Let Iraq War Resisters Stay in Canada May 28, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, Canada, canada government, canada parliament, canada politics, canada war resisters, cliff cornell, harper government, Iraq, iraq reisters, Iraq war, jason kenney, jean crhetien, jeremy hinzman, mary jo leddy, nuremberg trials, robin long, roger hollander, War Resisters
add a comment
Jeremy Hinzman was a soldier in the United States Army’s elite infantry division, the 82nd Airborne. In 2002 and 2003 he served in Afghanistan in a non-combat role after applying for conscientious objector status. His application was refused and he learned that he would be deployed to Iraq. In January 2004 he drove to Niagara Falls, crossing the border with his partner Nga Nguyen and son Liam.
Hinzman was the first American Iraq war resister to seek refuge in Canada. Since then many others have joined him here realizing that were they to stay in the United States, they would be punished for their moral, political and religious beliefs.
In the coming days, Hinzman is expected to receive notice that he will be deported. Like Robin Long and Cliff Cornell, who were deported by the Harper government and sentenced respectively to 15 and 12 months in prison, Hinzman will be jailed as a prisoner of conscience.
For what crime were Long and Cornell sentenced to a year or more in prison?
During Long’s court martial, the only piece of evidence presented against him was a video of him speaking out against the Iraq war on Canadian television. For Cornell, it was a clip of him being interviewed on CNN.
Ninety-four per cent of U.S. military deserters are administratively discharged. Those who have had the courage to make their opposition to the war public, like Long and Cornell, are convicted as felons. In many states that means they will be stripped of the right to vote and in all cases it means they won’t be permitted to return to Canada.
Ever since the Nuremberg Trials, a new principle has entered the realities of modern warfare: the argument that one must follow orders in all circumstances is no longer justified. Following orders is not the ultimate test of patriotism. This is especially true in the case of an illegal, immoral and, in Barack Obama’s words, “a dumb war” like that which is still being fought in Iraq.
Our former prime minister Jean Chrétien refused to send Canadian troops to Iraq, in spite of all the dire consequences he was threatened with. To this day, Canadians continue to support that decision with what pollsters call “statistical unanimity.”
As a graduate student at the University of Toronto, I studied with many of those who came here because of resistance to the Vietnam War. They were allowed to stay and our country has been immensely enriched by this wave of immigrants who were willing to commit to the civil society that welcomed their ideas and values.
We would be a better country for welcoming Iraq war resisters, too.
In the last 11 months Parliament has twice voted for an end to these deportations. Our government has also been directed by the majority of MPs to establish a program to facilitate permanent resident status for Iraq war resisters.
Despite these democratic expressions of the will of the majority of Canadians, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney refuses to take action to accept Iraq war resisters’ requests to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
As citizens, Canadians have the choice of whether we are going to be a colony of empire or a country of conscience.
Our government emphasizes programs for immigrants who make money. We also need immigrants who make sense.
© 2009 The Toronto Star
Barack Obama, Torture Enabler April 11, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Torture.
Tags: Alberto Gonzales, bagram, baltasar garzon, bush war crimes, cia doctors, cia interrogation, cia nurses, david addington, doj, douglas feith, Guantanamo, human rights, jay bybee, john yoo, justice department, leon panetta, nazi lawyers, nuremberg principles, nuremberg trials, obama war crimes, pinochet, president obama, rendition, roger hollander, rule of law, ted rall, torture, torture memos, War Crimes, waterboarding, william haynes
1 comment so far
“Ah, the great shell game of American justice. You can’t prosecute the torturers because their lawyers advised them that torture was OK. You can’t prosecute the lawyers because all they did was theorize–they didn’t torture anyone. You can’t prosecute the president and vice president who ordered the torture because they have “executive privilege” and, anyway, who would put a head of state on trial? What is this, Peru? “
Published on Friday, April 10, 2009 by Ted Rall.com
America is a nation of laws–laws enforced by Spain.
John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes and Douglas Feith wrote, authorized and promulgated the Justice Department “torture memos” that the Bush Administration used for legal cover. After World War II, German lawyers for the Ministry of Justice went to prison for similar actions.
We’ve known about Yoo et al.’s crimes for years. Yet–unlike their victims–they’re free as birds, fluttering around, writing op/ed columns…and teaching. At law school!
