Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hoodstock: 4 hours of peace & music on August 30th

A commenter to a post on my Austin American-Statesman reader blog said that we "Code Pink ladies need to do more to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Well, I wish we ladies could do that all by ourselves, but of course we need everyone to pitch in.

Here's one way you can help: Attend the upcoming Hoodstock benefit for the Under The Hood Cafe on Sunday, August 30th at Jovita's at 1617 South First St. Or, if you can't attend, you can donate right on the Under The Hood website.

Help keep the doors open to GIs needing a place to think, socialize, speak freely and access resources off-base near Ft. Hood.

Here are the particulars:

Benefit show for Under The Hood Cafe, a GI coffeehouse in Killeen, TX
Sunday, August 30th, 5 to 9 pm
Jovita's, 1617 South First St. in Austin
$10 suggested donation at the door
Featured bands:

Gary Graves
Will T. Massey
Castro's Beard
Shootin' Pains

GI resister, Travis Bishop's stand of conscience

Kudos to the Austin American-Statesman and AAS reporter, Jeremy Schwartz for the fair and accurate front-page story published Saturday about the GI coffee house, Under The Hood Cafe in Killeen.

I joined a group of people who gathered that afternoon for a vigil at the Bell County Correctional Institution (a new facility in the middle of nowhere) to express our support for Victor Agosto and Travis Bishop, who just began serving sentences for refusing to take part in US military operations in Afghanistan. Travis will be transferred to a military brig and Victor will serve out his sentence at the county jail.

Several of the people at the vigil had witnessed both of the recent court-martial proceedings that took place at Fort Hood. Alice Embree of Austin has written good accounts of both, posted on The Rag Blog. Dahr Jamail, who has authored a book about GI resistance, also witnessed Travis Bishop's trial on Friday and has written about it on Truthout. The Truthout posting includes Travis Bishop's full statement to the court, which I am copying below. I think it offers insight into the arbitrariness of the way the US army carries out its regulations regarding the right to conscientious objection. As Travis Bishop argues, if soldiers are not informed of their rights, their rights are abridged. Also disturbing is the description of the jury in Travis Bishop's trial, comprised of officers several ranks above his own. It was certainly not a "jury of his peers."

I am upset by the long sentence imposed on Travis Bishop. A jail sentence is not something I wish on anyone, but especially not on someone who takes a stand AGAINST killing. It's a backward ruling. I'm glad to learn that Bishop's attorney plans to take the case to higher courts.

Here is Travis Bishop's statement, made during his court-martial:

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Panel,
The prosecution raised the point that 'ignorance of the law is no excuse for the crime.' And here is proof of that. Case presented, verdict rendered, Sgt. Bishop is guilty. I have been convicted of the crimes that I committed, and I cannot argue that.

All I can say is this: If I had a Soldier that acted on impulse and did something illegal that I, his Sergeant, could have trained him on, there is no doubt in my mind that I would be in the First Sergeant's office the next morning explaining how I 'failed' the Soldier, leaving this Soldier untrained and, ultimately, unprepared.

Since the day I was promoted to this rank that is now in jeopardy, the idea of the Sergeant being responsible for even the individual actions of the Soldier has been drilled into me; especially on the issue of training your Soldier. My rank would be in jeopardy if my Soldier was doing things that I could have, according to my superiors, prevented, as long as I had taken an interest in my Soldier's life, and trained my Soldier as best as I possibly could.

But today, I stand alone. My actions and decisions, based on a seemingly unapproachable command structure, and a lack of training of my rights as a Soldier, remain defended by myself only. I have defense counsel, but the 'buck' stops with me and me alone, and I don't believe that this would be true in any other situation in the Army.

So why is that? Why is there such a stigma around the words? Conscientious Objection. To me, for the longest time, it was only an archaic term from somewhere back in the Vietnam Era; not something that applied to me, the modern Soldier. COs were the butt ends of jokes; they were punch lines. But why?

Maybe it's because since day one of anyone's career in the military, fierceness and bravado are pounded into every potential Soldier, and fear and doubt are viewed as weaknesses. This leaves Soldiers that feel as I feel in quite a predicament.

Does a Soldier who feels as I feel tell someone in their Command? Or a peer? And risk persecution and ridicule? I have never heard the word 'coward' used more than when I say the words conscientious objector around a group of Soldiers.

