Spc. Suzanne Swift, who was arrested and confined to base for going AWOL after her charges of sexual harassment and assault went unaddressed by the military, on Friday signed papers with the military related to her case. We speak with Swift’s mother, Sara Rich. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to two mothers of two soldiers being court-martialed at Fort Lewis, Washington: Ehren Watada and Suzanne Swift. Specialist Suzanne Swift was arrested and confined to base for going AWOL — that’s absent without leave — after her charges of sexual harassment and assault went unaddressed by the military. She was then charged with being AWOL and missing movement. Swift has refused to return to Iraq, where she says she was sexually harassed by a commanding officer.
On Friday, Suzanne Swift signed papers with the military related to her case. The Army moved up the date of her summary court-martial to, well, today or tomorrow. Sara Rich, Suzanne Swift’s mother, joins us on the phone from Oregon. We welcome you to Democracy Now!
SARA RICH: Good morning, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us, Sara. Can you explain briefly what you understand has happened to this point? This is moving very quickly.
SARA RICH: It is moving very quickly. After waiting 180 days, now they want to get things done immediately. Suzanne has signed a statement saying what happened to her, and the military wants to do a summary court-martial with her in the next few days, saying that she missed movement and went AWOL, and that will end up with her spending up to 30 days in confinement. And then she can put in for a different military career, and they want to transfer her to another base. And she will stay in the military until January of 2009.
AMY GOODMAN: So 30 days confinement, and then stay for another two years. And honorable discharge after that?
SARA RICH: Possibly.
AMY GOODMAN: The alternative was what?
SARA RICH: The alternative was, she’d go to trial, be re-victimized and re-traumatized and stand up to a year in prison, with a dishonorable discharge afterwards.
AMY GOODMAN: And her charge, Suzanne Swift, why she didn’t return to Iraq, having served there for a year, having voluntarily signed up — what did she say happened to her, here and there?
SARA RICH: What happened to her when she was in Iraq was she was sexually harassed by her platoon sergeant, and then she was sexually abused and used by her squad leader. She reported the platoon sergeant harassment to her equal opportunity officer, and he did nothing. And when she told her team leader about what had happened with her squad leader, nothing happened, as well. I tried to help her, going through our Congressman DeFazio, but she was too scared for her life for me to do anything. So I stayed silent. I stayed silent.
AMY GOODMAN: And what has she admitted to, or what did Suzanne Swift sign, Sara, on Friday? What did the military write, the statement they wanted her to sign? And what did she ultimately sign?
SARA RICH: They wanted her to sign something that says that she was in a consensual relationship with the squad leader. And she went through the statement, and she corrected things. And the Army accepted the corrections, that it was not a consensual relationship. She said she never consented. And they accepted that, and she signed it on Friday.
AMY GOODMAN: And a summary court-martial means no trial?
SARA RICH: The summary court-martial means no trial. You don’t have any legal representation there. You just go before a judge and tell them what happened to you, and basically she admits that she did go AWOL and she did miss the movement.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you consider this a victory, or, more importantly, does Suzanne?
SARA RICH: No. We don’t consider this a victory. We consider this doing the best thing for Suzanne’s mental and emotional health possible. When you consider the alternative of going to prison and going through a horrendous trial, where she would be ripped apart by the military, who’s already abused her, this is what we have to do to protect Suzanne’s mental health.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Sara Rich, mother of Suzanne Swift. She’s in Eugene, Oregon. Suzanne Swift has been at Fort Lewis.
We also turn now to the case of Ehren Watada. He’s the first officer to publicly refuse to serve in Iraq. He will face his prosecutors next month at a pretrial hearing on June 22. Ehren Watada refused to deploy with his Fort Lewis base unit and was subsequently charged with one count of missing troop movement and two counts of speaking contemptuously of the president. In September, additional counts were added. He was charged with conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. Ehren Watada faces six years in prison.
Watada’s mother, Carolyn Ho, has been outspoken in her support of Ehren. She has just come from meeting with officials in Washington, D.C., pleading her son’s case and joins us in the studio here in New York. Welcome to Democracy Now!
CAROLYN HO: Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the state of Lieutenant Ehren Watada’s case, your son?
CAROLYN HO: At this point, as I have gone through the halls of Congress, I was told in some places that I should be confident that the military will mete out justice and that the Congress should not be interfering with a military court, that there are laws that govern the separation of powers. And we were attempting to explore ways that the Congress could support. It’s obvious that our executive branch has not abided by the Constitution, which my son has sworn to uphold, and that oversight needs to occur. And I have asked that the Congress at least consider, or congressionals consider, a sign-on letter that would call for the dismissal of the charges and for the military to accept his resignation. But I was told that that was not really something that congressionals can actually do.
