The generals should end the war

Pub date July 25, 2007
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION All American military officers and commanders take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. Their oath is a solemn obligation to the American people, and especially to their own troops, to abide by the law. Our men and women in uniform place great trust in their superiors. They risk their lives in the belief that they will not be used falsely or illegally or for ill gain.

There is no group of Americans with greater interest in the enforcement of international law than American troops themselves. Our youths pay a heavy price when their rulers plunge them into operations beyond international law. Immediately after the Abu Ghraib scandal, the infamous retaliatory beheadings began.

The legal status of the occupation of Iraq is not a mystery. The generals who command the US troops know very well that the occupation is based on lies, carried out in defiance of US treaties. The Nuremberg Conventions explicitly repudiate the doctrine of preemptive war. The United Nations Charter, for which many of our parents and grandparents gave their lives on the battlefields of Europe, outlaws war as "an instrument of policy."

Every general knows that the occupation is a war of choice. The commanders also know that, except for special UN-sanctioned interventions, defensive necessity is the sole legal basis for war. US Army Field Manual no. 27-10 states without equivocation, "Treaties reutf8g to the law of war have a force equal to that of laws enacted by Congress."

Many soldiers of conscience who dared to speak openly about the immorality and illegality of the war have been court-martialed and imprisoned. Their cases, dating back to 2004, raise serious doubts about the capacity of our soldiers to receive justice in our military courts. Five months prior to the Abu Ghraib scandal, a soft-spoken Army soldier named Camilo Mejía was visibly upset by the atrocities he observed during his tour of duty in Iraq. Repulsed by the slaughter of civilians and the needless deaths of American GIs — all reported in his riveting combat memoir, Road from Ar Ramadi (New Press, 2007) — Mejía gathered his courage and made formal complaints to his superiors. Commanders refused to listen and questioned his patriotism. Eventually Mejía was sentenced to a year in prison for speaking out, for telling the truth.

His trial, like subsequent trials of war resisters, was a travesty of justice. The judge, Col. Gary Smith, ruled that evidence of the illegality of the war was inadmissible in court, that international law is irrelevant, and that a soldier’s only duty is to follow orders, regardless of their legality. In essence, Mejía spent months in prison for upholding the rule of law in wartime. Had commanders listened to Mejía, had judges respected due process and the rule of law, the Abu Ghraib scandal that humiliated our troops might never have occurred.

Our military system is passing through a profound moral and legal crisis. A commander who knowingly orders troops to participate in crimes against peace betrays himself or herself and those who serve under him or her.

The time has come, long overdue, for American generals of conscience to break their silence. *

Veterans for Peace (Chapter 69, San Francisco) and Asian Pacific Islanders Resist

The above statement was issued by these two antiwar groups and is endorsed by the national Veterans for Peace group, which will launch a campaign next week calling on American generals to refuse to continue the war.