Obama has failed to match changes of tone with changes in substance on the issue of Bush’s war crimes. “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” he answered when asked whether he would investigate America’s worst human rights abuses since World War II. Indeed, there’s no evidence that Obama’s Justice Department plans to lift a finger to hold Bush or his henchmen accountable.
“They should arrest Obama for trying to impersonate a President,” one wag commented on The San Francisco Chronicle‘s website.
Fortunately for those who care about U.S. law, there are Spanish prosecutors willing to do their job. Baltasar Garzón, the crusading prosecutor who went after General Augusto Pinochet in the ’90s, will likely subpoena the Dirty Half Dozen within the next few weeks. “It would have been impossible to structure a legal framework that supported what happened [in Guantánamo]” without Gonzales and his pals,” argues the criminal complaint filed in Madrid.
When the six miscreants ignore their court dates (as they surely will), Spain will issue international arrest warrants enforceable in the 25 countries that are party to European extradition treaties. All hail King Juan Carlos I!
Which brings us to a leaked report by the Red Cross, famous for its traditional reticence to confront governments. Which means that physicians are enjoined to do no harm. Doctors are prohibited by their ethical code of conduct from attending, much less participating in, torture. (What does this have to do with Bush’s lawyers? Hold on. I’m getting there.)
The Red Cross found that CIA doctors, nurses and/or paramedics “monitored prisoners undergoing waterboarding, apparently to make sure they did not drown. Medical workers were also present when guards confined prisoners in small boxes, shackled their arms to the ceiling, kept them in frigid cells and slammed them repeatedly into walls,” reports The New York Times.
“Even if the medical worker’s intentions had been to prevent death or permanent injury,” the report said, they would have violated medical ethics. But they weren’t there to protect anyone but the CIA. They even “condoned and participated in ill treatment….[giving] instructions to interrogators to continue, to adjust or to stop particular methods.” Charming.
Since 1945, at least 70 doctors around the world have been prosecuted for participating in torture. But not Bush’s CIA torture facilitators. Not by this president. Asked to comment on the Red Cross report, a spokesman for CIA director Leon Panetta replied that Panetta “has stated repeatedly that no one who took actions based on legal guidance from the Department of Justice at the time should be investigated, let alone punished.” (There’s the lawyer connection.)
Which is similar to what Obama said about the torturers: “At the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering up.” Don’t you just hate being micromanaged when you’re torturing people?
Ah, the great shell game of American justice. You can’t prosecute the torturers because their lawyers advised them that torture was OK. You can’t prosecute the lawyers because all they did was theorize–they didn’t torture anyone. You can’t prosecute the president and vice president who ordered the torture because they have “executive privilege” and, anyway, who would put a head of state on trial? What is this, Peru?
What’s the flip side of a victimless crime? A perpless crime?
It’s a neat circle, or would be if it fit, but drink some coffee and let the caffeine do its thing and it soon becomes apparent that it doesn’t come close. The trouble for the Bushies, and now for Obama–they’re his torturers now–is that lawyers are bound by a higher code than following orders.
Yoo, Bybee, Addington, Gonzales, Haynes and Feith were asked by the White House to come up with legal cover for what they knew or ought to have known were illegal acts under U.S. law, international law, and treaties including the Geneva Conventions (which were ratified by the U.S. and therefore hold the force of U.S. law). Since they don’t deny what they did–indeed, they continue to justify it–their presumed defense if they wound up on trial in Europe would be that they were just following orders.
However, the decision in the 1948 trials of German attorneys immortalized in the fictionalized film “Judgment at Nuremberg” makes clear that a lawyer’s duty is to the law–not his government. And not just his own country’s law–international law.
The Nuremberg tribunal acknowledged that Nazi Germany was an absolute dictatorship in which everyone answered to Adolf Hitler and could be shot for disobeying. Nevertheless, the court ruled, “there were [German] restrictions for Hitler under international law.” Despite his total legal authority within Germany, Hitler “could issue orders [that violated] international law.” Obeying a direct order from Hitler, in other words, was illegal if it violated international law. And German lawyers went to prison for doing just that.
The six lawyers about to face charges in Spain didn’t have to worry about Nazi firing squads. They were rank opportunists trying to advance their careers in an Administration that viewed laws as quaint, inconvenient obstacles. Here’s how not scared they are: Feith recently penned an op/ed in The Wall Street Journal daring–double-daring–Obama’s Justice Department to go after him.
