Tuesday, June 30, 2009

War resisters punished, await charges

War resisters punished, await charges

By Dee Knight

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U.S. Iraq war resister Cliff Cornell was sentenced last week to 12 months hard labor and a bad conduct discharge for refusing to participate in the war in Iraq and for going to Canada in 2005. He was forced out of Canada in January by the Bushite government of Stephen Harper.

War resister Dustin Che Stevens and about 50 others have been in limbo at Fort Bragg, N.C., since January. Sarah Lazare, project coordinator at Courage to Resist, wrote about their story for online news journal Truthout (June 16).

Stevens has been held for five months without charges. He says that others have been held for up to a year in overcrowded and filthy conditions.

“We should just shoot you all,” one commander yelled at them. Stevens commented that “people around me are literally going crazy. I hear people threaten suicide on a daily basis.”

Stevens reported that the command offered a free pass to any of them who agreed to deploy to Afghanistan. About 10 people took up the offer.

James Branum, Stevens’ civilian lawyer, said: “People are in this unit for months and months. They take forever to do anything. You’re going to be there six months if you’re lucky, 12 if you’re not.”

Kathy Gilberd, of the National Lawyers Guild’s Military Law Task Force, commented that “a lot of times these units are run by senior enlisted personnel who are obnoxious and give people a hard time.” She added that “most people who are on restriction don’t even know whose authority places them on it and don’t know that senior enlisted personnel don’t have the authority they often claim to have.”

In May 2002, after five months in the Army, Stevens declared that he wanted to quit. He had joined the army to escape a broken home, thinking he had few other options. Since day one he had panic and anxiety attacks, and was morally opposed to his service and to deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. His command simply sent him home to wait for his discharge papers, which never showed up.

Seven years later, during a routine traffic stop, cops told Stevens there was a warrant for his arrest and whisked him off to military custody. “This whole time, I’d been living my life: working, paying taxes, had a car and apartment,” he says. Since Jan. 15 he has been in limbo, biding his time while he awaits charges that might be months away. The months of detention will not count toward his sentence.

Stevens says people being held with him went absent without leave for various reasons—some because they were opposed to the war, some because the Army wouldn’t let them leave to tend to family problems, and some because of medical problems.

Carl Davison, an Iraq war resister and member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, commented that “AWOL troops being held in a replacement unit is totally absurd and unusual. It is an example of how the command has plenty of ways to punish people and enforce discipline, bypassing the formal justice system. Smoking people, giving them unofficial duties, mistreatment, and in this case, making an example out of people and segregating them—are all informal mechanisms of punishment commonly used in the military.”

Davison added that “people who follow their consciences deserve our support, and there needs to be a highly vocal community out there to let them know they are not alone.”

To support Dustin Che Stevens, go to www.couragetoresist.org.

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