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2005-03-28

Pablo Paredes Faces Court Martial For Refusing to Fight in Iraq

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On Friday, the Navy announced that Paredes will face a special court-martial, the military equivalent of a civilian misdemeanor trial. The charges against him include absence without leave and missing movement. [includes rush transcript]

The US military has announced another court-martial of a service member for refusing to go to Iraq. Petty Officer 3rd Class Pablo Paredes is a weapons control technician who joined the Navy in 2000. In December, he refused to board the USS Bonhomme Richard as it left for a six-month tour in the Pacific and Indian oceans. At the time, he said he hoped his protest might inspire other sailors, soldiers and Marines to refuse to take part in the war. On Friday, the Navy announced that Paredes will face a special court-martial, the military equivalent of a civilian misdemeanor trial. The charges against him include absence without leave and missing movement. The 23-year-old from the Bronx, New York, faces a maximum of one year in jail, a forfeiture of pay, reduction in rank and a bad-conduct discharge if he’s convicted. No date for a court-martial has been set. Paredes has applied for contentious objector status and a decision is expected next week. A Navy chaplain who met with Paredes in January wrote that it was "morally imperative" that his request be granted. When we last spoke to him, he was underground. Pablo Paredes joins us on the line now from San Diego.

  • Pablo Paredes, sailor in the US Navy who was classified as a "fugitive deserter" by the military for refusing orders to board a ship heading to Iraq last December. On Friday, the Navy announced it was bringing charges against him.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: When we last spoke to Pablo Paredes, he was underground. He joins us now on the phone from San Diego. Welcome to Democracy Now!

PABLO PAREDES: Thank you, Amy. It’s nice not to be underground.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you tell us about the announcement, the military announcing on Friday its decision to court-martial you?

PABLO PAREDES: Well, it was a very unexpected situation, not in that I didn’t expect legal charges to eventually be brought, but the timeliness, because much like when I was recruited, I went in expecting one thing and came out getting a totally different one. I showed up, and I was told the week before that Friday would be the day that I would be told if my conscientious objector package would be approved at the local level. So I went in kind of jittery and wondering how that was going to play out, and I was told the conscientious objector package ruling was postponed until next week and that I should step into one of the chief’s offices. And when I stepped into the chief’s office, I was handed papers and told that I was going on special court-martial, and the charges that were filed against me. It was interesting because it had been three months since I had turned myself in, and there’s really not a thorough investigation that needs to go on. There are two charges that are very basic, and everything that has happened is on camera. So there’s not too much investigating that has to happen. So up until now, the fact that they had waited three months had led me to believe that they were going to take the conscientious objector package seriously, but now I’m inclined to think that was more just to let the buzz around the situation quiet down.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain, Pablo Paredes, what you did, how you refused to go to Iraq, the scene on the pier?

PABLO PAREDES: Okay. It was December 6 in San Diego Naval Station, 32nd Street, which if people probably are not familiar with is one of the biggest naval stations in the United States. So, I think — it’s the right place to do a protest, if you are going to do a protest. I showed up with a shirt that read, "Like a Cabinet Member, I Resign." That was due to the fact that at the time about seven cabinet members had turned in their resignations, and there was an eighth about to do the same. I wanted to give the mainstream media a reason to have an excuse to throw that into their news, because you apparently have to present the best possible package, not just news to get mainstream media to pay attention. So that was the idea on the protest. I refused to board the ship. The other part of it, why in that situation is because a lot of media shows up when the ship pulls out just to watch the whole big goodbye, you know — patriotic moment or whatever. So I also realized that the importance of the situation, and that if ever a dissenting voice was going to get a shot on camera, it was going to be there.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what did you do?

PABLO PAREDES: So, I showed up and I turned in my I.D. to the Master at Arms. I told him that I refused to get on the ship. I held like an unofficial press conference right in front of the pier in which every camera that was interested in an interview got one, and the Navy really didn’t know what to do with me at the time. So, in a really startling situation, one of the highest ranking officers on the ship came down and told me that I wasn’t officially U.A., which means unauthorized absence, because they hadn’t taken a muster, which is taking a roll of attendance, which is preposterous, because everybody was well informed that there was a muster around 6:00 in the morning, and it was already almost 9:00 at the time. So he told me that I was free to go which was really interesting and that I should leave, that my presence wasn’t needed there, and that they weren’t going to do anything to me yet, so that I was free to go. I didn’t know who the setup or what it was, so I waited and I watched the ship actually leave, so it was pretty clear that I missed movement, which is a crime, and so, that the Master at Arms would eventually arrest me, but no such luck. It continued on, and nothing was going to happen as long as there were cameras around was my understanding. So, eventually, I decided I should leave after enough interviews were done and after the situation had played down, and find myself a lawyer. And that’s what I did. I came back in about two weeks, and I turned myself in, mainly because I really want to give dissent a powerful voice. I felt like my position as somebody in the Navy, which is a branch that’s very safe, that it’s not, you know, on the ground troops getting shot at, so that it’s not as easy to throw the label of 'coward' on me. It’s not as easy to say, "Oh he did it because he’s afraid to go to war." Because there’s really no fear in my job. It’s very safe. No one that does my job has or will die in this war, unless it’s from natural causes. So I figured that in itself would make is very hard for the opposing, you know, apologetics for war to come out and say, "Oh, this guy is just a coward who doesn’t want to see war," and the second part of it is if I go to Canada after doing that, then I’ll be the guy who’s afraid to face the music. So I really wanted to show somebody that — you know, use my position to show the world a dissenting voice that is not afraid to suffer some consequences for principles, and that there’s no argument to be made that it’s not on principles.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined in the studio here in New York by, well, Florida Army National Guardsman, Camilo Mejia, who went to Iraq, came back, refused to return. He was court-martialed and served over nine months in jail and has recently come out. Welcome to Democracy Now! once again, Camillo.

