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Antiwar activists organizing defense campaigns
We support war resisters

By Conor Reed and Steve Leigh | March 2, 2007 | Page 11

FT. HOOD, Texas--War resister Spc. Mark Wilkerson pleaded guilty to desertion on February 22 in a military court, with antiwar protesters showing their support.

Wilkerson went AWOL in 2005 after the Army rejected the conscientious objector status he requested after being called up for a second deployment to Iraq. On Thursday, he was sentenced to military prison for seven months.

For Wilkerson, who enlisted into the Army by age 17 and took part in the 2003 invasion in Iraq, going back in 2005 was not an option.

In a statement titled "My Conscience is Clear," posted a day after his imprisonment, Wilkerson writes, "I could not deploy to a foreign land with a weapon in my hand, representing my government. I am not willing to kill, or be killed for my government. When I enlisted in the Army, I thought I would be able to, but after Iraq, my beliefs became such that I could no longer participate."

The day after Wilkerson's trial, the Army hit back at Lt. Ehren Watada--the first U.S. officer to refuse orders to serve in Iraq whose first court-martial resulted in a mistrial last month--refiling charges against him in Ft. Lewis, Wash.

What you can do

For more information on Lt. Watada's case, updates on future activities and what you can do to support him, see the Thank You Lt. Ehren Watada Web site.

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

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.

 

In the months before Watada's mistrial, protest played a key role in drawing attention to his case. Antiwar activists rallied all over the country in support of Watada, with 1,000 people turning out to support him near the gates of Ft. Lewis during his trial.

The antiwar climate influenced even the closed, rigged military court. In the days before Wilkerson's trial, antiwar activists organized support events, including a meeting the day before his court-martial hearing in Austin, Texas.

Speakers included Kelly Dougherty, cofounder of Iraq Veterans Against the War, who Wilkerson met during the year and a half that he lived underground. Dougherty explained that soldiers are now making their second, third and even fourth redeployments to Iraq, and that a decision to refuse to fight is costly and potentially isolating to individuals like Wilkerson and Watada.

Dougherty argued that the antiwar movement's active support for war resisters--politically, financially and socially--is essential "to build the confidence for others to speak out. Soldier resistance is key to the movement."

Ann Wright, who resigned in 2003 from a diplomat position with the State Department in opposition to the Iraq war, noted an increase in the number of soldiers going AWOL. The Appeal for Redress has been signed already by 1,300 active-duty soldiers, noted Wright, and the list is growing.

-- As it did in his first trial, activism will make the difference in the next stage of the fight for Ehren Watada. Supporters promise a renewed campaign to prevent him from being imprisoned, with the new slogan "Let Lt. Watada Resign!" His term of enlistment is nearly up.

Watada's lawyer, Eric Seitz, blasted the military's decision to refile charges. He and many other legal experts believe that a retrial violates the Constitution's prohibition against "double jeopardy" (being tried twice for the same crime). "When it's not going well for you, you can't just call a mistrial and start all over." said Seitz.

Whether the refiling of the charges stands up to the legal challenge, and whether Lt. Watada ever has to serve any time in prison is in doubt. How strong a movement develops in his defense will help determine the result.

Lt. Watada has helped rebuild the antiwar movement by his courageous refusal to fight in Iraq. All antiwar activists owe him their strong support. Free Ehren Watada! Let him resign!

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