“If President Barack Obama and the prosecutors see a crime to be prosecuted, they can act,” Feith wrote.
One can only hope. In the meantime, we’ll always have Spain.
War Reporters Used to Prefer Morality Over Impartiality February 8, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Media, War.
Tags: archibald forbes, battle of britain, bbc, bull run, edward murrow, fall of paris, holocuast, london blitz, Media, nuremberg trials, paris 1940, Paris Commune, quentin reynolds, rebecca west, richard harding davis, robert fisk, roger hollander, war reporters, war reporting, world war II, wwi
add a comment
Feb 7, 2009
By Robert Fisk
Editor’s note: This article was originally printed on Saturday in The Independent.
The “normality” of war, part two. We had a great storm in Beirut this week, thunder-cracks like gunfire, great green waves crashing below my balcony, rain like hail. So I curled up on my balcony sofa – coat and red scarf and thick socks – and opened a book sent by a kindly Independent reader, a much bent copy of Snyder and Morris’s 1949 A Treasury of Great Reporting. And I began to wonder – in an age when the
BBC can refuse help to the suffering because of its “impartiality” – whether we still report war with the same power and passion as the men and women of an earlier generation.
“ ‘Turn back! Retreat!’ shouted the men from the front, ‘we’re whipped, we’re whipped!’ They cursed and tugged at their horses’ heads and struggled with frenzy to get past.” This is William Howard Russell covering the Union rout at Bull Run for The Times. “Soon I met soldiers who were coming through the corn, mostly without arms… The ambulances were crowded with soldiers, but it did not look as if there were many wounded… Men literally screamed with rage or fright when their way was blocked… At every shot a convulsion, as it were, seized upon the morbid mass of bones, sinew, wood, and iron, and thrilled through it, giving new energy and action to its desperate efforts to get free from itself… In silence I passed over the long bridge.”
And here is Archibald Forbes reporting the collapse of the Paris Commune in 1871 for the London Daily News. “The Parisians of civil life are caitiffs to the last drop of their thin, sour, white blood. But yesterday they had cried ‘Vive la Commune!’… Today they rubbed their hands with livid currish joy to have it in their power to denounce a Communard and reveal his hiding place. Very eager at this work are the dear creatures of women… They have found him, the misérable!… a tall, pale, hatless man with something not ignoble in his carriage. His lower lip is trembling, but his brow is firm, and the eye of him has some pride and defiance in it. They yell – the crowd – ‘Shoot him; shoot him!’… men club their rifles and bring them down on that head. They are firing on the flaccid carcass now, thronging about it like blowflies…”
The first German war crime of the 1914-18 war – the sack of the Belgian city of Louvain – was covered by Richard Harding Davis of the New York Tribune, forced by the Germans to stay aboard his military train as it circled the burning city. “When by troop train we reached Louvain, the entire heart of the city was destroyed and fire had reached the Boulevard Tirlemont, which faces the railroad station. The night was windless, and the sparks rose in steady, leisurely pillars, falling back into the furnace from which they sprang… Outside the station in the public square the people of Louvain passed in an unending procession, women bare-headed, weeping men carrying the children asleep on their shoulders… Once they were halted, and among them were marched a line of men. They well knew their fellow townsmen. These were on their way to be shot.”
Now a slightly selfish Quentin Reynolds at the fall of Paris in 1940: “I had stayed behind to write the story of the siege of Paris… Now it developed that there would be no siege of Paris. The Grand Boulevard was almost deserted this morning. One middle-aged woman was sitting at a table at a sidewalk café, one of the very few where one could still get coffee and bread. She had driven into the city that morning in her small one-seated (sic) car. She wanted to sell her car. I bought it on the spot. Now I was mobile.”
And Ed Murrow for CBS in the London Blitz: “Millions of people ask only, ‘What can we do to help? Why must there be 800,000 unemployed when we need these shelters?… What are the war aims of this country? What shall we do with victory when it’s won? What sort of Europe will be built when and if this stress has passed?’ These questions are being asked by thoughtful people in this country. Mark it down that in the three weeks of the air Blitz against this country, more books and pamphlets have been published on these subjects than in any similar period of the war… Mark it down that these people are both brave and patient, that all are equal under the bomb… You are witnessing the beginning of a revolution, maybe the death of an age.”
