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War Resister Pablo Paredes Wins Surprise Victory: Military Judges Orders No Jail Time For Refusing Deployment Orders

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Paredes was convicted in a court-martial on Wednesday. However a judge decided Thursday not to sentence him to jail–instead he will face three months of hard labor. [includes rush transcript]

Iraq war resister Navy sailor Pablo Paredes has been sentenced to three months of hard labor for refusing deployment to the Persian Gulf. He was also demoted from petty officer third class to seaman recruit, the lowest rank in the Navy. His lawyers call it a victory for war resisters around the country.

Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Paredes to nine months of confinement and a bad conduct discharge.

Paredes refused to board the USS Bonhomme Richard as it was preparing to sail from San Diego with 2,000 Marines in December. He surrendered to military authorities a few days later and applied for conscientious objector status. The Navy has denied his request but that ruling is being appealed.

Paredes was convicted in a court-martial on Wednesday on a charge of missing his deployment. Prosecutor Lt. Brandon Hale said “He is trying to infect the military with his own philosophy of disobedience.”

On Thursday, before sentencing, Paredes spoke to the court about his decision not to go to Iraq. He said “I feel in my mind and heart that this war is illegal and immoral.”

  • Pablo Paredes, Navy petty officer who refused orders to board a ship last December heading to Iraq.
  • Marjorie Cohn, professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego and executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild. She testified at Paredes’ court martial.

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

AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, before sentencing, Paredes spoke to the court about his decision not to go to Iraq. He said, (quote), “I feel in my mind and heart this war is illegal and immoral.” Pablo Paredes joins us now on the phone from San Diego. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Pablo.

PABLO PAREDES: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Its very good to have you with us. How do you feel about the judge’s decision?

PABLO PAREDES: Well, I’m definitely very happy that I’m not going to be going to jail for nine months. Beyond that, to some extent I feel vindicated, but to some extent, no, because at the end of the day the verdict was guilty, and me and my lawyers disagree with that.

AMY GOODMAN: What did you say in court?

PABLO PAREDES: Well, I’m going to read a statement that I read in court. It goes as follows:

Your Honor, and to all present, I’d like to state first and foremost that it has never been my intent or motivation to create a mockery of the Navy or its judicial system. I do not consider military members adversaries. I consider myself in solidarity with all service members. It is this feeling of solidarity that was at the root of my actions. I don’t pretend to be in a position to lecture anyone on what I perceive as facts concerning our current political state of affairs. I accept that it is very possible that my political perspective on this war could be wrong. I don’t think that rational people can even engage in debate if neither is willing to accept the possibility that their assertions, no matter how researched, can be tainted with inaccuracy and falsehoods. I do believe that accepting this in no way takes away from one’s confidence in their own convictions.

I am convinced that the current war in Iraq is illegal. I am also convinced that the true causality for it lacked any high ground in the topography of morality. I believe as a member of the Armed Forces, beyond having duty to my Chain of Command and my President, I have a higher duty to my conscience and to the supreme law of the land. Both of these higher duties dictate that I must not participate in any way, hands-on or indirect, in the current aggression that has been unleashed on Iraq. In the past few months I have been continually asked if I regret my decision to refuse to board my ship and to do so publicly. I have spent hour upon hour reflecting on my decision, and I can tell you with every fiber of certitude that I possess that I feel in my heart I did the right thing.

This does not mean I have no regrets. I regret dearly exposing the families of marines and sailors to my protest. While I do not feel my message was wrong, I know that those families were facing a difficult moment. This moment was made in some ways more difficult by my actions, and this pains me. That day on the pier, I restrained myself from answering the calls of coward and even some harsher variations of the same term. I did so because I knew this wasn’t the time to engage these families in debate. I thought that I became in many ways a forum in which to vent their fears and sadness. And I didn’t want to turn that into a combative situation in which the families were distracted more by our debate than simply empowered by their ability to chastise my actions. All that being said I still feel my actions made some people very unhappy and made others feel that I was taking away from their child’s or their husband’s goodbye, and I regret this.

I also regret the pain and stress I have caused those near and dear to me. I know that my lawyers feel that it is ill advised of me to say these things, and I am aware of that. My lawyers have had a very difficult time with me. They also thought that it was ill advised me for me to plead not guilty. It is this I truly want to explain, both to them and to the court. I realize I did not board the Bonhomme Richard on December 6 and that I left after the ship personnel and Pier Master-at-Arms refused to arrest me. Given these confessions one may find it hard to understand why would anyone admit to the action but not plead guilty to the crime. It is this question that has also been the topic of much reflection for me.

I never deny my actions nor do I run from their consequences. But pleading guilty is more than admission of action. It is also acceptance that that action was wrong and illegal. These are two things I do not and cannot accept. I feel, even with all the regrets and difficulties that have come as a result of my actions, that they were in fact my duty as a human being and as a service member. I feel in my mind and heart that this war is illegal and immoral. The moral argument is one that courts have little room for and has been articulated in my C.O. application. It is an argument that encompasses all wars as intolerable in my system of morals. The legal argument is quite relevant, although motions filed and approved have discriminated against it to the point it was not allowed into this trial.

