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Soldiers against the Iraq war

By Nicole Colson | June 22, 2007 | Page 15

ANTIWAR ACTIVISTS and veterans are organizing to build the fight against the war and support war resisters who are speaking out.

A June 7 press conference in Boston brought together former Marine and Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) member Liam Madden with about 30 supporters on the steps of the State House to protest the government's targeting of Madden and other antiwar veterans. The press conference was sponsored by IVAW, Veterans for Peace (VFP) and Military Families Speak Out (MFSO).

The military recently downgraded the discharge status of IVAW member Adam Kokesh from "honorable" to "general"--a category used to describe service members whose performance is satisfactory, but is marked by a considerable departure in duty performance and conduct expected of military members. Under a general discharge, service members can be excluded from certain benefits, including participation in the G.I. Bill.

The military targeted Kokesh with the claim that he participated in antiwar events while in uniform, despite the fact that he was not on active, or even reserve, duty at the time. In reality, he was targeted because he has become an outspoken voice for the right of soldiers to resist the war.

What else to read

Sign an online petition in support of Liam Madden. For news and updates about war resisters and other initiatives by antiwar veterans and active-duty troops, go to the Iraq Veterans Against the War Web site.

The Citizen Soldier Web site is an excellent resource for active-duty soldiers looking for news and advice about resistance. Soldiers can also contact the 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, 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.


Fellow IVAW members Madden and Cloy Richards have also been targeted. Madden, the co-founder of Appeal for Redress, has been accused of making "disloyal statements" as well as wearing part of his uniform at a political event. Like Kokesh, Madden and Richards were not on active duty at the time of their "offenses."

At the press conference, local activists spoke in support of Madden, including Khury Petersen-Smith of Massachusetts MFSO, Tony Flaherty of the local Smedley Butler brigade of VFP, and Charley Richardson, cofounder of MFSO.

"So long as the military attacks Liam and soldiers like him for speaking out about the atrocities of this occupation and for working to end it, we will defend them and join in their efforts," said Petersen-Smith.

As Madden said, "I think it is important that during political protest, the public gets to see who the veterans are. It is important to maintain the precedent of the Vietnam veterans who came back and wore their uniforms proudly as they expressed their antiwar sentiment...Not only do I stand by my right to say whatever I want in political protest of the war, but I stand by what I said."

--In Chicago, approximately 40 people participated in "Operation First Casualty," a street theater event in which IVAW members engage in mock military patrols in order to bring awareness to the public about the reality of life under occupation for ordinary Iraqis.

At least 16 members of IVAW took part, along with more than 25 other activists, who played the part of Iraqi civilians and leafleted passersby about the action. Chicago is the fourth city in which Operation First Casualty has taken place.

"People who saw us were very receptive," explained IVAW member Kelly Dougherty. "A lot of people were engaged, a lot of people took the flyers. I know I looked at one woman when I was doing the patrol, and she just looked at me, and she had tears in her eyes, and she mouthed 'I'm sorry' and walked away.

"I don't want people to have to apologize for the way the military is used and the way that our veterans are treated. That's the reality of the situation. That's always been the reality of the situation...I just hope that woman and that others are inspired to take action."

--In Bellingham, Wash., U.S. Army Specialist Evan Knappenberger wrapped up his weeklong vigil in protest of the military's stop-loss policy on June 8.

Often referred to as a "backdoor draft," the military's stop-loss policy forces service members to continue serving beyond their expected term. This has meant that hundreds of thousands of soldiers have had their enlistments involuntarily extended.

Knappenberger and fellow antiwar activists constructed a small scaffold on a street corner in front of the Federal Building. It was draped in a larger banner declaring "Stop the Stop-Loss" as well as smaller signs reading "Stop-Loss=Backdoor Draft" and "Stop the War." Dressed in full uniform, Knappenberger camped out for eight days and seven nights.

As Knappenberger explained in a statement on June 1, at the beginning of his protest: "I am spending one entire week on a scaffold in downtown Bellingham in protest of the U.S. military's stop-loss and inactive reserve (ready reserve) policies, which are being used as a substitute for conscription in a political war...The only way we can stop this injustice is by ending the war."

-- In Ithaca, N.Y., more than 75 people turned out to hear IVAW members Phil Aliff, Michael Blake and Eli Wright talk about their experiences in the Middle East and the way forward for the antiwar movement. The event was sponsored by Ithaca Unitarian Church and Cornell Students Against the War.

Following the presentations, a question-and-answer session was held to discuss ideas on how to mobilize and protest at the local and national level. The event was the beginning of a series of antiwar actions that will be held over the summer in upstate New York.

Sam Bernstein, Julie Keefe, Eric Ruder and Héctor Tarrido-Picart contributed to this report.

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