Finally, the sharp tongue of Rebecca West for The New Yorker at the Nuremberg trials. “Though one has read surprising news of Göring for years, he still surprises. He is, above all things, soft. He wears either a German air-force uniform or a light beach-suit in the worst of playful taste, and both hang loosely on him, giving him an air of pregnancy. He has thick brown young hair, the coarse, bright skin of an actor who has used grease paint for decades, and the preternaturally deep wrinkles of the drug addict; it adds up to something like the head of a ventriloquist’s dummy. His appearance makes a pointed but obscure reference to sex… it appears in the Palace of Justice that it is only the Americans and the British who can hold up a mirror to Germany and help her to solve her own perplexing mystery – that mystery which, in Nuremberg and the countryside around it, is set out in flowers, flowers which concert by being not only lovely but beloved… ‘The people where I live now send me in my breakfast tray strewn with pansies,’ says the French doctor who is custodian of the relics at the Palace of Justice (the lampshade made of human skin, the shrunken head of the Polish Jew).”
It’s not just the power of the writing I’m talking about here; the screaming soldiers, the dying Communard, the condemned men, the woman wanting to sell her car, the death of an age, the flowers. These reporters were spurred, weren’t they, by the immorality of war. They cared. They were not frightened of damaging their “impartiality”. I wonder if we still write like this.
Tags: amy goodman, andre shepherd, antiwar movement, asylum, AWOL, axis of evil, berlin, conscientious objector, desertion, elsa rassbach, geneva convention, germany, illegal war, Iraq, nuremberg trials, roger hollander, saddam, soldier, stop-loss, us bases, War Resisters, wmds
add a comment
December 12, 2008
EXCLUSIVE…AWOL US Soldier Seeks Asylum in Germany Over Returning to “Illegal” War in Iraq
A US soldier who went absent without leave a year and a half ago to avoid returning to Iraq has applied for asylum in Germany. Specialist Andre Shepherd served in Iraq between September 2004 and February 2005 as an Apache helicopter mechanic. When his unit was called up to return to Iraq in early 2007, he went AWOL to avoid redeployment, calling the war “illegal.” He lived underground in Germany for a year and a half before applying for asylum two weeks ago. We speak with Shepherd in his first international broadcast interview.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Berlin, East Berlin, to be exact, East Berlin, Germany. Soldier underground. Today, a Democracy Now! international broadcast exclusive. A US soldier who went absent without leave a year and a half ago to avoid returning to Iraq has applied for asylum in Germany.
Specialist Andre Shepherd served in Iraq between September 2004 and February 2005 as an Apache helicopter mechanic. After his tour of duty, he returned to Germany, where he’s based. When his unit was called up to return to Iraq in early 2007, he went AWOL to avoid redeployment, calling the war “illegal.” He lived underground in Germany for a year and a half before applying for asylum two weeks ago. Andre Shepherd may become the first American soldier to test German laws that could grant asylum to war resisters.
Andre Shepherd joins us now on the phone now from southern Germany in his first national broadcast interview.
Andre Shepherd, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Can you tell us why you’re applying for asylum in Germany?
ANDRE SHEPHERD: Hi, Amy. It’s great to be here.
It’s for several reasons, actually, as to why. First of all, since I went AWOL, you know, in early 2007, there was no other recourse, you know, in order to return back to the United States or travel to another country. So, I was here in Germany and everything, so this would be the most logical place to be.
The second reason is because of the stand of, you know, the German government and the German people against the war. There is overwhelming support for the antiwar movement that has been going on since the beginning of the Iraq war. So it would also be, you know, a logical reason for that.
And third of all, because of the—you know, the Nuremberg trials were based here in Germany in 1948, about sixty years ago, where they say that everybody, including soldiers, would—you know, must take responsibility for all of their actions. So, that would mean that if you’re in an illegal war, that means the soldier also is doing something illegal. So I think that it would be best for me to apply for asylum in Germany, as well, because of the actual stance and the historical precedents that have been set, you know, in this land.
AMY GOODMAN: Andre, talk about why you joined the military, where you were born, where you grew up.
ANDRE SHEPHERD: OK. I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. I lived in that [inaudible] my entire life. I went to—graduated from Lakewood High School in 1995, and then I attended Kent State University, about twenty, twenty-five miles south of Cleveland, until about spring of 2000.