I have long now been an ardent reader of independent media, and, in my opinion, less corrupted forms of media, such as TruthOut.org, Democracy Now!, books from folks like Steven Zunes, and Chalmers Johnson, articles from people like Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein. These folks are very educated in matters of politics and are not on the payroll of any major corporate news programming, such as CNN or FOX News network. They all do what they do for reasons other than money, as they could earn much more if they joined the corporate-controlled ranks. I have come to trust their research and value their convictions in assisting me to form my own. They have all unanimously condemned this war as illegal, as well as made resources available for me to draw my own conclusions, resources like Kofi Annan’s statements on how under the U.N. Charter the Iraq War is illegal, resources like Marjorie Cohn’s countless articles providing numerous sources and reasons why the war is illegal under international, as well as domestic law. I could speak on countless sources and their arguments as to the legality of the war on Iraq quite extensively. But again, I don’t presume to be in a position to lecture anyone here on law. I mean only to provide insight on my actions on December 6.

I understood before that date very well what the precedent was for service members participating in illegal wars. I read extensively on the arguments and results of Nazi German soldiers, as well as imperial Japanese soldiers, in the Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials, respectively. In all I read I came to an overwhelming conclusion supported by countless examples that any soldier who knowingly participates in an illegal war can find no haven in the fact that they were following orders, in the eyes of international law.

Nazi aggression and imperialist Japan are very charged moments of history and simply mentioning them evokes many emotions and reminds of many atrocities. So I want to be very clear that I am in no way comparing our current government to any of the historical counterparts. I am not comparing the leaders or their acts, not their militaries nor their acts. I am only citing the trials because they are the best example of judicial precedent for what a soldier/sailor is expected to do when faced with the decision to participate or refuse to participate in what he perceives is an illegal war.

I think we would all agree that a service member must not participate in random unprovoked illegitimate violence simply because he is ordered to. What I submit to you and the court is that I am convinced that the current war is exactly that. So, if there’s anything I could be guilty of, it is my beliefs. I am guilty of believing this war is illegal. I’m guilty of believing war in all forms is immoral and useless, and I am guilty of believing that as a service member I have a duty to refuse to participate in this war because it is illegal.

I do not expect the court to rule on the legality of this war, nor do I expect the court to agree with me. I only wish to express my reasons and convictions surrounding my actions. I acted on my conscience. Whether right or wrong in my convictions I will be at peace knowing I followed my conscience.

That was my statement.

AMY GOODMAN: Pablo Paredes, reading the statement he read in the military court. The judge had a very unusual statement in response during your sentencing, Pablo Paredes. Could you share with us what he said?

PABLO PAREDES: I don’t have exactly in front of me what he said, and it wasn’t during sentencing. I believe the statement you are talking about, and I won’t put it in quotes because I don’t have it exactly as it was stated, but after the government or the prosecution — it’s called the government in military court, but it’s the prosecution — after they questioned Marjorie Cohn on the stand for a while, and it turned to almost an open debate, they weren’t very successful. Marjorie Cohn was able to express quite clearly why she felt that the wars in Yugoslavia, in Afghanistan and Iraq were, in fact, illegal, and the judge said something to the extent: I believe the government has just proved that any service member would have reasonable cause to believe that the wars of Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq were illegal. So, I mean, it was a pretty impressive thing to hear from a military judge.

AMY GOODMAN: The judge said this?

PABLO PAREDES: Yeah, something to that effect.

AMY GOODMAN: That a soldier would have reason to believe that the wars in Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Iraq were illegal. Pablo Paredes, we are joined by Marjorie Cohn for just the last minute. She testified, as you said, during your court martial, Professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego and Executive Vice President of the National Lawyers Guild. Marjorie Cohn, can you talk about the significance of what the judge said, and this is after you had testified?

MARJORIE COHN: Yes. Pablo paraphrased it very well, and what happened was that the military prosecutor was trying to undermine my testimony about the legality of the Iraq War, and he had looked at some of the articles I had written, and I had written articles about the illegality of the war in Afghanistan and the war in Yugoslavia, as well. And so he asked me questions like: Well, you would also say then that the war in Afghanistan was illegal, right? And he expected me just to have a “yes” answer, and I think he expected that that would be such a ridiculous response that it would speak for itself. But I actually explained my answer and about why it violated the U.N. Charter and then I gave a hypothetical. Do you have time for me to give this hypothetical?

AMY GOODMAN: We have thirty seconds.

MARJORIE COHN: Oh, thirty seconds? It was about if the Shah of Iran, you know, was overthrown, comes to the U.S., and then the Iranian government says, you know, give him back to us, he was a torturer and murderer, and if you don’t we will invade you. And if that would be lawful the same way — if Bush’s attack on Afghanistan was also lawful. And then I said that the war in Yugoslavia was also unlawful because it violated the Security Council, violated the U.N. Charter, and that regime change is illegal, kicking out Milosevic. And so, because the prosecutor was eliciting this testimony from me, the judge then made that statement, that, in fact, the prosecution had just successfully proved that any seaman recruit has reasonable cause to believe those wars were illegal. And the gist of my testimony during the sentencing phase, where the legality of the war was put on trial, was to corroborate the reasonableness of Pablo’s beliefs that the war is illegal, that U.S. troops that participate in the war are put in a position to commit war crimes, and by boarding that ship and delivering Marines to Iraq to fight in an illegal war and possibly commit war crimes, Pablo would have been complicit in those crimes and therefore the orders to board that ship were illegal, and Pablo had a duty to disobey them, both under the Nuremberg Tribunal and the Uniform Code Of Military Justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Well Marjorie Cohn, I want to thank you for being with us. Testified at the court martial of Pablo Paredes, and Pablo Paredes, thank you, as well.

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