Navy Sailor Charged As “Deserter and Fugitive” After Refusing Iraq Deployment

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We speak with Navy sailor Pablo Paredes, who the military is calling a deserter and a fugitive after he refused to board his ship in San Diego as it prepared to ship out for the Persian Gulf. He joins us from California where he is now underground. [includes rush transcript]

Today we’ll speak with a Navy sailor who the military is calling a deserter and a fugitive. He could be arrested at any moment by the military or another law enforcement agency. On Monday, Petty Officer 3rd Class Pablo Paredes refused to board his ship in San Diego as it prepared to ship out for the Persian Gulf. Remarkably, Paredes sat on the ship’s pier as his fellow sailors boarded. For nearly two hours, he spoke to reporters explaining why he was refusing to board. Paredes told the journalists he was young and naive when he joined the Navy and “never imagined, in a million years, we would go to war with somebody who had done nothing to us.” He says he fully expected to be arrested that day on the pier. But the arrest never happened.

A Navy spokesman said the 23 year-old from the Bronx, New York wasn’t taken into custody because he hadn’t violated any regulations. Navy procedures stipulate that an officer can’t be listed as missing until an official roll has been called aboard ship. Paredes believes he wasn’t detained because of the media presence. On Sunday, he had called newspapers and radio and TV stations to announce his anti-deployment intentions. But shortly after he left the pier that day, he was classified as a “deserter and fugitive.” He is now underground. In a moment, we are going to be joined live by Pablo Paredes. But first, we turn to an interview Paredes gave shortly after he refused to board the ship.

  • Pablo Paredes, interviewed shortly after he refused to board the ship. Courtesy of Jim Carter, San Diego Military Counseling Project.
  • Pablo Paredes, speaking to us on the line from San Diego.

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

AMY GOODMAN: In a moment we will be joined live by Pablo Paredes. But first we turn to an interview he gave shortly after he refused to board the ship. The interview was conducted by Jim Carter of the San Diego military counseling project.

PABLO PAREDES: My name is Pablo Paredes. I’m from New York. When I joined the military in 2000, the Navy, I was first taken through a few school commands, technical training, electronics training and some specifics on the system that I now work on. That took me from Chicago to Virginia, back to Chicago, back to Virginia, and eventually to Japan. That was my first duty station in performing my actual duty, which is a 'tech' basically, a technician and operator on the NATO Sea Sparrow Missile system.

JIM CARTER: The Sea Sparrow?

PABLO PAREDES: Yes, the Sea Sparrow, that’s the U.N. approved ship’s defense missile system.

JIM CARTER: So, ship surface to air?

PABLO PAREDES: Yes, surface to air, exactly.

JIM CARTER: All right, and so now you’ve decided that you’re not willing to stay in the military. Do you want to tell me a little bit about that?

PABLO PAREDES: That’s correct. Well, first thing I want to say is that when I joined the military I didn’t have any — I was quite young. I think it’s crazy that we join at 18. Nobody is ready to make that decision at 18. I joined at 17. We are not ready. We don’t know what the world is about. We think we do, but we do not. So I didn’t know anything about politics, about the world. I didn’t care. I was a young kid. I wanted to play basketball and go out and have fun and get drunk and do crazy things. And the next thing you know, it was on a whim. It was absolutely on a whim. I woke up one day and said I don’t have many choices and this military guy keeps calling me. You know I’m going. Let’s go. So I say I will leave this week and I just went, and it was a rash decision, six years of my life I signed away and little by little I discovered what kind of person I was. I started studying, I started reading up on politics, on society and what’s going on in the world. Being sent to Japan was huge because it took me out of the box. We all live in this sheltered kind of place where we don’t understand what occurs in that world and we don’t understand what occurs outside of it. We don’t understand other kinds of thinking and other kinds of approaches and points of view. But once I was shipped out and I just totally had to look in on that world instead of being inside of it, it gave me a new perspective and I realized what kind of person I really was. And I realized that war not something I’m about. I realize that the military is something I’m completely against, especially the way this country uses it, at least throughout history, I meant. I see nothing but a system of muscle for an ideology that is not necessarily promoting peace or promoting positive things in all of history.

JIM CARTER: A lot of people would say, What about September 11?