After I left college, I ended up working several jobs to try to make ends meet, because I couldn’t get, you know, a job in the field of study that I was in, which was computer science, because at that time the dotcom bubble had burst. So I was—end up working the line of low-paying jobs, you know, like being a courier, vacuum cleaner salesman, even working for, you know, work-today-pay-today kind of jobs. And it was not really an easy existence. I ended up being homeless twice, and things like that.
And what happened was, was that in the summer of 2003, you know, right after the invasion and everything, I was walking past the recruiter’s office, and he spoke to me about, you know, wanting to help people and everything, so I went in. You know, we had a cup of coffee and everything, and he was explaining to me about, you know, what the military—what the military’s role in the world, you know, as of this time was, you know, speaking about basically all the dictators in the world, like Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-il, you know, the usual suspects from the Axis of Evil. And he was mentioning about September 11th and about the war on terror and everything and talking about how America stands for freedom and democracy and how we should—you know, they needed people like me to be part of the frontline in this war against, you know, tyranny and oppression and everything. So that sounded pretty good to me. I was a little taken aback by it, because it’s not every day someone, you know, asks you to help save the world or anything like that. But at the same time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to join the military right away because of, you know, being in a military structure and giving your life over for a number of years and everything, because I’m a very independent-minded person.
But then he started talking about the benefits, you know, about the steady pay, the free housing, the free medical care, the paid tuition for school, you know, everything like that. And for me, being down on my luck and everything and being homeless twice and everything, that actually sounded like a really good idea, because I, you know, wanted to put my life on the right path, where I could actually get my life straight, you know, finish my degree and, you know, going about my life, reaching the goals in my life.
But I still wasn’t really convinced, because I didn’t want to sign my life away for eight years, you know, like as I have said before. But that’s when they told me about, you didn’t have to sign up for eight years, because they had a new program at that time about signing up for the Army for a few months—in my case, it was fifteen months—where you could try out the Army and then you could leave. At that time, I didn’t know about, you know, the stop-loss or about the Individual Ready Reserve, where even after you leave the military service for up to eight years, you are subject to be called back from the military for additional deployments or whatever they need you for.
So—and then he also mentioned about the $5,000 bonus. And that really caught my eye, because I thought, you know, having at least a little nest egg to begin with, I can actually build my life up, you know, from there. So after a few months of thinking about it and everything, I decided to join the military in January of 2004.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you joined, and you trained to be an Apache helicopter mechanic?
ANDRE SHEPHERD: That’s correct.
AMY GOODMAN: And where, then, did you originally go in Iraq? How did you end up joining your unit?
ANDRE SHEPHERD: What happened was, was after I graduated from the Advanced Individual Training in Fort Eustis, I was sent to Katterbach, Germany to join the 601st Aviation Support Battalion. At the time, when I joined basic training in February, that was when the unit had deployed to Iraq, so they were already six months in theater. So when I arrived there, I was sent on to join the unit in Camp Speicher, which is outside of Tikrit in Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about your days in Iraq, what exactly you did. Did you meet Iraqis? Did you kill Iraqis?
ANDRE SHEPHERD: OK, I have to explain this, because my experiences weren’t like it was with the infantry, where the infantry was out every single day going on patrols, you know, kicking down doors and everything like that, because as an Apache mechanic, our primary job was to make sure that the helicopters stay in the air. All the time, we were always mission-ready. So we work twelve-hour days, six days a week, you know, every single week, because we had to keep the Apaches in the air. We had to do, you know, phases, where we would do like complete maintenance on the helicopters and everything like that.
Sometimes there would be duties where you would go for guard duty, you know, to watch a group of Iraqis who were coming onto the base so they could, you know, build the fences, like, sand the fences or, you know, painting or different things like that. So we would actually give them money, where they could, you know, actually feed their families or take care of themselves and things like that. So the extent of my interactions with the Iraqis were very minimal. It was either by, you know, passing by them while they’re working or, you know, when they’re waiting for the trucks and everything, saying hello and things like that, but not out on the streets or anything like that. It was a completely different experience than what it would have been had I been working for the infantry or any of the, you know, the tank commanders or the cavalry or anything like that.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about fixing the Apache helicopters. What about the air war in Iraq?
ANDRE SHEPHERD: Now, this one is a serious point of contention, because in the research that I have done over several years, the extent of damage that has happened in Iraq—you know, with the infrastructure being totally destroyed, you know, their not having enough power, there’s no water, some photos of bullet holes from 30mm chain guns going through buildings and everything—all of this cannot have been done by the infantry. This is true.