But what most Soldiers don't realize is that CO is not only a regulation, it's a right. To file for conscientious objector status is an individual right of every Soldier in the Army. This right ensures that Soldiers with the beliefs that I share have the opportunity to request to be discharged due to said beliefs. But, unlike other regulations in the military, this one remains unpublicized.

Ladies and gentlemen of the panel, there are many regulations that offer Soldiers individual rights that without these regulations, they might not ultimately have, even though the average Soldier has no idea these regulations and rights exist. And yet, regardless of knowledge of these regulations, they still fall under these rights given to them by the military.

My key point is this: AR 195-6 covers Army polygraph procedures. If a Soldier doesn't know their rights covered and protected under this regulation, does this give persons giving the polygraph test free reign to ask whatever they want? Just because they don't know the regulation?

If a Soldier doesn't know that, under AR 600-8-22, they are entitled to receive a Good Conduct Medal after 3 years of outstanding service, does that mean that it is ok to not award this Soldier?

If a Soldier doesn't have a clear understanding of AR 600-8-3, Unit Postal Operations, does that mean that the Soldier isn't entitled to receive mail in theaters of combat?

It is my firm belief that the Conscientious Objector regulation is not a regulation only, but an individual right of every Soldier, and that the responsibility to teach this regulation falls on Unit Command Teams. There are plenty of regulations that we do teach Units about, sometimes quarterly even. Why not this one?

In closing, I am not trying to say that I did not commit these crimes. The point I'm trying to convey is that, had I known that the process for applying to be a CO was still alive and well in the Army, I would have applied to be discharged as such a long time ago.

The truth is, as soon as I discovered that the process existed, I acted upon it. I left because I did not feel that I would have a sympathetic, understanding command structure to fully take my problems to, and also to give myself time to prepare for my CO application process, and the legal battle I'm currently fighting.

These are not excuses. These are explanations. My hope is that you truly treat them as such during your sentencing deliberations. Godspeed.

-- Travis Bishop

photo of Travis Bishop at Under The Hood Cafe, photo from

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Aung San Suu Kyi receives international support

As reported in world news today, Burma's spiritual leader and Nobel Peace Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to another year and a half under house arrest by Myanmar's military regime, most probably in order to keep her out of the country's electoral process.
Political leaders around the world have made statements condemning the ruling. There is pressure now, even from leaders such as Britain's Prime Minister, Gordon Brown and members of the European Parliamentary Caucus, for the UN Security Council to issue a global ban on weapons sales to Myanmar. This will mean convincing Myanmar's trade partners, notably China, Russia and India to concede to such an embargo.

Once again, one can see how the weapons trade influences politics and how certain countries are willing to go only so far in pressing for human rights. Foreign weapons sales still represent the largest export of the US.

President Obama issued a strong statement today in support of Aung San Suu Kyi, calling for her release, but stopped short of expressing approval for an international weapons embargo on the junta in Myanmar. Why?

Portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi by artist, Shepard Fairey, who created the most well-known Obama campaign portrait

Friday, August 7, 2009

Witnessing the court-martial of Victor Agosto

Thanks to Alice Embree, who attended the court-martial proceedings for Victor Agosto and wrote this piece about it, posted on The Rag Blog.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

GI resister, Victor Agosto, takes his stand

It was good to see the Austin American-Statesman cover the story of GI resister, Victor Agosto, whose objection to participating in the escalation of US military operations in Afghanistan led to his court-martial at Ft. Hood yesterday. As reported, he will serve a one-month sentence before being discharged with a loss in rank.

Victor's court-martial was also covered in the NY Times and the Miami Herald.

Just an hour or so before his trial, Victor was interviewed via phone by Amy Goodman of the Democracy Now! news program. Victor is a man of few words who answers Goodman's questions with concise and thoughtful candor.

"I have learned that nothing is more frightening to power than a direct and principled challenge to its authority. The truth is on our side, and those who have incarcerated me know it. My only apologies are to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. I hope that someday they can forgive me for my contributions to their distress."

-- from a statement by Victor Agosto to his supporters, as quoted in the Miami Herald

photo of Victor Agosto by Carlos Lowry