PABLO PAREDES: Right. And I understand that the country has a military and has a job to do and I realize now I never wanted to be part of that and I don’t know why I joined, like I said, it was a rash decision. But you know when you consider September 11, I would in no way want to be part of the reaction — which is all you can call it — to September 11. But I would understand as a voter and an individual and a civilian that the country would go to some kind of war, that there could be some kind of reaction that there would be some kind of retribution. So on that playing field, Afghanistan made some sense. But after that, Iraq, so-called weapons of mass destruction, “Saddam Hussein is the devil” rhetoric, you know, I mean, I didn’t follow any of it. I didn’t understand it. And I’m a kid that if you sit me down and explain something to I do understand, it is real hard for me not to grasp something if you explain it to me carefully, and I heard just about everybody that believes in it explain it to me carefully, and I still don’t understand it. I don’t understand why we are in Iraq.

JIM CARTER: What led to you this final decision? What was the decision?

PABLO PAREDES: Ok, the time that I’ve spent in the military since I’ve kind of found who I am and what I am about and what I agree and disagree with, I felt somewhat like a hypocrite because here I am, every chance I get, telling the world, telling my friends, telling everybody around me how this country is doing the wrong thing, that this war we’re in is horrible, this is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong, but meanwhile, I’m a part of the system, you know. I’m part of the muscle of what this system is all about.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Pablo Paredes. The army has designated him a deserter and a fugitive. He was being interviewed by Jim Carter of the San Diego Military Counseling Project. He joins us live now on the phone in hiding. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Pablo Paredes.

PABLO PAREDES: Thank you for having me. Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: It good to have you with us. Can you tell us your status right now, what your plans are?

PABLO PAREDES: Ok. Before I do that can I clear a couple of things up?


PABLO PAREDES: A lot of times I’m being called an officer and I’m not an officer. There’s a big difference. An enlisted person comes in the Navy on a contract with no college experience and the Navy is pretty much that where they are starting out in life. An officer usually has a degree or some kind of extensive military schooling that leads to the title of officer and I’m not an officer. An officer has the right to resign. An enlisted person does not. So that is why that is important. Separate from that, the word 'deserter' is being tossed around a lot, and that implies that you do not intend to return and that is not my stand at all. I do intend to return and I face the music, so I want to make sure that no one says that I’m a deserter.

AMY GOODMAN: So why are you in hiding then?

PABLO PAREDES: Well, I’m not in hiding. I haven’t actually told — I haven’t actually, you know, like run or used a false name or changed my hair color. I’m not a fugitive either. I’m not staying at my place of a residence because there have been rocks thrown through the window so it’s not the safest place. I don’t have a connected telephone but I did that before the six-month deployment. So I haven’t officially been contacted and no press release has been released by the military saying what my status is. I assume that my status as of now is U.A. which is unauthorized absence and it is not the most incredible charge. I mean many people get very minor offenses for U.A. I think the major thing is how public I have been with this and I don’t think the Navy has decided how they will deal with me as far as that concerned.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Let me ask you, did you have any discussions with your fellow soldiers beforehand about the war, about your feelings, and get a sense of how others of them are regarding the situation?

PABLO PAREDES: Ok. Well, I will answer what you are asking me, but first another couple of corrections. I’m not a soldier, I’m a sailor. I’m not in the Army, I’m in the Navy and that is very important because if I were in the Army or Marines for that matter, then my job would be a lot more dangerous and I want it to be very understood that my job which is an electronics technician is a job that has never put me and would have not put me this harm’s way on this deployment. So I want people to carefully understand that this is not a decision based on personal fear for my own safety, because there’s not really any fear. My job is very safe. I can look forward to working in an air conditioned space and using the internet as I please. There is no danger really involved in my job. There’s only pretty much benefits. There’s extra pay for going to the Persian Gulf. There’s the hero status that comes with coming back from there. And I just want people to understand that this was based on principles and not on fear, because there’s really no danger to my job and there would have been a lot of danger to the marines that I would have dropped off and that would have eventually gone to Iraq and I can’t be part of that. Now as far as how I’m getting reactions within the Navy, as everyone probably understands the military is highly conservative institution. So, I have definitely gotten some very negative responses. I understand that and I expect that, and to some extent I would rather have the debates that I have been having where everyone who emails me with hate mail and be on the talk shows that really don’t respect what I’m doing, because it is not about preaching to the choir. I’m not going to change anything by preaching to a whole bunch of people who feel the same way as I do. What it’s all about is shocking those that don’t really understand what going on and maybe initially think that what I’m doing is unpatriotic, or maybe initially think that I’m a coward and maybe I’m afraid of war and when they really sit down and listen to me, if someone would want to do that, and realize that there’s no danger to me and that I’ve just — to some people, I have thrown away my life for some sort of principle, that they question what the principle is, and maybe inform themselves on why I’m doing this. That is what I’m hoping.

