Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Michael Barnes granted CO status

George Bryson's "Army Ordered to discharge soldier who found religon in Iraq" (McClatchy's Anchorage Daily News) reports that US District Judge John Sedwick has ordered that Private First Class Michael Barnes be released from the US military as a conscientious objector (with honorable discharge). Judge Sedwick found the army's claims that this was some maneuver on Barnes' part to avoid service were assertions the military failed to prove and that "testimony by a chaplain, a psychiatrist, fellow soldiers and Barnes himself proved the contrary." The ruling should shed a light on how the military really isn't in the place to 'judge' faith and that should have been evident in the case of Agustin Aguayo. The military's rejection of Agustin's claim was an offence to faith because it went against the teachings and beliefs of most faiths, with the military arguing, in effect, that faith was a static state of being and that it could not awaken or deepen. Obviously, most faiths advocate that belief that a believer grows in their faith. That can be seen in the stories describing the testings of Jesus Christ. (The testings of, not the teachings of.)

The process isn't going to change tomorrow. And it didn't change greatly during Vietnam. (1968 saw a shake up of the CO process and guidelines.) The peace movement of that period ended the draft and that is and was an important victory but the CO process is something that many members of Congress (at that time) would make sympathetic comments of but the issue was dropped. Following the end of the current illegal war, the peace movement would be smart to pursue this because the policy rarely changes in the midst of a war (of any war).

Religious faith is not necessary for CO status (though the military currently 'forgets' that and is allowed to get away with 'forgetting' it) but we're going to focus on that aspect due to the above ruling.

A counter-argument against CO status (and against war resistance) is, "You knew what you were signing up for." No, you didn't. You couldn't. And that is the story of the trials and testing of Jesus. You may think you do, but there is the abstract and there is the actual.

Stephen Fortunato was a CO during Vietnam and his case was not that different from Agustin's. Like Aguayo, Fortunato had an awakening and stopped carrying his weapon. (Agustin stopped carrying a loaded weapon.) Like Aguayo, Fortunato enlisted, he was not drafted. After his discharge, he attended Providence College and wrote a paper that was widely circulated at the time. In it, he noted:

I came to conscientious objection over a somewhat circuitous route -- via the Marine Corps. At the age of eighteen I freely enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve, more out of a spirit of adolescent adventure than anything else, and certainly not because I thought freedom would be better preserved if the government stuck an M-1 in my hands.
With all the passion and exuberance of youth I became a trained killer. I went to classes where I learned how to rip a man's jugular vein out with my teeth. I growled like a tiger when I was told to growl like a tiger. (It would indeed by edifying for religious and educational leaders to see their flocks brandishing bayonets and yelping and grunting on command, like well-trained jungle beasts -- all for the preservation of Western civilization!)
I was told that the Ten Commandments, however worthy they might be in civilian life, had to be suspended in the name of national interest. I was greatly impressed to see that an act perpetrated by the enemy was ipso facto vicious and deceitful, whereas the self-same act perpetrated by the United States was just and praiseworthy.
For two years I did my reserve duty without questioning the purposes or the means of the armed forces. It remained for one of the cruder excesses of military training to wrench me from the spiritual doldrums.
[. . .]
My first break with the ways of the military was emotional and intuitive. The contradictions of war and war preparations became clear and self-evident. It did not become a rational creature to permit himself to be led in cries for destruction of human life; a truly free man would not support a totalitarian system to defend freedom; one cannot bring about peace by threatening to incinerate mankind. No, I came to believe that a free man preserves his freedom by acting freely and not by following those would would herd men into regiments or send people scurrying like moles into bomb shelters. Most important of all, the free man must remain free not to kill or to support killing.
[. . .]
I knew I had arrived at conscientious objection. I was opposed in body and soul to the organized, budgeted, and officially sanctified use of violence called war. I was opposed to the compulsory and regimented aberration from the laws of God and reason, called conscription. I could no longer, in conscience, bear arms.
What course of action was I to take? I had freely enlisted in the reserves. But how free was I? Our society conspires in favor of the armed camp set-up we now live in. At the age of eighteen, I had not once considered military service as confronting me with a moral decision. It is one of the more gruesome paradoxes of our time than in a free -- or supposedly so -- society the atmosphere of choice on such a crucial issue had been so stifled.

Again, in 1968 the military's CO policies were updated and while that can be seen as a small vicotry the problem then is the problem today: the written policy is not really followed. During times of peace, it generally is and we may back off from the issue as a result. But following the end of this current illegal war, a serious investigation by Congress into how the written policy was followed or ignored is needed. Many members of the peace movement advocate for expanding the written policy (I'm not opposed to that) but the reality is that the written policy is yet again not being followed and that many attempting CO status would earn it under the current policy (as is) if it were only followed.

