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2006-06-15

Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No To Iraq

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We speak with Peter Laufer, a Vietnam war resister and author of the new book, "Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq." The book profiles a number of soldiers who refuse to participate in what they believe to be an illegal and immoral war. [includes rush transcript]

We continue to look at the issue of Iraq war resisters. A new book has just been published profiling soldiers who are refusing to fight in Iraq. It is titled "Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No To Iraq."

In a moment, we will be joined by the author, Peter Laufer. But first we hear from three Iraq war resisters who have spoken out on Democracy Now.

They are: Jeremy Hinzman, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who fled to Canada to avoid fighting in Iraq; Aidan Delgado, who became a conscientious objector after fighting in Iraq; and Camilo Mejia, the first Iraq War veteran sent to prison for refusing to fight.

  • War resisters speaking on Democracy Now!

We are joined now by Peter Laufer, author of "Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No To Iraq."

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: We begin with Jeremy Hinzman.

JEREMY HINZMAN: Based on all the pretenses and rationale that we — we, the U.S., gave for invading, none of them held true. And there were no weapons, there was no link between the secular Baathists, Al Qaeda, and the fundamentalist Islamic terrorists, and the notion of installing a puppet regime doesn’t really sound like democracy to me. And I just couldn’t bring myself to kill or be killed for the sake of that.

AMY GOODMAN: Aidan Delgado.

AIDAN DELGADO: The idea to become an objector before was kind of abstract, you know, 'cause you're not really a soldier, you’re just going to these weekend drills. But then when you’re in war and you’re seeing it face to face, it becomes much more immediate and you just can’t ignore it anymore. And, ultimately, I was at such ill ease and so miserable in the conflict doing what I was doing, that ultimately I had to, and that’s when I — I turned in my weapon and said, "take this back. I want to become a conscientious objector."

AMY GOODMAN: Camilo Mejia.

CAMILO MEJI A: You see yourself in a situation where you end up doing really, really bad things, and those are the kind of things that soldiers who come home and, you know, they’re, you know, they’re not missing any body parts — have to deal with. You know? I mean, you see that soldiers come home and, you know, they’re not physically injured and you think they’re fine and you’re completely wrong. There’s a lot of things that we have to deal with that people don’t even know about, you know — things that we carry in our hearts and in our memory. And a lot of times soldiers don’t deal with that for a long time, you know. I see it happen too often, you know, especially when you go to prison, and you start going to see counselors and stuff like that, you know, they tell you without you even knowing it that you had P.T.S.D and, you know, other psychological problems that you didn’t know you even had. And that’s one of those things, you know?

I mean, you see yourself in a hostile situation, you see somebody with a weapon and you shoot without asking questions or anything, and next thing you know you just killed a child. You know? Or, you know, you get into a firefight and you shoot at the enemy, and then at the end, you see a lot of civilians who were caught in the middle are dead, you know, and maybe the guys who started shooting at you just got away. So, it’s a lot of stuff that, you know, you just question, you know. Once you have the time and, you know, you come to terms with what you have done, it just haunts you. For some people it happens soon, for some people it takes longer. But, you know, sooner or later, you’re always accountable for your actions.

AMY GOODMAN: Camilo Mejia, Aidan Delgado, Jeremy Hinzman speaking to Democracy Now! about why they refused to return to or deploy to Iraq. This is Democracy Now! We’re joined in Wash — in Boston by Peter Lauffer, author of this new book called: Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq. He was a Vietnam war resister and a former NBC news correspondent. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Peter.

PETER LAUFFER: Thank you, good to be here with you from Boston, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the number of men and women who have refused to go to Iraq to begin with or to redeploy — or Afghanistan?

PETER LAUFFER: It’s an incredibly important question, Amy, and we really don’t have any way to have a hard figure on that total. It’s refreshing to hear those voices — that litany that you just played, and to hear the impassioned story being told by Suzanne Swift’s mother. These soldiers are on the front line now of this fight for our nation’s morality. And how many there are that are rejecting the mission, refusing to go to Iraq, coming back from Iraq and refusing to redeploy? We don’t know, because there are those such as the ones that we’ve heard from on your show just now, who are (for one reason or another) spotlighted — often spotlighting themselves because they want to push the political agenda — and then there are others who are doing it quietly that we don’t hear about.

But, anecdotally — as I did the research for the book and talked to one after another of these soldiers rejecting the mission — anecdotally, I would have to say the numbers are big and growing because they talk to me about members of their unit who, even if they’re not overtly rejecting the war by disobeying orders, or going AWOL, or deserting, or filing for conscientious objector status, they are grumbling. They’re over there unhappy with what is going on, displeased with the policy; and they’re opposing the war.

AMY GOODMAN: Where did the number 8,000 come from?

