|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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."