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Rebellion in the Ranks

by NICOLE COLSON

Sending more U.S. soldiers to kill and be killed. That’s the Bush administration’s plan for the occupation of Iraq.

Pentagon officials announced last week that 12,000 more troops would be deployed to Iraq in time for the country’s scheduled January elections–raising the total number to 150,000. For soldiers who were promised a “quick” war and told that they would be welcomed as “liberators,” the news will add to growing bitterness and frustration.

That frustration is beginning to drive some soldiers–particularly reservists–to take action. Like Emiliano Santiago, an Oregon reservist who recently filed a lawsuit challenging the military’s “stop-loss” policy, which prevents soldiers whose enlistments are up from leaving the military.

Emiliano was due to be released from his National Guard service in June 2004, but his unit has been told that it will be activated on January 2, 2005–and he will be sent to Afghanistan. According to a letter to his attorney, the military’s stop-loss order has unilaterally extended his military service for more than 25 years–to December 24, 2031.

As Marguerite Hiken, of the National Lawyers Guild Military Task Force, told us, “The military’s position is–and that’s part of the argument against stop-loss–that a solider becomes an indentured servant when they enter the military…And no soldier feels that when he or she has signed that contract that that’s what that contract is about.”

Last week, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) announced that it had filed a similar lawsuit against the stop-loss policy on behalf of eight reservists.

One of them, David Qualls, says that he’s in favor of the war. But, he said, it’s “a matter of fairness.” “My job was to go over and perform my duties under the contract I signed,” he told the New York Times. “But my year is up, and it’s been up. Now I believe that they should honor their end of the contract,” he told the New York Times.

Qualls signed up for a one-year National Guard stint in July 2003 and now expects to be in Iraq until next year because of the stop-loss policy. He decided to look for legal help while he was deployed in Iraq–and read a story on the Internet about another reservist who was also fighting the policy in court.

Nationally, an estimated 40,000 National Guardsmen have had their tours extended under the stop-loss program. Meanwhile, frustration at the military is driving other soldiers to begin to look for different ways to resist.

“Initially, it was an ‘all-volunteer’ Army, although it was an economic draft,” said Hiken. “GIs turned very inward in terms of this. It was a new generation of people, feeling that something was wrong with them, or they really didn’t have a history in terms of the United States military and military invasions. It led to a large number of suicides and inward introspections and depression. Now, it has turned more external. The disgruntlement and frustration is leading to anger. As this war continues, we’re going to see more refusals, disobeying of orders, stop-loss lawsuits–I understand that today there was just a lawsuit filed by 12 GIs around ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. There’s going to be more and more resistance.”

That resistance includes soldiers like Jeremy Hinzman, David Sanders and Brandon Hughey. They fled to Canada and are currently waiting to see if Canadian officials will grant them asylum.

Bill Galvin of the Center on Conscience and War, a member of the GI Rights network, recently told Inter Press Service that an estimated dozen other U.S. soldiers are already in Canada “underground,” awaiting the outcome of Hinzman’s refugee hearing.

“When I left for basic training, I didn’t hold any political beliefs,” Hughey told writer and activst Frida Berrigan. But later, he says, “I realized that basically the U.S. has attacked a country that was no threat to them in an act of aggression.”

When he requested a discharge, he was denied. “They kept brushing me off,” he says. “They told me I was going to Iraq, and there was nothing I could do about it. I was never informed of any route I could take to leave the military, such as applying for conscientious objector status.”

So Hughey linked up with an Indianapolis peace activist, and the night he was scheduled to report for deployment, they traveled across the border. Now, says the 19-year-old Hughey, “I am proud of what I’ve done. I am standing up for what I believe is right.”

The public objections from these soldiers are only the latest signs of escalating tension within the ranks. With the November death toll for U.S. troops reaching 140–the deadliest of any month since the war began–it’s no wonder that more soldiers would begin speaking out.

That includes hundreds of Individual Ready Reservists–former soldiers who believed that they were through with their service, only to be recalled because of a rule allowing the military to call them back–who have simply failed to report for duty.

It also includes the members of the 343rd Quartermaster Company, the Army Reserve unit that refused a mission transporting fuel in October. Recent letters to Army Times–a newspaper published for soldiers and their families–defend the actions of the 343rd and spell out the level of disgust that many feel at the Pentagon’s treatment of ordinary soldiers.

“I’m a member of a small joint military team that has been working in Baghdad for the last several months,” wrote Sgt. 1st Class John Giersdorf. “It is amazing to me that anyone would order a fuel convoy to travel over 100 miles through Baghdad without an armed escort…I can’t think of any way to fill out a risk assessment for that mission that doesn’t scream doom.”

“Finally some soldiers put their heads together and said we’re not going to stand for this,” wrote Crystal Luker, whose husband is deployed in southern Baghdad. “I am proud of the [343rd] soldiers for standing up for themselves and the safety of their unit.”

In a victory for the developing resistance, the Army recently announced that the soldiers of the 343rd would not be facing courts-martials after all–though they still could face “non-judicial” punishment, including loss of pay or rank.

As the pressure on soldiers grows in the run-up to the January elections, antiwar activists in the U.S. should show their solidarity.

In the case of the soldiers fighting the stop-loss policy, they were referred to lawyers through groups like the GI Rights Hotline. The wife of one soldier represented by the CCR said she received an e-mail message from the antiwar group Military Families Speak Out. Groups like the Campus Antiwar Network and others organized petitions to support the soldiers of the 343rd.

As Hiken commented, the growing discontent among soldiers will be key to ending the war today, just as it was during the Vietnam era. “There is no more ‘mission’ among the majority of troops,” she said. ” [Their mission] is to save their own lives. If the Bush administration wants to fight a war, they’re going to have to have soldiers who are willing to fight it.”

NICOLE COLSON writes for the Socialist Worker.

 

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NICOLE COLSON writes for the Socialist Worker.

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