A Duty to Resist

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CommonDreams.org

A Duty to Resist

A U.S. Sergeant in Wiesbaden is working for peace. Now she’s being investigated.

BERLIN - U.S. Sergeant Selena Coppa, 26, stationed in Wiesbaden, would have liked to participate in the Easter peace marches in Germany last weekend, but as an active-duty soldier, she is not allowed to demonstrate "on foreign soil". Per Army regulations, GIs are allowed, however, to speak at other public events and with the press. Nevertheless, when Coppa wanted to with join with other anti-war veterans who spoke out at the anti-NATO conference in Strasbourg earlier this month, she received an order not to leave her post. Another direct order prevented her from participating in the "Winter Soldier" hearing of anti-war veterans in Freiburg on March 14th.

As an active duty soldier, Coppa does anti-war organizing under arduous conditions. In her courageous and outspoken blog http://activedutypatriot.blogspot.com/., she challenges the policies and practices of the current U.S. leadership and sometimes receives more than 100 comments from fellow soldiers. Some express deep respect; others are furious and threaten her, in one case even posting the home address of her mother. But she says that she has a duty, under oath to defend the U.S. Constitution, to resist.

Recently Coppa has been named a member of the Board of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW): the first to remain in active-duty service (her Army contract expires in 2011) and the only IVAW Board member in Europe. She hopes that being named to the Board while on active-duty will "inspire other soldiers to resist."

Coppa founded and leads IVAW's Active Duty Organizing project to "mobilize the military community to withdraw its support for the war." It has been done before: GI resistance was an important factor in forcing the U.S. to withdraw from Vietnam. Inspired by the legendary 1971 hearing of Vietnam veterans, "Winter Soldier" that exposed U.S. war crimes, Coppa and other IVAW members organized a similar hearing in March 2008 near Washington called "Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan." Since then there have been regional hearings in the U.S., as well as in Freiburg last month.

Founded in 2004, IVAW now has 1700 members, including ca. 400 active-duty soldiers. There are local chapters in 48 U.S. states, Canada, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Europe. The IVAW mission statement calls for the immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces from and reparations for Iraq, and benefits for returning U.S. servicemen and women. In February 2009, IVAW members voted in favor of a resolution calling for "the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all occupying forces in Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people."

U.S. Army regulations protect free speech of soldiers and allow membership in non-partisan, nonprofit organizations like IVAW, but Coppa has been subject to harassment. On the day she was invited to join the IVAW Board, the U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) began "investigating" her. She has not yet been formally charged. But her commanders cite "dereliction of duty," "making disloyal statements," and "criticizing the war aims of the United States."

Elsa Rassbach

Elsa Rassbach is US citizen, filmmaker and journalist, who often lives and works in Berlin, Germany. She heads the "GIs & US Bases" working group in DFG-VK (the German affiliate of War Resisters International, WRI) and is active in Code Pink, No to NATO, and the anti-drone campaign in Germany.  Her film short "We Were Soldiers in the 'War on Terror'" has just been released in the U.S., and "The Killing Floor,"  her award-winning film set in the Chicago Stockyards, will be re-released next year. 

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