SERVICE MEMBERS RALLY AGAINST THE WAR IN IRAQ
By William H. McMichael
January 16, 2007
A small group of out-of-uniform active-duty service members, supported by veterans and academics, gathered inside a Norfolk, Va., church on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to hold a rally calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Speakers invoked King’s message of nonviolent resistance, along with his eventual opposition to the Vietnam War, as an example worth following during a war many at the rally said echoes that controversial conflict of an earlier generation -- and is a war that should end now.
“It is time for U.S. troops to come home,” said Marine Corps Sgt. Liam Madden, speaking to a crowd of about 80 -- not including reporters -- gathered in the sanctuary of the Unitarian-Universalist Church in downtown Norfolk. He said active-duty troops have the right to speak out, and he said his opposition to the war is not driven by politics.
“It’s not political when people heed the call of their conscience,” said Madden, 22, who is stationed at Quantico Marine Corps Base and who served in Iraq with Okinawa’s 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit as a communications specialist. “Not one more of my brothers should die for a lie. This is my generation’s call to conscience.” The remarks drew cheers and a standing ovation.
“We’re not anti-war,” said Navy Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Hutto, 29, who enlisted in 2004 and is assigned to the Norfolk-based carrier Theodore Roosevelt, which deployed to the Persian Gulf in 2005-06. “We’re not pacifists. We’re anti-Iraq war.”
The group’s message, he said: “There is an organized, constructive level of dissent with the ranks on this war.”
Department of Defense directives allow active-duty service members to speak their minds -- short of disrespect for their commanders or the president -- or make a “protected communication” with members of Congress as long as, generally, they’re in the United States, out of uniform and off duty.
Madden, Hutto, and the other active-duty members who came to Monday’s rally are signatories to an online petition to Congress sponsored by Appeal for Redress, a group for active-duty, Reserve, and Guard personnel started last fall by Hutto and Madden that calls for an end to the war and the “prompt” withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq.
Hutto said they’ve gathered about 1,000 signatures, mostly from enlisted service members and nearly half from the Army, in ranks ranging from E-1 to O-6.
Members of the group will present the petition to Congress on Tuesday morning on the steps of the U.S. Capitol’s Cannon House Office Building. On hand to accept the petition, group members say, will be Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who opposes the Bush administration’s planned troop surge and favors cutting off funding for the war in an effort to halt that surge.
“Dr. King would be proud,” said Tom Palumbo of the local chapter of Veterans for Peace.
Group members say they hope other members of Congress also get the message.
“I want Congress tomorrow to realize that they are accountable to their citizens,” Madden said. “And their service members are on the front line.”
Matt Peters is one of those. A Navy electronics technician assigned to the Norfolk-based carrier Enterprise, Peters, feeling the call to arms following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, enlisted in November 2001. Then, said the now-23-year-old, “There really was no talk of invading Iraq,” he said. “We really went in a different direction than we’re in today.”
A 2003 Naval Academy graduate now in the Individual Ready Reserve used tougher words. “This administration has betrayed our armed forces,” said Lt. j.g. Fabian Bouthillette, 26. “I actually believe that the conduct of this administration is more detrimental to the Constitution than anything else. This was begun on an immoral, illegal basis. And we were lied to.”
Peters said he continues to willingly serve despite his misgivings over the war. “I signed up and said I’m going to do this,” said Peters, who along with his shipmates returned from duty off Iraq and elsewhere in November and remains on tap to quickly redeploy if the carrier is called upon. “But I don’t believe in what we’re doing over there. I still do my job. Is it something that kind of hurts to do? Yes.”
“Like any job, you make some compromises,” said Navy Operations Specialist 2nd Class Dave Rogers, 34, of the frigate Hawes, also based in Norfolk.
While polls show that many favor pulling out of Iraq -- and a Jan. 11 USA Today/Gallup Poll showed that 66 percent of respondents “moderately” or “strongly” oppose sending more troops -- many also believe an immediate rather than gradual withdrawal would cause Iraq to collapse in sectarian violence. Upheaval would certainly follow a withdrawal, Madden and others said, but they said Iraq would right itself more quickly without an American occupation.
