Thursday 17 February 2005
I was deployed to Iraq in April 2003 and returned home
for a two-week leave in October. Going home gave me the
opportunity to put my thoughts in order and to listen to what my
conscience had to say. People would ask me about my war
experiences and answering them took me back to all the
horrors-the firefights, the ambushes, the time I saw a young
Iraqi dragged by his shoulders through a pool of his own blood
or an innocent man was decapitated by our machine gun fire. The
time I saw a soldier broken down inside because he killed a
child, or an old man on his knees, crying with his arms raised
to the sky, perhaps asking God why we had taken the lifeless
body of his son.
I thought of the suffering of a people whose country was
in ruins and who were further humiliated by the raids, patrols
and curfews of an occupying army.
And I realized that none of the reasons we were told
about why we were in Iraq turned out to be true. There were no
weapons of mass destruction. There was no link between Saddam
Hussein and al Qaeda. We weren't helping the Iraqi people and
the Iraqi people didn't want us there. We weren't preventing
terrorism or making Americans safer. I couldn't find a single
good reason for having been there, for having shot at people and
been shot at.
Coming home gave me the clarity to see the line between
military duty and moral obligation. I realized that I was part
of a war that I believed was immoral and criminal, a war of
aggression, a war of imperial domination. I realized that acting
upon my principles became incompatible with my role in the
military, and I decided that I could not return to Iraq.
By putting my weapon down, I chose to reassert myself as
a human being. I have not deserted the military or been disloyal
to the men and women of the military. I have not been disloyal
to a country. I have only been loyal to my principles.
When I turned myself in, with all my fears and doubts, it
did it not only for myself. I did it for the people of Iraq,
even for those who fired upon me-they were just on the other
side of a battleground where war itself was the only enemy. I
did it for the Iraqi children, who are victims of mines and
depleted uranium. I did it for the thousands of unknown
civilians killed in war. My time in prison is a small price
compared to the price Iraqis and Americans have paid with their
lives. Mine is a small price compared to the price Humanity has
paid for war.
Many have called me a coward, others have called me a
hero. I believe I can be found somewhere in the middle. To those
who have called me a hero, I say that I don't believe in heroes,
but I believe that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
To those who have called me a coward I say that they are
wrong, and that without knowing it, they are also right. They
are wrong when they think that I left the war for fear of being
killed. I admit that fear was there, but there was also the fear
of killing innocent people, the fear of putting myself in a
position where to survive means to kill, there was the fear of
losing my soul in the process of saving my body, the fear of
losing myself to my daughter, to the people who love me, to the
man I used to be, the man I wanted to be. I was afraid of waking
up one morning to realize my humanity had abandoned me.
I say without any pride that I did my job as a soldier. I
commanded an infantry squad in combat and we never failed to
accomplish our mission. But those who called me a coward,
without knowing it, are also right. I was a coward not for
leaving the war, but for having been a part of it in the first
place. Refusing and resisting this war was my moral duty, a
moral duty that called me to take a principled action. I failed
to fulfill my moral duty as a human being and instead I chose to
fulfill my duty as a soldier. All because I was afraid. I was
terrified, I did not want to stand up to the government and the
army, I was afraid of punishment and humiliation. I went to war
because at the moment I was a coward, and for that I apologize
to my soldiers for not being the type of leader I should have
I also apologize to the Iraqi people. To them I say I am
sorry for the curfews, for the raids, for the killings. May they
find it in their hearts to forgive me.
One of the reasons I did not refuse the war from the
beginning was that I was afraid of losing my freedom. Today, as
I sit behind bars I realize that there are many types of
freedom, and that in spite of my confinement I remain free in
many important ways. What good is freedom if we are afraid to
follow our conscience? What good is freedom if we are not able
to live with our own actions? I am confined to a prison but I
feel, today more than ever, connected to all humanity. Behind
these bars I sit a free man because I listened to a higher
power, the voice of my conscience.
While I was confined in total segregation, I came across
a poem written by a man who refused and resisted the government
of Nazi Germany. For doing so he was executed. His name is
Albrecht Hanshofer, and he wrote this poem as he awaited
The burden of my guilt before the law
weighs light upon my shoulders; to plot
and to conspire was my duty to the people;
I would have been a criminal had I not.
I am guilty, though not the way you think,
I should have done my duty sooner, I was wrong,
I should have called evil more clearly by its name
I hesitated to condemn it for far too long.
I now accuse myself within my heart:
I have betrayed my conscience far too long
I have deceived myself and fellow man.
I knew the course of evil from the start
My warning was not loud nor clear enough!
Today I know what I was guilty of...
To those who are still quiet, to those who continue to betray
their conscience, to those who are not calling evil more clearly
by its name, to those of us who are still not doing enough to
refuse and resist, I say "come forward." I say "free your
Let us, collectively, free our minds, soften our hearts,
comfort the wounded, put down our weapons, and reassert
ourselves as human beings by putting an end to war.