Saturday, August 26, 2006
Hawks (Chickenhawks) and Deserters
And the Fallout from Katrina
During the Vietnam war President Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard but the records of his service are somewhat murky. Our hawkish Vice-president Cheney never served in the army; he took deferments during the Vietnam war. In 1989 he said to Joseph Wilson of the Washington Post "I had other priorities in the '60s than military service".
Current and former officials of the Bush Administration who never served:
- Paul Wolfowitz, former Deputy Secretary of Defense
- George Tenet, former CIA Director
- Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State
- Elliott Abrams, Deputy National Security Adviser
- Karl Rove, Head,Office of Political Affairs
- John Ashcroft, former U.S. Attorney General.
- Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House
- Tom Delay, former House Majority Leader
- Bill Frist, Senate Majority Leader
- Roy Blunt, House Whip
- Saxby Chambliss, (attacked Max Cleland)
- Jon Kyl, Senator (R-AZ)
- Phil Gramm
- Rick Santorum, Senator (R-PA)
- Trent Lott, US Senator
- Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker
- Rudy Giuliani, Former NYC Mayor
- Michael Bloomberg, Mayor New York City
- George Pataki, NY Governer
- Jeb Bush, Florida Governor
(updated by the writer)
For Camilo Mejia there was no epiphany. In fact, his refusal to rejoin his regiment in Iraq barely represented a decision at all. It was more a weary submission to months of anxiety that had gnawed at his sense of duty until there was nothing left but his conscience. "I didn't wake up thinking I wouldn't go," he says. "I just went to bed and didn't get up in time to catch the plane. But I kept thinking maybe I would go back sometime."
Mejia, 30, never did go back. He went on the run for five months, staying with friends and relatives, using only cash, travelling by bus and not calling his mother or daughter, before he turned himself in as a conscientious objector. A military tribunal sentenced him to one year in prison.
Like Mejia, 24-year-old Darrell Anderson went on the run just a few days before he was due to redeploy. "I was supposed to leave for Iraq on January 8th. On the 3rd I started to talk to people about the war. By the 6th I woke up and had hit a brick wall. I just knew I wasn't going to be able to live a normal life if I went back."
He told his mother, Anita, who said she "had been hoping for that". "I packed up the car and took him to Canada. It was the first time I slept through the night in two years," she says. Anderson is now essentially a fugitive seeking asylum in Canada.
And then there was Joshua Casteel, an interrogator at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. His turning point came when a 22-year-old Saudi who came to Iraq for jihad was brought before him for questioning. "He admitted it," says Casteel, 26, a deeply religious Catholic convert from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "I asked him why he had come to Iraq to kill. Then he asked me why I had come to Iraq to kill. He said I wasn't following the teachings of Jesus, which was pretty ironic. But I thought he sounded just like me. He was not a maniacal kind of killer. He had never fired a weapon in his life ... I know what it's like to proselytise. At one time I had been a pretty nationalistic kid. I understood where he was coming from but in order to do my job I couldn't look at him as a human being. I had to look at him as an object of exploitation."
Two days later Casteel went to Qatar on leave. When he came back he told his commander that he would be applying for conscientious objector status. "I said I wouldn't turn in my weapon while I was there or talk to the media but would carry on doing my job and when I got back home I would ask to leave the military." He filed his application on February 16 and was granted an honourable discharge on May 31.
Whether you call them deserters, conscientious objectors or resisters, every story of American soldiers who left the army prematurely because of the Iraq war shares the same emotional trajectory. They begin with doubt and end with determination. And somewhere along the way comes that ill-defined but crucial moment when the psychological struggle and moral angst overwhelm their military commitment.
The number applying for conscientious objector status has quadrupled since 2000 but remains small, though many more simply go awol. In 2004, 110 soldiers filed, of whom around half were successful. The rest went back to war, refused to serve, were jailed or are still in hiding. Yet there has been a huge increase in enquiries, according to JE McNeil, director of the Centre on Conscience and War. Before 9/11, she says, its GI hotline received roughly one phone call a month from those seeking information about how to get out of the military. In the year after, it went up to one or two a week. Currently it stands at more than one a day.
As of August 25th, U.S. military fatalities total 2,621 including 43 who died this month. Source: Iraq Coalition Casualties