PETER LAUFFER: That number comes from, most recently, news reports regarding soldiers who are AWOL. Now, the Pentagon suggests that number is too high. But what’s important to remember with a gross number of soldiers that are AWOL is, that it’s not necessarily representative of soldiers who are opposed to the war. Historically, always the military suffers from soldiers going AWOL. They can go AWOL for very personal reasons. They can go AWOL for reasons besides being opposed to policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Clara Gomez, one of the people you profile in Mission Rejected?

PETER LAUFFER: Absolutely. Clara Gomez is an amazingly strong woman. Clara Gomez was in her senior year at Watsonville High School, in Watsonville, California, south of Santa Cruz, an agricultural area, and she was working hard to maintain a 4.0 and studying college catalogs trying to figure out where she was going to school, when simultaneously the Army recruiters came seducing her. Not seducing her sexually, but seducing her to come into the Army in an incredibly intrusive manner. Because of the No Child Left Behind Act, and because of the fact that she and her family had not opted out of the lists, the high school provided contact information regarding Clara Gomez, the recruiters called her at home, called on her at home, went to her house, ingratiated themselves into her family, convinced Clara to consider the military as an option, along with colleges and universities, and then obtained a consent signature from her parents on an English language form. Her parents read, write, and speak Spanish, but not English.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Laufer, how often are young men and women who leave the military, who go AWOL, absent without leave, how often are they caught and how are they caught?

PETER LAUFER: It seems, Amy, that those who are searched for, tracked down, caught in the way that Suzanne Swift was caught, are often those who spotlight themselves, as I said, those who are drawing attention to their cases because they want to, understandably, use their cases to try to move policy and to convince others to do the same. Those who quietly just slip away, unless they are caught by chance — because after 30 days, the rules are different slightly in different branches of the service, but after about a month, their status moves from AWOL to deserter, and they then go into the national crime computer files. And so if they run a red light or for some other reason are computer checked, then they could be picked up for the additional charges of desertion. But unless something like that happens, or they spotlight themselves, it doesn’t seem, at least until now, that the military has been actively seeking them.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Peter Lauffer. His book is called Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq. You have won major awards for your reporting, you were a former NBC news correspondent. But you also were a Vietnam war resister. Can you make some comparisons?

PETER LAUFER: There are so many comparisons and so many things that are not the same, of course. Incredibly important — and this certainly plays to those deserters that I’ve talked with who have gone up to Canada — incredibly important is the fact that there is no draft now, although the volunteer army — we often refer to it as a so-called volunteer army, because of the apparent poverty draft and the stop loss type of draft reality, but it is a volunteer army. I am quite convinced that one of the reasons why we are seeing these numbers only now start to get the attention that they deserve — the people who are rejecting the war — I’m quite convinced that part of that is because there is no draft. And so those who did volunteer for the Army, who chose to sign up, are in a very different position regarding how their opposition to the military and to this war in particular would build than someone who’s dragged kicking and screaming into the military.

Also I’m quite convinced that one of the reasons why we have seen the peace movement build so slowly, so frustratingly slowly for some of us in this country as opposed to the Vietnam time is, again, because there isn’t a draft. But I think that the stories that we’re telling here of those who oppose the war, who are deserting, who are going AWOL, who are filing for conscientious objector status, who are saying no to this war — I think that it’s important ammunition, these stories, to broaden the debate in the general society about the war. This is a great tool for going to those who are still undecided about the war, for going to those who still support the war, and to say, look at what’s happening to people like Suzanne Swift. Look at what is going on in the military. Look at what these soldiers are saying who were there, who served, who were injured, who received medals for their valor.

You cannot impugn the credibility of those who signed up for the military, served, and come back and say this was wrong, the same way you can impugn the point of view, say, of you and me if we stand on the street corner with a sign that says stop the war. We’re different than those who come back. Their credibility is phenomenal in the argument against the war.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Peter Lauffer, the massacre at Haditha, Fallujah, Samarra, Hamandiyah. The views of those who have rejected — that you’ve talked to — who’ve rejected the mission, who’ve rejected the war in Iraq, can you talk about what they say about these atrocities?

PETER LAUFER: Well, one of the sad things, Amy, to realize — one would so hope that an atrocity such as those that you’re citing would be isolated instances and would be the anomalies, but one of the sad things that comes out from the research in the book, for me, is to see that the activities that so many of the soldiers I spoke with, the activities that they were involved with, show the way Haditha can develop, because there is so much abuse that’s going on in the field. And that’s why these soldiers who are rejecting the war, who are saying "no, they’re not going to do that," they really are heroes. The courage that it takes to go up against the monolith of the military, to go up against the peer pressure of that groupthink society that is the military, to go up against the United States government, as Clara Gomez did, and say, no, I’m not going to do that. These are heroes and we in the civilian society have to stand up and cheer them on. And thank them for, as I said earlier, helping us to retrieve our morality as a society.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Lauffer, I want to thank you for being with us, Vietnam resister and war journalist, Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq.

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