To get concrete evidence on the air war, it’s very, very, very difficult. There are several articles that I have read, where journalists are very—you know, even journalists are frustrated as to trying to get accurate numbers, you know, how much munitions that were done, how many sorties were flown, what kind of ammunition was used. So, you know, they keep getting stonewalled by the military. I asked the pilots about their missions and everything, and I was told that their missions are—you know, for operational security, they’re not allowed to talk about them. So what I would have to rely on was basically what was being reported, you know, with what little information the journalists can dig up.
But I’m sure it was quite extensive, because many units are flying like, you know, several thousand missions a year, you know, doing patrols in Iraq, used in support for the infantry, just doing patrols throughout the cities and everything. And, you know, with the constant refueling and rearming, you know they’re using the ammunition for something. They’re just not just using them only for test fire. So we know that they’re being done. But like I was saying in the beginning, the extent of the damage, you know, with what is going on is the masses of civilians that have been killed as a result of, you know, of the air war, which is too big to just pin onto the infantry. I know that, you know, especially the Apache has played a significant part in the Iraq war, especially in the last five years.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Andre Shepherd, how did you do this research? You say you got more and more information as you were researching while you were in Iraq, what led you to believe you couldn’t be a part of this any longer. How did you do research in Iraq?
ANDRE SHEPHERD: OK, now, in Iraq, there was actually a limited opportunity to do so. It was more so once I redeployed back to Germany. What we had for our breaks and everything, they had a little place where you could go and use the internet, you know, mainly to chat with families or check email and things like that. So that’s where I would spend one hour a day, starting to look up the causes for the Iraq war, as to, you know, what exactly are we doing there, and what kind of impact that I had being an Apache mechanic, you know, and keeping the Apaches in the air, figuring out how my contribution to the war affects the daily life of the Iraqi people.
What I had been finding out from there, you know, looking at several sources and everything, is that—you know, about the lies that the Bush administration has told, that they have continued to perpetuate, especially in the last ABC interview that Mr. Bush has given, talking about the—none of the WMDs have been found in Iraq or anything, about the widespread damage that has been going on, about the sentiments of the Iraqi people, the sentiments of different soldiers, depending on which site you would go to, and things like this. And I’ve pretty much been building a massive database on things that I have been collecting over the years, including the laws, you know, of the United States, international law, things like that referring to the legality of the war, and especially with the public opposition that’s been going on, you know, particularly in Germany. You know, there’s huge sections of the United States that were opposing it. Pretty much all over the world.
So, this began in Iraq, you know, like I said, for one hour a day, but once I came back to Germany, when I bought a computer and actually had a constant internet connection, I could actually do intensive research, you know, for like two, maybe three, four hours a day, you know, after work, just seeing what was going on.
AMY GOODMAN: Andre, we’re going to break, and then we’re going to come back to this conversation. And we’ll also be joined by Elsa Rassbach, and we’re going to talk about US military bases in Germany. There are more bases here than anywhere in the world. Finally, we’re going to be joined by a German lawyer who has sued Donald Rumsfeld, and we’re going to talk about the Senate report that just came out on the former Secretary of Defense.
This is Democracy Now! We’re broadcasting from Berlin. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Berlin, actually from East Berlin, here in Germany, as Democracy Now! goes on the road and wraps up our European trip. We’re joined on the telephone from another part of Germany by Andre Shepherd. He could be the first US soldier to apply for political asylum here in Germany, refusing to return to Iraq. He’s gone underground. He’s gone AWOL.
We’re also joined here in Berlin by Elsa Rassbach. She is a US citizen and activist who’s lived in Germany for the past eighteen years. She’s a member of American Voices Abroad Military Project and of the German affiliate of the War Resisters’ International.
Before we go to Elsa, I wanted to go back to Andre and ask—so, you came back here to Germany. Where were you? And what does it mean to go AWOL? What did you do? You left the base?
ANDRE SHEPHERD: Yes, that is correct. I left the military base in Katterbach in April 2007 and never returned. This is AWOL. It’s slightly different than desertions, because with AWOL you always have the intent to return, you know, back to your post after a certain amount of time, and with desertion, that means you permanently quit the military. And as of right now, I’m still currently considered as AWOL, but, you know, given the circumstances [inaudible], I’m quite sure that that status has changed to desertion.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, how did you actually apply? Have you applied in any way to the US government?
