Sgt. Travis Bishop, who served 14 months in Baghdad with the 3rd
Signal Brigade, faces a court-martial this Friday for refusing to
deploy to Afghanistan.
Bishop is the second soldier from Fort Hood in as may weeks to
be tried by the military for his stand against an occupation he
believes is "illegal." He insists that it would be unethical for him to
deploy to support an occupation he opposes on both moral and legal
grounds and he has filed for conscientious objector (CO) status.
Spc. Victor Agosto was court-martialed last week for his refusal
to deploy to Afghanistan. Agosto's lawyer, James Branum, who is also
Bishop's lawyer, is the legal adviser to the GI Rights Hotline of
Oklahoma and co-chair of the Military Law Task Force. Branum told
Truthout during a phone interview on July 10 that, contrary to
mainstream opinion that believes Afghanistan to be a "justified" war,
the invasion and ongoing occupation are actually in violation of the US
Constitution and international law.
"Victor is approaching this from the standpoint of law and
ethics," Branum explained, "It's his own personal ethics and principles
of the Nuremberg Principles, that the war in Afghanistan does not meet
the criteria for lawful war under the UN Charter, which says that
member nations who joined the UN, as did the US, should give up war
forever, aside from two exceptions: that the war is in self-defense and
that the use of force was authorized by the UN Security Council. The
nation of Afghanistan did not attack the United States. The Taliban may
have, but the nation and people of Afghanistan did not. And under US
law, the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution, any treaty enacted by
the US is now the 'supreme law of the land.' So when the United States
signed the UN Charter, we made that our law as well."
Bishop told Truthout he was inspired by Agosto's stand and had
chosen to follow Specialist Agosto's example of refusal. Both his time
in Iraq, the illegality of the occupation and a moral awakening led to
his decision to refuse to deploy.
"I started to see a big difference between our reality there and
what was in the news," Bishop explained to Truthout about his
experience in Iraq, but went on to add that morality and religion
played a role as well.
When he received orders to deploy to Afghanistan, Bishop said,
"I started reading my Bible to get right with my creator before going.
Through my reading I realized all this goes against what Jesus taught
and what all true Christians should believe. I had a religious
transformation, and realized that all war is wrong."
Bishop received his orders to deploy to Afghanistan in February,
but at the time "didn't know there was a support network or a way out
at all. I thought GI resistance was something archaic from Vietnam."
As his deployment date approached, he met with other soldiers at a GI resistance cafe, "Under the Hood", in Killeen, Texas.
"They told me not only do I have a choice, but I have a support
network backing me up," Bishop explained, "I told them my thinking, and
they said that I sounded like a CO. They put me in touch with (James)
Branum and when I learned from him what a CO was, I knew I couldn't go."
Bishop went absent without leave (AWOL) for one week the day his
unit deployed, "because I didn't have time to prepare to file for CO
status. So while AWOL I prepared a statement and filled out my
application for CO (status). Then I went back (to Fort Hood) with
Branum and turned myself in. I never planned on staying AWOL. They gave
me a barracks room and assigned me to a platoon and told me to show up
to work the next day. That was it. They started the CO process, but
they also started the Uniform Code of Military Justice process, and
that's where it gets shifty."
Shortly thereafter, the military charged him with two counts of missing movement and disobeying a direct order.
Bishop, Agosto, and other resisters are not alone. In November
2007, the Pentagon revealed that between 2003 and 2007 there had been
an 80 percent increase in overall desertion rates in the Army
(desertion refers to soldiers who go AWOL and never intend to return to
service), and Army AWOL rates from 2003 to 2006 were the highest since
1980. Between 2000 and 2006, more than 40,000 troops from all branches
of the military deserted, more than half from the Army. Army desertion
rates jumped by 42 percent from 2006 to 2007 alone.
Bishop informed Truthout that morale is low among his peers in
the military, whether they are pro-war or opposed to the occupations.
"Hard Corps folks, as soon as they hear about my sentence being
capped at a year, they are changing their minds already," he said,
"There's a lot of soldiers that go just because they feel they have to
go. They are driven by money and legal obligation, not patriotism. They
go because they don't want to lose their job and get in trouble. A lot
of the people I talk to that are in, they feel as I do, but they say
things like 'I only have four more months, so I'll ride it out and hope
not to get stop-lossed.'"
Spc. Michael Kern, an active duty veteran of the occupation of
Iraq (where he served from March 2007 to March 2008), is also based at
Fort Hood. He is currently getting treatment for traumatic brain injury
(TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Kern turned against both occupations, as he told Truthout, "Once
I realized it wasn't a war and was an occupation, and once I realized I
was a terrorist to people in Iraq. It wasn't a hard decision. My whole
unit feels as I do, but are afraid to speak out because they don't know
there is support for those of us who speak out against the war."
Kern, like Bishop, says that troop morale is very low.
"I'd say it's at an all-time low - mostly because of Afghanistan
now. Nobody knows why we are at either place, and I believe the troops
need to know why they are there, or we should pull out, and this is a
unanimous feeling, even for folks who are pro-war."
Kern feels that the decisions of Agosto and Bishop to refuse to deploy to Afghanistan is worthy of admiration and support.
"I admire these guys," he told Truthout, "They are truly
amazing. I wish I would have done that, but when I deployed I didn't
know what I was getting into, or my options. I look up to these guys.
They are standing up for what they believe in, and that's the greatest
thing any of us can do, and they are doing it despite what the Army is
doing to them."
Kern suggests that soldiers "do your research before you
willingly follow orders, because this is an unjust war, and according
to Army regulations, you are entitled to question an illegal order,
such as deploying to an illegal war not sanctioned by the UN. And that
there is a large community of support for those who are standing up.
And it's all over the world, not just the US, wherever you are, there
are people who feel the same way you do."
In England, Lance Cpl. Joe Glenton, from the Royal Logistics
Corps, has become the first British soldier to speak out publicly
against the war in Afghanistan.
Glenton delivered a letter to British Prime Minister Gordon
Brown on 30 July stating why he is refusing to return to Afghanistan.
Glenton wrote: "The war in Afghanistan is not reducing the
terrorist risk, far from improving Afghan lives it is bringing death
and devastation to their country. Britain has no business there. I do
not believe that our cause in Afghanistan is just or right. I implore
you, Sir, to bring our soldiers home."
Glenton, like Agosto, and soon for Bishop, began his court-martial proceedings on 3 August.
US commanders recently announced
that US and NATO troop deaths from Afghan bombings spiked six-fold in
July, compared to the same month last year. In July, resistance
fighters detonated the highest number of bombs against occupation
forces in the eight-year occupation, according to figures released
Tuesday. More US troops were killed in July in Afghanistan than any
other month of the entire occupation, and violence continues.
Meanwhile, Anthony Cordesman, a senior adviser to the US
military commander in charge of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen.
Stanley McChrystal, told The Times of London that an additional 45,000 US troops are needed in Afghanistan.
Bishop hopes his refusal to deploy will inspire soldiers to search their consciences.
"My hope is that people who feel like me, that they don't have a
voice and are having doubts, I hope that this shows them that not only
can you talk to someone about this, but that you actually have a
choice," he said.
"Choice is the first thing they take away from you in the
military," Bishop added, "You're taught that you don't have a choice.
That's not true. And not wanting to kill someone or get killed does not
make you a coward. I hope my actions show this to more people."