When any war ends, fatigue sets in and energies go into other issues. Over the last forty years, the US has seen two wars where the written CO policy/guidelines were not followed. Once a war starts, it is impossible to get Congress to address almost anything. (Including ending the illegal war.) Learning from mistakes argues for a demand on Congress to examine the military's compliance with the CO policies before the next war starts.

A CO does not have to have a belief in a god. That's in the policy. But that is routinely ignored today. The concept of a religious awakening or deepening, consistent with teachings of many faiths, is ignored.

The policy, as written, does not require that someone have a legal mind to navigate the process successfully. But that is what is happening.

Michael Barnes qualifies for CO status. It should not require a federal judge issuing a sixteen page ruling for him to be granted that status. He met the requirements and yet he had to take his argument to the federal courts because the military refused to follow their own policies. He won. Many more do not.

Again, I'm all for arguing that the policy needs to be expanded. But the reality is that the policy, as it is written, is not being followed by the military and, time and again, rejections reveal not a flaw or error on the part of the applicant but either a lack of understanding of the CO policy on the part of the military or a refusal to follow it.

In Iraq, Tina Susman examines the prison situation ins "IRAQ: Iraqi detainees face uncertain future" (Bablyon and Beyond, Los Angeles Times):

"I was there when they took them away. It was in the afternoon, and I was praying at the time," says Sumaychiya Abid Ahmad as she recalls the day 15 months ago when her sons, Waleed and Tawfiq, were arrested. The Iraqi soldiers who led them from the family's home in Abu Ghraib, southwest of Baghdad, said it would be a few minutes -- just enough time to get their help with an electrical problem, since both young men are electricians.
But as the Los Angeles Times
reported Monday, the two are among several thousand Iraqis being held in Iraqi detention centers who say they have never seen a lawyer or been brought before a judge after months or even years of detention. It's a problem that U.S. and Iraqi officials acknowledge exists, but fixing it is proving difficult as stepped-up security efforts pour more and more detainees into the Iraqi system.

If you've forgotten War Pornographer Michael Gordon was all giddy in print July 30, 2007, "Justice From Behind the Barricades in Baghdad" (New York Times). Things were changing! Things were improving! That "Rule of Law Complex" was supposed to mean 'justice' would take place much more quickly. It didn't change a thing. In fact, the only thing that keeps Iraqi over-populated prisons going is that the puppet government regularly resorts to mass releases. Why? If the prisoners are guilty, surely they should stay behind bars. But it's not about guilt or innocence and that's why we've seen the mass releases every year of the illegal war.

There is no justice and every year we're told it is improving and every year it doesn't improve. The problems are neither new nor unknown.

Nor is what Erica Goode's addressing on the front page of the New York Times. Not an insult, just noting that she's covering something that has long been going on. "On Safer Streets in Baghdad, Friction Infiltrates Sunni Patrols" notes the continued tension and violence and, focusing on the Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiya (a Sunni neighborhood), the "Awakening" Councils "have posed increasing problems. . . . Some residents complain that the men, not a few of them swaggering street toughs, use their power to intimidate people. Sometimes violence erupts."

It's a lengthy article and needs to be. It may also be the paper's first acknowledgment that the "Awakening" Council has an impact on a neighborhood that goes beyond "ooooh, I can walk down the street." (Yes, I'm thinking of one article in particular. And "I" is a reporter, not a citizen of Iraq.) There has been a long refusal to look beyond the 'pretty fences' and acknowledge what life is like for the citizens when the "Awakening" Councils are 'empowered.' Goode's article is a strong corrective to that and notes, "Other areas of Iraq, like Diyala and Salahuddin Provinces, where local leaders say Awakening groups have carried out kidnappings and killings aimed at rival councils, might also offer fertile recruiting grounds" for the "insurgency." Goode's article also notes the concerns of the "Awakening" Council members with the transfer from the protective wing of the US military to the puppet government in Baghdad. Nouri al-Maliki (and others before him) staffed the ministries with 'guards' and 'police' that were Shia thugs. The Sunnis thugs do have cause to worry.

The de-de-Baathification has still not taken place (as US House Rep Lloyd Doggett pointed out in last week's House Budget Committee hearing) and the impacts of Paul Bremer's decision to implement de-Baathification are now evident. The 'government' struggles and is 'staffed' with people who must learn their jobs. (Of course, people who knew their jobs might mean Shell and others would not be able to profit today.) As the persh mega and the Iraqi military remain in conflict in Diyala Province and as Baghdad sees festering tensions over the 'embrace' of the "Awakening" Councils it should first of all be remembered that the US administration is guiding all that is happening. After that's grasped, we should all wonder why US House Rep Tim Bishop was informed in the committee hearing last week that the US predictions for what happens in Iraq after de-de-Baathification takes place (they call it de-Baathification, but de-Baathification was what Bremer did, purging the Baathists from the public sector) is an issue that can't be discussed in an open hearing.

