For the first time since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, active-duty members of the military are publicly appealing members of Congress to end the U.S. occupation, RAW STORY has learned.
Under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act (DOD directive 7050.6), active-duty military, National Guard, and Reservists can send a protected communication to a member of Congress regarding any subject without reprisal.
Earlier this week, 65 military service members and National Guardsmen sent appeals for redress to members of Congress to urge an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. That total is now up to 219 service men and women, 125 of whom are on active duty.
Three active-duty servicemen (one of whom spoke under condition of anonymity) held a press conference today, along with a retired Judge Advocate General lawyer, to discuss their appeals.
“Many of us–who have to follow orders and took an oath to defend the constitution against all enemies both foreign and domestic–[also] have reservations about the orders. And,” Jonathan Hutto, a Navy Seaman based in Norfolk, Virginia, concluded, “at this point some of us feel compelled to let our reservations be known and that the occupation should come to an end right now.”
Hutto added the group are not pacifists or conscientious objectors and are not urging any actions that might be deemed illegal.
Liam Madden, a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps stationed at Quantico, continued, “The real grievances are, if democracy is our goal than I believe we are going about it all wrong. The occupation is perpetuating more violence and I think is the biggest destabilizing thing we can do to the Middle East.”
One service member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity of his recent year in Iraq, said that he, “was hit by IEDs, by mortars… I was hit by snipers in my convoy and I’ve seen friends injured and affected by deaths in my brigade and my unit. I can tell you that many of them are not quite sure what their purpose or focus is now.”
“A lot of people don’t want to admit it,” he insisted, “but we are stuck in a civil war and it’s hard for the soldiers seeing the ethnic fighting going on around them and feeling like they’re stuck in the cross fire and not really feeling like there’s anything they can do to stop it.”
“And it’s very frustrating to go out in convoys and get hit and not really sure why it is and not seeing any tangible results for their actions,” he added. “I think it’s very important that Congress members and people understand that we do have a voice, and pay attention to our surroundings and what’s going on–and listen to what we have to say.”
Appealing for redress
Hutto explained that the idea of issuing Appeals for Redress originated in early 2006, when he was deployed off the coast of Iraq on the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt.
“An old buddy of mine, who was a member of the GI movement back in the early 1970s,” Hutto explained, “sent me a 30th anniversary copy of Soldiers in Revolt, written by David Cortwright. The book chronicles the GI movement within the military during the Vietnam War who advocated to end that war and bring the troops home.”
Hutto continued, “One of the avenues that they used, which was a legal one, is appealing to their political leaders in Washington. By 1971 over 250,000 of these active duty servicemen had appealed to the Congress people.”
“None of the Marines know that there is a policy available to them,” Madden added, “and that it’s everybody’s duty to support democracy and do it much more effectively than we are in exercising these rights in Iraq.”
J.E. McNeil, a former military JAG lawyer, emphasized that all servicemen and women still have their rights as U.S. citizens and can exercise them when need be.
“When men and women join the military and put on the uniform, they don’t give up their rights as U.S. citizens,” said McNeil, though “there may be some small limitations to their first amendment rights.”
“They are supposed to be very clear,” McNeil elaborated, “and they have been, that they’re speaking on their own behalf and not using any of the military resources to make these statements that are their own beliefs, and we should be very proud of them to do that.”
Fear of reprisal
Many in the military fear reprisals for coming forth, even though they have the legal right to do so.
One soldier in the Army, who participated anonymously in the press conference had more information to reveal, saying, “Anyone who’s been involved in the military does know there are informal means of punitive actions that circumvent the legal system which are often used in different means to intimidate soldiers.”
“I’ve talked to numerous soldiers,” the anonymous soldier said, “and obviously looking at the numbers now, they obviously haven’t stepped forward. I will tell you, though–and I don’t think the American Public realizes–just how many soldiers and service members in general really do have reservations about the actions going on in Iraq.
“And fear,” he added, is a main reason why people aren’t stepping forward…. I think that once they start seeing momentum going forward and more and more service members come out, that they will be more inclined to come out as well.”
“It’s costing way too many humans, Iraqi civilians, and American service member lives,” Madden concluded, “and brings us no benefits. The only people who benefit in my eyes are corporations like Halliburton. I don’t think that war is being paid for in the right manner and I think that if people want to support the troops then they should support us coming home.”