ANDRE SHEPHERD: For AWOL or for…?
AMY GOODMAN: No, to apply for asylum in Germany.
ANDRE SHEPHERD: Oh, OK, OK. Now I understand. OK, well, basically what you had to do was go through the reception center, which I went to in Giessen a few weeks ago, and formally declare myself as an asylum seeker. And then, you know, they take care of the paperwork and everything. And then you are designated as an asylum seeker, upon which you are enjoyed limited rights, you know, for living in Germany until such time as the hearing comes and they make a decision on whether or not they will grant you full rights to asylum.
AMY GOODMAN: Why didn’t you apply, Andre Shepherd, for conscientious objector status?
ANDRE SHEPHERD: It’s for several reasons, but the main overall reason is because in the US, conscientious objector only pertains to individuals that are against every single war of every form. It doesn’t matter if it’s offensive, defensive, limited action. It doesn’t matter. The problem is, for me to actually go and apply for conscientious objection, I would actually have had to lie, because my belief is that the armed forces are there for defense of the nation, like let’s say an example like someone decides to invade California, you know, and the military is called up to go and repel whatever forces invaded the land. Of course I would take up arms and go and defend my land, because they breached our borders. This is OK. But as soon as I would use that as an argument in my conscientious objector application, it would be automatically rejected, because it goes against the first tenet of the rules of objection.
The second thing on there is that you have to, you know, live the lifestyle. From what I’m reading, you know, in AR600-43, you have to live the lifestyle that supports your beliefs. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how that would work, because the way it’s written, I’m assuming that even if you, like, do things like, you know, play videogames or watch war movies, you know, anything that advocates war, that wouldn’t support your lifestyle, you know, of your beliefs. And it’s up to the soldier to prove that these beliefs are sincere. So it’s like next to impossible.
The other and most compelling reason is the case of Augustin Aguayo. At the same time that my unit was scheduled for the second deployment, Augustin Aguayo’s case was big in the media, particularly in the Stars and Stripes magazine. This guy was the most pacifist soldier I have ever seen, you know, and he applied for conscientious objector status. I mean, the guy had never even loaded his weapon in a war zone. And the way the military treated him and, you know, summarily rejected his application and saying that he wasn’t sincere about his beliefs and everything, and they wanted to put him in handcuffs to send him back to Iraq. And he ended up, you know, serving time, because he finally went AWOL, because normal channels of conscientious objection were closed to him, and there’s like no other alternative to not going to combat duty. So this told me right away that this was not the way to go in terms of solving this problem, because I knew that, one, the CO would be rejected, and two, that it would cause too many problems, not for myself, but also for the unit, as well, especially if word got out that this was going on.
AMY GOODMAN: We will link on our website, democracynow.org, to our interviews with Augustin Aguayo, who joined us right before he turned himself in in the US military in Los Angeles and then went back to Germany—well, had been back in Germany, where he had gone AWOL and ultimately was freed, after being imprisoned. And we’ve talked to him extensively about his reasons for applying for CO status.
I wanted to turn from Andre Shepherd, who—I hope you’ll stay on the line with us—to Elsa Rassbach, who has been here in Germany for some eighteen years, moved from the United States. Elsa, can you give us the lay of the land? You’ve been a longtime antiwar activist here in Germany, Germany having more US military bases outside the United States than any place in the world.
ELSA RASSBACH: Yes. Actually, I’ve been here in two stints. One was during the Vietnam War, and one has been since 1996. And in the Vietnam War, when there were a lot of GI newspapers in Europe and Germany and many soldiers deserting to Sweden and so forth, the German peace movement was critical in that effort reaching soldiers.
And now what has happened is that, you know, Germany is still occupied, really, more than sixty years. Germans are very grateful for the liberation of Germany by the US, but on the whole, the majority do not approve of how the US are using the bases here for these wars. And there are more bases here than any other country outside the US. There’s 68,000 soldiers stationed here. The US is consolidating in Europe to sort of six mega-bases. Five of them are to be in Germany, and one is in Vicenza. Ansbach area, where Andre was stationed, is supposed to be one of them, is supposed to be the big fighter-helicopter base. In addition to that, there are two Central Commands in Germany. Germany is the only country with the Central Commands, you know, reporting directly to the Pentagon, like we know CENTCOM is in the US, and so forth, but the EUCOM, which covers all of Europe, Soviet Union, Turkey, that’s in Stuttgart, used to include Africa, but now they’ve created AFRICOM. That’s also in Stuttgart.