CAMILO MEJIA: Thank you, Amy. Good morning, Pablo. How are you?

PABLO PAREDES: Good morning, Camilo.

AMY GOODMAN: What does Pablo face right now? You have been through it.

CAMILO MEJIA: Well, it’s hard to tell that he’s going to go through the same situation that I went through. They gave me the maximum penalty, which is a year. I believe it’s the same thing Pablo is facing. I’m not really sure what type of jail he is going to go to, but my jail experience wasn’t really bad. Really, the court-martial by which I was tried was a political court-martial. It wasn’t a very legal one. We presented a very strong case to put the war on trial, really, because of crimes that have been committed in Iraq, and the judge really didn’t want to hear that, you know. They made it into a very simple situation which is what I believe they are going to try to do with Pablo, which is whether he got on the ship or not. In my case, what they did was whether he got on the plane or not, and I didn’t get on the plane. So that’s how they proved their case. But I believe that the issue is much bigger than whether you are getting on the plane or get on a ship or not. I think that the issue has to do with the legality of the war, and whether a soldier or a sailor has the authority to absent himself or herself from that war on international law, and the judge just would not allow that. I would find it very hard to believe that they would do that in Pablo’s case. I think it’s just going to be pretty much a kangaroo court and that he’s going to get convicted.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you a U.S. citizen?

CAMILO MEJIA: No, I’m not. I’m a permanent resident.

AMY GOODMAN: Pablo Paredes, are you a U.S. citizen?

PABLO PAREDES: Yes. Born and raised in the Bronx, New York.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to get to that issue later after the break with Camilo, and how many people who have served in Iraq, have died in Iraq are not U.S. citizens, fighting for the United States. But Pablo, why did you go into the military in 2000? Did you think you were not going to go to war at that time? What has changed your mind?

PABLO PAREDES: No, I was aware of the military as a war machine. I think that it’s pretty hard not to realize that, but I came from a very different perspective, and in many ways, I was very ignorant as to what’s going on in the world and to what our United States military is actually used for and to where I was a human being. I was 18 years old. I hadn’t really experienced too much freedom, too much culture. I just kind of grew up in my little — although I’m in New York, which is a rich city as far as culture is concerned, when you grow up in the urban area, you know, you’re not too economically well off, you tend to kind of fence yourself off in your little area of the Bronx, and those four corners become your life. So, I joined the military, believe it or not, thinking of it as nothing more than a 9 to 5, a place where I could get some money for education and work on an electronics job. That’s the way my recruiter pitched it to me. I mean, the word 'war' I don’t think was ever exchanged between us, and even when it was, it seemed to be something very righteous, very defending the homeland kind of thing. It never sounded like occupation. It never sounded like where we’re at now. I joined the military really naive on certain levels, and really indifferent on certain levels as far as politics and globalization, you know, liberalism, everything you can think of as far as where I have gone now with it.

I’d say the changing point happened in Japan. I decided to take a billet to Japan. I spent two and a half years out there, and it really changed my life. I saw a different perspective. I got to see news especially from a different point of view, and it got me very interested. First as a Latino, I got very interested in the politics of Latin America and all of the interventions, the C.I.A. operations, the coups. I got very interested in everything that’s happened in history, which up until then, I was clueless to, and some sentiments started to develop in me inside of myself about my very own job and even though it’s very detached from the actual execution of what people from, say, the School of the Americas did in South America, it was still, you know, a part of the system that allowed those things to happen, so I started to have a very serious conflict about what I was doing, and even morally, I was starting to grow because the society is very kind of interconnected. It really takes care of itself, and I started to feel a need to take care of humanity, to find myself as a part of humanity, and to take care of each his own, be my brother’s keeper. Getting informed on the war in Iraq, it just became even more ridiculous. I just became someone who is completely opposed to war. And then politically, I became someone who found this war preposterous. So, those things just became two things that made it incompatible for me to be in the U.S. military. So I could have gone quietly into the night or whatever, but I felt like, given the control that there is over media nowadays, if anybody was in a position to make some noise in the way of dissent, it was me, and to some extent, maybe it comes from the Catholic uprising and the belief in penance, I guess I kind of felt like I owed it to somebody to — maybe to the Iraqi civilians, maybe to my country, to sacrifice a little bit of my own freedom in order to give dissent a voice and in order to do it in a powerful way.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Pablo Paredes, I want to thank you very much for being with us. We will see you on Thursday night. We begin our Un-Embed The Media! Tour tonight in New York with Camilo Mejia and Phil Donahue, who was fired from MSNBC for daring to air anti-war voices. Tonight we’ll be at the Ethical Culture Society in New York. We’ll also be joined by my colleague, co-host of Democracy Now!, Juan Gonzalez, and my brother, David Goodman. We are launching the paperback edition of The Exception To The Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers and the Media That Love Them. Tomorrow we head to Houston to celebrate KPFT. On Wednesday, Washington, D.C., to celebrate WPFW, and on Thursday, we’ll be together in Los Angeles at the Immanuel Church on Wilshire Boulevard, honoring KPFT. Pablo Paredes will be speaking there. Friday, it’s San Francisco, as we honor KPFA. We will also be joined there by Javier Couso, the brother of Jose Couso, who was killed on September 8, 2003 — on April 8, 2003, when the U.S. Military attacked the Palestine Hotel where hundreds of unembedded reporters were covering the invasion. Javier Couso has come to this country to ask for an independent investigation of the attack on the Palestine Hotel.

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