During the Vietnam War, anti-war troops had no legal protection against expressing their views and were forced to do so through underground newspapers, said David Cortwright, one of the day’s speakers. Cortwright is a former soldier who served in Vietnam and wrote a book about that era’s military resistance, *Soldiers in Revolt*.
But while the Internet has replaced those underground papers and service members enjoy the limited protections of DoD directives, Cortwright said, those “in uniform” who speak out must still endure critics who would call them unpatriotic. Or, worse, cowards.
“It’s not cowardice,” Cortwright said. “It’s an extraordinary expression of conviction and courage.”
None of the service members questioned said they’d received any reprisals or negative feedback from their chains of command. “I’ve had no one chastise me,” Madden said. “Some feel awkward around me.”
Added Hutto, “They understand that we’re serious, and the threat of reprisal isn’t going to stop us.”
Hutto said the reactions he gets from shipmates are twofold: “One, how do I sign up? And two, I’m not so sure I can support Appeal for Redress (http://www.appealforredress.org/), but I support whatever you’re doing.”
Hutto said he is careful to separate his anti-war work with his assigned Navy duties. “If someone comes up to me, I say, ‘Give me your number, I’ll call you in the afternoon,’” he said. “I tell people, ‘When you’re on duty, be on duty.’”
SOME ACTIVE DUTY TROOPS TO ATTEND SATURDAY PROTEST AGAINST WAR
By Larry Margasak
January 26, 2007
WASHINGTON -- A small number of active military troops will take part in Saturday's rally in Washington against the Iraq war, co-founders of an active-duty protest group say.
One of the founders of Appeal for Redress, Navy Petty Officer Jonathan Hutto, said he planned to speak at the protest on the National Mall. Hutto is a sailor aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, currently at Norfolk, Va.
United For Peace and Justice, an anti-war coalition of 1,400 organizations, said the protest could draw tens of thousands of demonstrators in all.
Hutto and Liam Madden, a Marine sergeant who received his discharge Jan. 20, founded Appeal for Redress, an organization of 1,200 active-duty personnel and veterans who favor a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
Hutto said 60 percent of the members have been in Iraq operations. He said he was on the Roosevelt off Iraq from September 2005 through March 2006. Madden said he was in Anbar Province from September 2004 to February 2005.
Hutto estimated more than a dozen individuals on active duty would attend Saturday.
Cynthia O. Smith, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said members of the Armed Forces can speak out, subject to several restrictions.
They must "not do so in uniform, and must make clear that they do not speak on behalf of their military unit, service, or the Department of Defense, unless they are authorized to do so," she said.
Madden, whose specialty was setting up communications systems, and Hutto, in the carrier's public information office, said they have not been threatened or harassed by their commanders.
Madden said he had justified his time in Iraq by saying "'I'm here for the guys next to me and they deserve my best effort.' It's not about the political agenda, it's about the guy next to you."
"No one wants to die for a lie," Madden said in an interview. "You don't volunteer to throw your life away. "You don't say I'm serving for nothing."
Madden, 22, from Bellows Falls, Vt., said many of his buddies who have been to Iraq wondered why they were there, even as they fought fiercely to protect each other.
"The occupation hasn't benefited the Iraqi people at all. It doesn't benefit the American people and certainly doesn't benefit American service members," he said.
Hutto, 29, originally from Atlanta, said active-duty personnel he speaks with "see a separation between the global war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. They don't see the connection."
"When we're sitting having chow, and CNN is saying so many more were killed, the look on people's faces is, 'How much longer?'"
Hutto said more than 200 officers have signed on to his organization.
"This is a very huge step for an active duty member to step out this way," he said.
Hutto said members of the military have to "make a distinction between following orders and having misgivings about those orders. I show up every day. I'm a hard worker. I was just promoted."
"I'm not an insubordinate sailor, but I am a sailor who is challenging tradition, challenging the culture."
