they realized that the war had been waged on spurious grounds and was deemed illegal by the United Nations.

Mohamed M. Jagani, Markham

As a retired officer of the U.S. army, a force guilty of documented excesses and various corrupt and illegal acts, James R. Reese is hardly qualified to lecture Canadians on morality and justice. And if "it is not the policy of the U.S. or its army to violate the Geneva or Hague conventions," perhaps he can explain why U.S. troops are in Iraq under false pretenses, killing, maiming and torturing innocent citizens.

Our Prime Minister may do as he's told, but for now, Canadians are still free to think for themselves.

Randy Gostlin, Oshawa

Retired U.S. army officer James R. Reese states that U.S. soldiers are taught to "disobey any order that they believe to be illegal or immoral." If this is the case, all U.S. military personnel should have refused to take part in the Iraq war, which is illegal and immoral.

Unlike Reese, I believe that those soldiers who decided not to participate in this war and have taken refuge in this country should be supported by Canada and given the chance to stay here.

Ramin Farsangi, Innisfil, Ont.

I wonder if James R. Reese, a retired major in the U.S. army, would consider an order to wage an illegal war based on distorted intelligence and false premises grounds for disobeying orders. He then says, "If Canada were attacked, these deserters would desert you, too."

I wonder if Reese could let us know when Iraq attacked the United States. I would remind him that his country was the last to attack Canada. (We won that one.)

Howard Kaplan, Toronto

To be clear, the draft had nothing to do with Canada welcoming war resisters during Vietnam. They welcomed "draft dodgers" and they welcomed "deserters." Again, May 22, 1969, Canada's Minister of Immigration, Allan J. MacEachen speaking of the order that all war resisters were allowed to enter Canada: "If a serviceman from another country meets our immigration criteria, he will not be turned down because his is still in the active service of his country. The selection criteria and requirements applying to him will be the same as those that apply to other applicants."

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