AMY GOODMAN: Pablo Paredes, we have break for 60 seconds. Then we will come back to you, who could be arrested at any moment by the military or another law enforcement agency. We will be back with him in a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest on the line right now is Pablo Paredes. He is Petty Officer Third Class, refused to board his ship in San Diego as it prepared to ship out for the Persian Gulf. Juan.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, I would like to ask you, on the day that you refused to board, as you were there at the pier with the group of reporters, was there — what was the reaction from your fellow sailors? Did any of them try to dissuade you, come down and talk to you? Give us a sense of that day.

PABLO PAREDES: It was a very sensitive situation because I had obviously gone very public with what I intended to do. So I think many of the officers on the boat itself were very sensitive and careful about the way they were perceived by the media. So I believe that most of the average sailors on the boat were instructed not to speak to me because they made it a point to just not even look in my direction. Now, some of the Chief Petty Officers and a couple of the officers on the boat, mainly the Duty Section Officer, came down — and this is the most important person on the boat at the time, the Duty Section Officer, is the highest ranking by way of his position at the moment he is the most important person on the boat — and he came down and he tried to talk me out of what I was doing and told me the possible repercussions of it. And more of a scare tactic, telling me it was a felony and this and that, and I explained to him that I was serious about what I was doing and I turned in my I.D. and told him that I was ready to face the repercussions. But in just about the sweetest the military has ever been to anybody I was given back my I.D. and I was told I was free to go those were his exact words, “You are free to go. We are not going to arrest you. We are not going to detain you. There’s nothing we can do right now. So was it kind of a weird situation. I fully expected to be detained and the process to begin. But I guess for fear of being caught on camera, you know, bringing down the hammer, they decided they would tell me I was free to go even though I mean every camera to the planet witnessed that I missed ship’s movement which is one thing that is against the Navy regulations. And I refused to go on the boat. So, I didn’t understand the logic there that we don’t want to get caught on camera.

AMY GOODMAN: Pablo, We have an update to a story we covered earlier this week. A federal judge has ordered a National Guard Specialist David Qualls to report to duty to go to Iraq. On Monday, Qualls and seven unnamed U.S. soldiers sued the government to challenge its “stop loss” policy that has forced thousands of soldiers to remain in the military beyond their scheduled retirement. David Qualls has sought a temporary restraining order to block the military from sending him to Iraq before the lawsuit was decided. Now, he of course, has a lawyer and we interviewed that lawyer, Jules Lobel, in Pittsburgh. In the Center For Constitutional Rights that is representing them. Do you have a lawyer? That’s what I’m in the process of doing. That is a large part of why I haven’t turned myself in yet. What I’m trying to do is make sure I have a lawyer and that that lawyer has a definite plan and he advises me on the best way to turn myself in and anything surrounding that. I don’t want to go in there without anybody to fight with me at least legally because then I could be turned over to a JAG lawyer which is a military lawyer and I do not know, you know, where his loyalties lie.

JUAN GONZALEZ: How do you answer those folks who say you enlisted in the military, it is your responsibility as a sailor to follow orders and if the country goes to war to prosecute that war? What is your response to that?

PABLO PAREDES: My response to that is that I definitely am not neglecting the fact that I signed on the line. If I were neglecting that I signed on the line I would be trying to get out of the punishment. So I definitely am about that commitment. I understand that I made a commitment. Whether it was a mistake or not and whether it was right that I was sought out because I was in a situation where I wasn’t in a financially stable situation and the military takes advantage of that as they always do, as they prey on those kinds of citizens. But I still understand that I signed the paper and there was a commitment and that’s why I’m willing to face the punishment. Now, as far as being a robot and just, you know, do as I say and don’t question it and things like that, I think that is very dangerous situation for a human being and I don’t think you stop being a human being because you become a Navy sailor or an Army soldier. I don’t think it is to that extent. In fact, even within the rules that are afforded to us we are told if at any time you find a order to be unlawful you have not only a right but a duty not to follow it. And I feel that way about any order that has to do with this war.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Pablo Paredes, we want to thank you for being with us. We will at this point to cover what you do and what happens to you. Thank you.

PABLO PAREDES: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Pablo Paredes is a Petty Officer Third Class, refused to board the ship in San Diego to Iraq. He could be arrested at any moment. The military has called him a deserter and a fugitive.

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