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Support builds for Ehren Watada
Putting their war on trial

By Sam Bernstein | January 26, 2007 | Page 16

TACOMA, Wash.--More than 350 people came out January 20 and 21 to hear eyewitness and expert testimony on war crimes by the U.S. in its war on Iraq.

The Citizens' Hearing on the Legality of U.S. Actions in Iraq was a well-organized effort to put the Iraq war on trial weeks before Lt. Ehren Watada is put on trial by the Army. Watada is the first U.S. officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq, and he faces six years in a military prison for following his conscience to be a war resister.

Rulings from Watada's pre-trial hearing in early January added a sense of urgency to the activists' tribunal. Lawyers for Watada and the military had battled over whether the illegality of the war and the free-speech rights of active-duty soldiers could be factors in Watada's court-martial.

The military judge ordered that these issues could not be heard--despite the fact that the military has filed charges against Watada for exercising his free speech rights, and Watada's refusal to deploy was based on the politics of the war. What's more, the military is continuing to insist that several journalists and antiwar activists be compelled testify against Watada on precisely those issues.

What you can do

Information about Lt. Ehren Watada's case and what you can do to support him, including the February 5 national day of action, can be found at the Thank You Lt. Ehren Watada Web site.

Active-duty soldiers can register their discontent by signing the Appeal for Redress. Troops who need advice about their rights should go to GI Rights Hotline Web site or call 800-394-9544 from the U.S. or 510-465-1472 from outside the U.S.

Go to the Iraq Veterans Against the War Web site for news and updates about war resisters and other initiatives.

Antiwar coalitions, campus groups and individuals can sign on to a petition, initiated by Noam Chomsky, Cindy Sheehan, Howard Zinn and others, at calling for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.

For an excellent history of the GI rebellion during the U.S. war on Vietnam, read David Cortright's Soldiers in Revolt, newly republished by Haymarket Books. David Zeiger's Sir! No Sir! is an inspiring documentary about the Vietnam soldiers' revolt, and is available on DVD, along with many other supplemental materials.

 

Hundreds of activists will converge on Fort Lewis on February 5 for the beginning of Watada's court-martial proceedings to demand justice.

Because the military is refusing to discuss the nature of the war and free speech, the Citizen's Hearing became the sole forum for discussing the real issues. The audience heard extensive evidence detailing atrocities carried out by the U.S. government and military, which violate different legal codes, from the Pentagon's own Military Code of Conduct to the Geneva Conventions.

Expert witnesses included Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers detailing the scale of U.S. crimes and lies committed during the Vietnam War; Richard Falk, a professor of international law at Princeton University; Ann Wright, a former Army colonel and State Department official; Denis Halliday, former United Nations assistant secretary general; and many others.

But the most moving and incriminating testimony came from veterans of the Iraq War who saw and experienced U.S. atrocities firsthand.

Darrell Anderson went AWOL after serving a tour in Baghdad and Najaf. According to Darrell, standard "procedure" for U.S. troops in Iraq who were fired on in a public space was to shoot everyone in sight. As Darrell put it, "It is impossible to go to war, and not commit war crimes."

Although publicly the military says that mosques are off-limits to its troops, Darrell described raiding a mosque in Iraq, destroying the clerics' quarters and then ripping up the adjoining cemetery.

He also recounted his thoughts as he guarded two Iraqi detainees after a long firefight. "I was exhausted, I had shrapnel in my side, and the blood of my best friend on my uniform," said Darrel. "I had been in this hell for four months, and here I am in a room with my weapon, and two of our enemies shackled and hooded. They weren't humans to me. I wanted revenge. I'm just glad I didn't cross the line."

But many soldiers do cross the line. Iraq war veteran Chanan Suarez Díaz described a platoon known for "unleashing hell" on Iraqi civilians. In the mess hall, they would brag about "massacring whole families," Chanan testified.

"After one mission, this platoon brought back brain fragments and put them in the fridge as mementos. Guys get screwed up in the head. After you lose your best friends, all you want is blood and revenge. It's dehumanization in full force. You have no feeling--you go totally numb after seeing so much death and destruction...All of this is a direct result of the racism that you are indoctrinated with as soon as you set foot in boot camp."

Throughout this horrifying testimony, Chanan and Darrell discussed the contradiction between having to follow orders as a soldier, and having to follow your conscience as a human being.

"On the one hand, it's your duty to refuse war crimes," Darrell said. "On the other hand, if you refuse orders in combat, you can be shot by your commanding officer. Every day, the U.S. stays there, people are going to die. People are dying right now, and people will be dying tomorrow...The antiwar movement in this country needs to step it up and unite with soldiers and veterans who are actively resisting the war."

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