On the Net:
Appeal for Redress: http://www.appealforredress.org/
NOBODY'S BUYING THE PLAN
Tahlequah (OK) Daily Press
January 26, 2007
During his State of the Nation address Tuesday, President Bush tried to persuade Congress that his “new” plan for Iraq -- the centerpiece of which is dispatching 21,500 more troops into harm’s way -- will be better than the “old” plan. But Democrats on the Hill aren’t buying it, and neither is most everyone else.
A couple of GOP presidential hopefuls did come to Bush’s defense. Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani -- claimed giving Bush breathing room is, as McCain put it, “the only game in town.” That’s hard to believe. What happened to the report by the Iraq Study Group? Did that suddenly pick up and leave “town,” along with the suggestions of Bush’s generals in the field?
Although Bush drew praise from friend and foe alike (and more than a few newspapers, including this one) for his comments on climate change and conserving fuel, the response to his stubborn “stay the course” mentality on Iraq has been overwhelmingly negative.
First out of the box was Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, whom Democrats chose to deliver their formal response to Bush’s speech. Webb, a Vietnam veteran and former Republican Navy secretary, is one of the few in Congress who actually has a child serving in Iraq. He didn’t mince words: “The president took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the Army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command. . . . We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable -- and predicted -- disarray that has followed.”
Even if Bush didn’t get the message voters sent in November, some of his fellow Republicans did. At least they are pragmatic enough to surmise if they continue supporting Bush’s failed policies, they might follow into oblivion those colleagues who were booted from office.
The proponents standing firm with McCain and Co. are rapidly dwindling, and the remaining loyalists usually offer up the same lame claim that if the U.S. “fails” in Iraq, we’ll be “fighting the terrorists in our streets.” They have no proof of that, but these stiff-necked blinder-wearers refuse to admit just the opposite may be true. America HAS failed in Iraq, and a continued U.S. presence in that area of the world virtually guarantees that eventually, someone WILL try to bring it to a neighborhood near you.
Even Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the Army general slated to carry out Bush’s “new” war plan, acknowledged the situation is “dire.” That’s about as close as he could get to criticism, unless he wants to be removed from command like so many other high-ranking military folks. But more and more top generals in both the Army and Marine Corps are telling congressional committees they have grave doubts about the situation, even if only because relocating so many troops to Iraq makes the U.S. vulnerable elsewhere in the world.
But Bush isn’t listening to the commanders -- and if he dismisses their opinions, he certainly won’t give much credence to what the rest of us say. And the rest of us are saying plenty. A number of polls released in the past few weeks reveal support for the war and Bush in general continues to erode. Only 44 percent of Americans consider Bush honest, and 66 percent think the country’s on the wrong track. Disapproval of Bush’s handling of Iraq is at 65 percent and falling.
For those who bother caring what the troops think, they’re becoming more cynical about the war, too. Recently, 1,171 service members signed the Appeal for Redress, beseeching Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Opinion polls of the soldiers themselves show support for the cause is rapidly eroding -- about half what it was two or three years ago. More are deserting or refusing to deploy every day. As one captain said on a Web site for troops (with particular emphasis toward media types): “Show me someone who still supports the war, and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t have a family member serving.”
What about the Iraqi people? Even the ones who aren’t trying to kill our troops say they’re out of patience. Only the Shiite “puppet government” the U.S. finagled into office wants us there, and it’s becoming clear they view our soldiers as private bodyguards, acting as shields for their overarching mission to suppress the Sunni minority.
Last but not least, there are the world church leaders, who are a hair’s breadth from singing from the same hymnal on a given subject -- for the first time in modern history, some say. Christian leaders of every stripe -- Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, First Christian, and more -- are clamoring for an end to the war, insisting the continued loss of innocent life is morally unacceptable. It’s no longer a “right” vs. “left” issue, they say, but rather “right” vs. “wrong.” A few key Southern Baptists, the only denomination originally supportive of the war, have even begun to defect.
Americans have lost 3,065 troops in Iraq. These are our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, who leave behind inconsolable survivors of an incomprehensible war. That doesn’t count the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis caught in the crossfire.
Democrats need to act fast. That’s what the majority wants, and last time we checked, the majority is still supposed to rule here.