There is a repeated claim by many who support continuing the illegal war which states if the US leaves Iraq, a bloodbath will ensue. A bloodbath already has ensued and continues. Now you have the Kurds in conflict with the central 'government' of Iraq (the pesh merga refusing to allow Iraqi soldiers to enter and patrol some areas of Diyala Province) and the conflict between the central 'government' and the "Awakening" Councils. Three of the four are creations of the US. (The pesh merga is not. It is, however, supported by the US and has been allowed to overreach with US encouragement. Only last week did the US finally attempt to step by sending the second in command to Khanaqin, where he was rebuffed.) Any violence that ensues is a result of US policies. The fact that violence will most likely follow the implementation of the de-de-Baathifcation policy and that the this is a finding that must be kept from the American people (according to the administration) is outrageous. It also questions the argument that the US' continued presence is preventing violence when it is only sewing greater conflict.

Lying to the American people was at the start of the illegal war. When Congress is told that the possible effects of a law, established as a bench mark by the White House, can't be discussed in an open session, it appears lying continues. Though bad publicity has led to a sudden distancing from the counter-insurgency program (which may be genuine or just words for show to try to clamp down on further discussions of the unethical nature of that program), counter-insurgency is turning a people against itself. Is the policy out of the White House truly as incompetent as we're led to believe? Or are the warring factions again being set up by the US and, if so, to justify continued involvement in Iraq? At this point, it's speculation as to why the US backed Shi'ite thugs from the start and then decided Sunni thugs should be armed and trained. But the US analysis of what de-de-Baathifcation, if implemented, will result in Iraq is being kept from the public. The American people have a right to know not only because they are footing the bill for the illegal war but also because the White House has defined it as a benchmark to measure success. Democrats in Congress should be insisting that this analysis be made public because the law's been passed and if its implementation takes place under the next president (regardless of whom that president is) it could tie the US down in Iraq for many years to come.

The White House's desire for a longterm US presence in Iraq is not in doubt. That's what lies behind attempting to circumvent the Senate by calling a treaty a SOFA.

The peace movement in the US has largely collapsed/gone into hiding. It's been replaced with a dithering Cult of Barack. It's a crew not known for their thinking abilities (hence the reliance on hula hoops). But it does include Tom Hayden who may still have enough common sense to grasp the implications for the candidate he's supporting. If the White House knows that de-de-Baathification will lead to increased violence and if they sense that John McCain might lose the election (operating under the assumption -- which the Cult of Barack believes -- that the White House wants to see McCain elected), an "October Surprise" if McCain slips in the polling might include ordering Nouri to implement a strategy they know will result in chaos. A week or two of that in the lead up to the election could change the dynamics of the discussion (and Barack can't think on his feet) which could result in a strong move towards McCain. Translation, you need to start addressing the fact that the White House is hiding from the people an analysis of what happens if Baathists are allowed back in the government before it happens and not hope that the plan isn't implemented prior to the election. It's a lot easier to lay out the basics before it takes place than to try to do damage control after.

From Team Nader, we'll note "Call Barack Obama, E-mail Janet Brown Now:"

Okay, time for action.
The first Presidential debate is Friday.
And we're getting stonewalled.
They won't let Ralph Nader into the Presidential debates.
So, here's what we're going to do. It's a two step process. Step one -- call Barack Obama. Tell Obama he should demand that Ralph Nader be included in the debates. And step two -- e-mail the Commission on Presidential Debates. And let them know you are onto their game. Here are the details.
Step one:
Call Barack Obama at 866-675-2008.
Hit 6 to speak with a campaign volunteer.
Once connected, politely deliver the following message:
Hi, my name is ... I was wondering if Senator Obama, being a believer in equal opportunity and equal rights, could insist that Ralph Nader and other ballot qualified third party candidates be included in the upcoming Presidential debates? After all, Nader is on 45 state ballots. And he's polling well nationwide. And he could help Senator Obama challenge the corporate Republicans. True, Ralph would critique Senator Obama for his corporate ties also. But isn't that what democracy is about? Could you please leave this message for the campaign manager? Thank you.
Step two:
E-mail Janet Brown, the executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Here's a sample e-mail:
Dear Janet Brown: Greetings. You must be busy. Preparing for the first Presidential debate this Friday. So, I won't take much of your time. Just wanted to let you know that the American people were not born yesterday. We know the deal. Take that little private corporation that you run. Controlled by the two corporate parties. And funded by big business. For the purpose of excluding independent minded candidates. Friday, two Wall Street candidates are scheduled to be in the ring. Barack Obama and John McCain. The one candidate who represents the American people, Main Street, if you will, will be on the outside looking in. So, here's a simple request. Drop your exclusionary restrictions. And let Ralph Nader into the debates. It will be good for your conscience. Good for the American people. (I believe it was The League of Women Voters that called your corporatized debates "campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity, and honest answers to tough questions.") And good for democracy. Let the American people have a real debate for once. Main Street vs. Wall Street. Thank you. Signed your name.
Onward to November
The Nader Team

The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.

the los angeles times
tina susman

erica goode