AMY GOODMAN: Which congressmembers did you meet with?
CAROLYN HO: I met with two of our Hawaii congressional delegates, and also I met with Maxine Waters. However, Maxine Waters is saying that she is willing to assist in any way possible. And she is, as chair of the Out of Iraq Caucus, is saying to her aide, please investigate and get back to me on the kinds of strategies we can pursue.
AMY GOODMAN: Carolyn, Ehren Watada is based at Fort Lewis, Washington, but he’s from Hawaii, which is where you’re from.
CAROLYN HO: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: When did you first hear that he was going to refuse to deploy to Iraq? And what was your reaction?
CAROLYN HO: On January 1, 2006, my son called me. And when he made the announcement that he was going to not deploy, I was stunned. And we got into a huge, huge fight on the phone. And I said, "Can you not reconsider what you’re about to do? Do you realize what is going to happen? You’re one little lieutenant facing the huge military-industrial complex, and what do you expect to gain from this? Why can you not just finish off your tour of duty and just put it behind you, and then you will go on with your life?" And I finally was so frustrated with him, I hung up.
And then, I went through a period of thinking all of this through, because at that point, I felt so rejecting. I felt so disappointed. I felt so angry. I felt so hurt. Just a mixture of emotions that I could not even deal with, myself. And so, as I thought about things, I thought about Gibran’s poem, about — it’s The Prophet, and it’s about our children and that they come through us, but they don’t belong to us, and that I realized I needed to let go and that he needed to fulfill his own expression, that — whatever it was meant to be. And I realized that beyond trying to protect him, I needed to support his decision.
So I called him back, and I said to him, "Ehren, I really love you, and I just didn’t want anything to happen to you." And he said, "Mom, I really know where all that comes from. And I really know that you’re trying to be protective." But he said, "You know, I felt really betrayed by the fact that you were trying to talk me out of what I really felt my conscience was dictating." And he said, "It’s not a matter of my just deciding that war is a lousy idea, and I don’t want to go. And it’s not a matter my being afraid to die. I’m like any other human being. Of course, self-preservation is something that drives all of us, but it, for me, is a matter of conscience, and you were asking me to betray my conscience." And he said, "I can’t do that." And he said, "You’ve always taught me to do the right thing. So why are you asking me now not to do the right thing?"
And I basically was speechless, because I — you know, I basically said, "Well, I don’t care. I just don’t want you to do it. I can do it, but I don’t want to see your career destroyed. I don’t want to see you vilified by the press. I don’t want you to hurt."
And finally, I said, "But, you know, I thought about it, and for me, it has been the first step in a journey of a thousand miles to begin to realize that, what is life if you cannot live with your conscience?" And my son has said, "I would rather languish in prison than be responsible for the deaths of my soldiers and be responsible for their committing war crimes and for amplifying my participation in this illegal war." And I totally support him. I totally do. And I will continue to speak out until justice is served.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Caroline Ho, mother of Lieutenant Ehren Watada. You know Sara Rich and Suzanne Swift, her daughter.
CAROLYN HO: Yes, I do.
AMY GOODMAN: Both of your children being court-martialed at Fort Lewis. What has it meant for you to make contact with other parents in your situation?
CAROLYN HO: Well, I have felt very close to Sara. Knowing that our children were at the bases at the same time, seeing her go through the same kind of agony that I was going through, I think that, in a sense, there is a bond between us that will never go away. We are both pursuing justice for our children. We are both wanting to see that the larger issue is addressed. For her, it’s, you know, that the rights of women in the military are recognized and that women can go into the battle, but then understand that they will be protected by their own troops.
AMY GOODMAN: We only have a minute, but what is the response in Hawaii to what your son has decided and to you, as a mother who is now not only supporting your son personally, but speaking out for him?
CAROLYN HO: In Hawaii, I believe that the movement is growing in support of him. Initially, I think that the community was quite divided. And people in the 442nd, who had fought during World War II, who had come home with wounds, I would say that particular 442nd group, I would say most of those soldiers came back with PTSD and with wounds that lasted a lifetime, they were exceptionally critical of my son, feeling that his act was an act of cowardice, that it brought shame onto the Japanese community.
And on the mainland, on the continent, people have said that it’s reawakened the wounds between the no-no boys, who had refused to deploy, based on the fact that their constitutional rights were overridden, and their families and they, themselves, had been put into relocation camps. They took a stand, but there had been a rift.
But I would say, at this point, people have gotten on board. The local JACL has led the coalition. And different groups, the interfaith alliances, groups on the left, in the middle and the right, have come on board.
AMY GOODMAN: Carolyn Ho and Sara Rich, I want to thank you both for being with us.