Published on Monday, February 26, 2007 by CBS Broadcasting Inc.
GIs Petition Congress To End Iraq War
Americans in the military have been asked to make extraordinary sacrifices in recent years, particularly in Iraq, where the casualties are mounting, the tours are being extended, and some of them have had enough.
by Lara Logan
| Correspondent Lara Logan heard dissension in the ranks from a large group of service members who are fed up and have decided to go public. They’re not going AWOL, they're not disobeying orders or even refusing to fight in Iraq. But they are doing something unthinkable to many in uniform: bypassing the chain of command to denounce a war they’re in the middle of fighting.
"As a patriotic citizen who served two combat tours in Iraq, I just feel like this war, it's simply just not working out anymore, and soldiers are dying there everyday," says Specialist Kevin Torres.
Torres didn’t always feel that way—he enlisted in the Army right out of high school, after 9/11. He has twice served in Iraq, patrolling the mainly Kurdish north of the country, and carrying out combat patrols and goodwill missions.
"I joined because I just wanted to make a difference. I wanted to be a part of our generation's war," Torres says.
"You've been on two deployments and you didn't always feel this way. Was there a point at which, you know, something you experienced that made you think," Logan asks.
"Yeah. In January, we were doing routine presence patrol through the city of Hawija, and one of our trucks was hit by a roadside bomb, an IED, and it killed four of the soldiers out of the five that were in the truck. And during the recovery of the fallen soldiers all the debris outside of the truck. And we just had the truck was loaded with school supplies and soccer balls and crayons and notebooks and coloring books. We just wanna help. And it was just a really eye-opening and frustrating experience. Because we're still getting killed out there," he says.
It’s a sentiment echoed by all of the service members who are part of this protest.
60 Minutes gathered some of them in Washington, but they had to be off base, out of uniform and off duty to speak to Logan on camera.
They’ve all sent a petition, called “Appeal For Redress,” to their individual members of Congress, letting them know that “Staying in Iraq will not work” and it’s “time for U.S. troops to come home.”
"It's not about speaking out against the military or speaking out against the war. It's just, we're here four years down the line and there's not an end to it," Sgt. Evans, one of the dissenters, tells Logan.
"What are we trying to accomplish over there? I mean, what is what are we trying to do in Iraq?" another soldier, Sgt. Ronn Cantu asks.
What does he think?
"I don't even know anymore," he tells Logan.
"Well, what would you say to the people that say, 'Alright, it's clear that the war in Iraq is incredibly difficult and life is really tough both for Americans and for Iraqis, but pulling out's not the answer. It's only gonna get worse. There's gonna be all-out civil war,'" Logan asks.
"How does that become the default? Either someday, we have to leave. We can't stay in Iraq for the next thousand years," one soldier remarks.
Asked if there's a possibility that Iraq might be better off if American troops stay and finish the job, Cantu says, "But then our lives are hanging in the balance of a flip of a coin."
"That doesn't seem worth it to you? Those are not good odds?" Logan asks.
"Yes. I mean, we volunteered to make a difference, not just be part of an experiment," he replies.
The idea for this protest by active duty and reserve service members came from two enlisted men who served in the war: Marine Sgt. Liam Madden, who got to Iraq during the battle of Falluja, and his military commitment is up this winter, and Naval Petty Officer Jonathan Hutto, who serves on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which was deployed in the Gulf during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"I'm not anti-war. I'm not a pacifist. I'm not opposed to protecting our country and defending our principles. But at the same time, as citizens it's our obligation to have a questioning attitude, you know, about policy," Hutto says,
"Just because we volunteered for the military, doesn't mean we volunteered to put our lives in unnecessary harm, and to carry out missions that are illogical and immoral," Madden adds.
They say they’re permitted to express their opinions under a number of military rules, which the group lists. Among them is the 1995 Military Whistleblower Act. Although it prohibits them from speaking against the Commander in Chief or any of their superior officers, it does allow “Members of the Armed Forces…” to speak on their own behalf and “to make a protected communication to… Congress.”
"A senior officer in the Marine Corps said to me when I asked him about the Appeal, what was his opinion – and he served in both Iraq wars – he said, 'I have a hard enough time getting young men to put themselves in harm’s way, without having to have men in uniform tell them it’s not worth it,'" Logan remarks.
"We’re not telling young men and women that it’s not worth it, to serve their country. We’ve served our country. The men and women who have signed the appeal have served their country. So those, we’re not saying it’s not worth it. We’re saying that, if you have reservations about it to communicate it. That’s simply what it is," Hutto says.
"There are gonna be a lot of people who don't like what you’re doing," Logan says.
"By volunteering we've done more than about 99 percent of the population. And anybody who joined after 9/11 when the country was at a state of war, it's my opinion that nobody has the right to question that soldier's patriotism, nobody," Cantu replies.
"There are going to be a lot of people listening to this who say that, 'You're a traitor. You're betraying your uniform. You don't deserve to wear it,'" says Logan.
"I hope there aren't people that think that," says Lt. Commander Mark Dearden.
For him, going public has been one of the hardest decisions of his life. He’s a combat surgeon who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom, returned for a second tour and now treats soldiers at a Naval hospital in California.
"The decision to come here for me personally was not an easy one. And I don't expect it was for anyone. Last night I was with my family in the park in our town and it hit me that 'At this very moment, while I'm standing here, people are fighting and people are dying.' I've seen it with my own eyes. And I can feel it in my chest," Dearden says.
Dearden acknowledges this is very hard for him and he also admits that it isn't so much a protest as a plea.
According to a recent Military Times survey, many in uniform feel the same way. The poll found that for the first time ever more US soldiers oppose the president’s handling of the war in Iraq than support it.
Still, critics claim the group is partisan, just out to boost Democrats who oppose the war.
"I'm certainly not liberal, and I doubt many of the members on this panel are liberal. It's not funded by any partisan organization. It's soldiers. It's service members. It's grass roots. It's us," says Lt. Kent Gneiting.
White House spokesman Tony Snow has dismissed the protesters as an insignificant minority. "It’s not unusual for soldiers in a time of war to have some misgivings. You have several hundred thousand who served in Iraq. You have reenlistment rates that have exceeded goals in all the military," he said.
Logan read to the group: "And then he goes on to say that it's unfortunate that people like you – and the quote is – are 'going to be able to get more press than the hundreds of thousands who have come back and said they are proud of their service.'"
Sgt. Cantu responds, "You got two right here who are gonna do multiple tours in Iraq and, you know, I'm reenlisting. I never said I wasn't proud of my service. I fit some of those statistics right there myself."
For many in uniform, there’s an unwritten code of honor that says no matter how tough your situation is or whatever your private doubts about the mission may be, you just never speak out publicly against it, and so for them what the service members of this campaign are doing is nothing short of a betrayal.
"That’s not something I would do personally," a specialist remarks.
Logan spoke with soldiers from the 1st Cavalry who are currently serving in Baghdad. They acknowledged that the servicemen and women who signed the petition have the right to do so – but that doesn’t mean they should.
"I think every American soldier throughout history has wanted combat to stop," a major remarked.
"As an American soldier I feel like we took an oath to obey the orders of our Commander in Chief and officers appointed over us," Army Spec. James Smauldon adds.
"The war has been very difficult, the violence has not decreased at all, if anything it has gotten worse. Is there a part of you that sort of says, 'Yeah I understand why someone feels like this?'" Logan asks.
"I know what I’m here fighting for, to give the Iraqi people some democracy and hope so I am 100 percent behind this mission. You don’t sign up to pick which war you go to," Army Capt. Lawrence Nunn replies.
What would Ronn Cantu say to that?
"We haven't said that we're not going to war. But the time this airs I'll be back in Iraq," he replies.
"We don't get to choose the mission. Our leadership gets to choose the mission. Congress gets to choose the mission. My Congressman is Lacy Clay. I would like to tell him as a constituent of his, "Is this really – is this it?" Staff Sgt. Matt Nuckolls says.
"What do you mean, is this it?" Logan asks.
Says Nuckolls, "Is the mission in Iraq really what you want us to be doing? And then he responds, yes. Okay, well we go back to Iraq and keep doing what we're doing."
"We volunteer to make a difference, not just throw our lives away," Cantu adds.
Sgt. Ronn Cantu served in the army before 9/11 and re-enlisted after the terrorist attacks. He was in Iraq in 2004 and was headed back when 60 Minutes interviewed him. Although he says he will follow whatever orders he’s given, he personally feels this war is no longer worth fighting.
He is a third generation military man in his family. "The third generation to have served, the first who made the decision to make the military a career," he explains.
Asked if he thinks the petition could be career suicide, Cantu says, "Only time will tell."
"You're going back. Are you worried about what the consequences are going to be for you back there, when people know how you feel?" Logan asks.
"All I can do is just convey to those soldiers that I do not want them to die in Iraq and that I will do everything I can do bring them home safe," Cantu says.
"Once you're in that combat zone and once those bullets start flying it's, all those politics are out the window. It's not about foreign policy or what anybody says. It's about the man to your left and to your right. And now you're just out there defending each other," Kevin Torres says. "Nothing will ever change that."
Despite the fact that polls show the majority of the American public has turned against the war in Iraq, support for the troops remains high, even for soldiers like Specialist Torres, whose 101st Airborne was recently welcomed home with a parade near their home base at Ft. Campbell.
What did that mean to him when he returned home and saw the warm welcome?
"When you're in Iraq you're worried that you're sort of forgotten. The only people that are really concerned with the war in Iraq are people who have family members or loved ones in Iraq. And when you come home and you see a town welcome you and, you know, set up a parade it's comforting," he says.
"What would you say to your children 30 years from now about the war you fought?" Logan asks.
"That I was just doing what my country asked me to do and I did it well," Torres replies.
Copyright 2006, CBS Broadcasting Inc.