AMY GOODMAN: Because no African country would accept them.
ELSA RASSBACH: Exactly. But why—and the Germans—you know, it’s a difficult situation for them. They do not want to be ungrateful. They also are—but they have—for years now, there has been a strong opposition building also to the use of the bases here. You haven’t seen demonstrations like you have in Vicenza, where they were trying to enlarge that base in a middle-class area. You do see in Ansbach, where Andre was, one of the liveliest movements also against the base there, because US wanted to expand that base, and they had a petition in which they said—it was sent throughout Germany—that German soil should not be used for aggressive war. And many Germans feel that that should apply to the US also.
AMY GOODMAN: We went to Ireland and to Britain and learned—met the Shannon antiwar activists, because most soldiers went through Shannon airport before going to Iraq. But that’s changed?
ELSA RASSBACH: Well, yes. I understand there’s still some going there, but I believe, partly as a result of protest in Ireland, they shifted that. That’s mainly going through a commercial airport in Germany, in Leipzig, in the former East Germany. And that also is becoming the focus, the Leipzig airport, of activity here in Germany. And there are activists who go and watch how many soldiers go off through there.
But in addition to the soldiers routed through Germany to Iraq and Afghanistan via Ramstein Air Base or Leipzig or also the commercial airport Hahn near Frankfurt, there are soldiers, you know, as you know, permanently based here. It’s considered their home, within US military law. In Schweinfurt, for example, where Augustin was, that was considered his permanent base. They have had the—Schweinfurt had the largest death rate of any soldiers. They have—also, they’re creating—all of these bases create environmental damage in the German community. The Germans are paying also for a portion of the costs of the bases. And the citizens’ action against the expansion of the Ansbach base, where Andre was—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain where that is in Germany for viewers and listeners who don’t know.
ELSA RASSBACH: OK. That is in Bavaria. It’s about—it’s a bit north of Nuremberg. And one of the things they’ve done, actually, is they’ve made these huge bases in very outlying areas. I don’t know if it’s deliberate. It’s harder for activists to get to them. Grafenwohr is the biggest training base. It’s about an hour and a half from Ansbach also, and it has, you know, less—you know, just about a thousand Germans in the area.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of Nuremberg, the German constitution says Germany cannot engage in any offensive war.
ELSA RASSBACH: It doesn’t just say Germany. It says there shall be no preparation of aggressive war from German soil. And there have been several citizen petitions also with related to Ramstein Air Base, that it doesn’t say that only the Germans may not do it. It says there shall be no preparation of aggressive war from German soil.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you travel to US bases?
ELSA RASSBACH: Oh, yes. I go to US bases often, and we have a whole—both the American Voices Military Project and also the War Resisters’ International, and in Germany we have the networks of people near all the bases, and there’s also other anti-base networks. We’re all working together on this.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you do there?
ELSA RASSBACH: Well, among other things, we are organizing—and we’ve had for some time—that information be distributed to soldiers. We have these GI Rights Hotline cards. They’re just the same, really, as they are in the States. They have a hotline phone number on here, where soldiers can get information. This is the number here. I don’t know if you can see it. But this is—anyway, but many people in the States will have seen—oh, excuse me. Many people in the States will have seen these cards. Here we have also links to different organizations, like Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out. But basically, most people, if they would call the US, they would also be routed to Military Counseling Network in Germany, which is the Mennonite counseling organization that is part of the GI Rights Hotline Network. And so, that’s one thing we do, among other things.
We do demonstrations in front. We’ve invited Iraq veterans right to Ansbach in May. There were four US Iraq Veterans Against the War who did a week-long campaign there, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Coming up is the sixtieth anniversary of NATO, and I know there are major antiwar plans. Barack Obama will then be the official president. I expect that he would be going there. Where is all this taking place?
ELSA RASSBACH: Yes, this is taking place on the border between France and Germany, in Strasbourg on the French side and Kehl on the German side, and the whole province of Baden-Baden. And Strasbourg is where the European Parliament is. In fact, Strasbourg is where we even had a resolution for asylum in 2006 heard by—the Green and the left parties helped organize that. We were involved, and all of the organizations we’ve mentioned here were involved in that.
And there is a plan—this is the whole focus, really, of the German peace movement, to a large extent, as far as they know, to the European peace movement this spring, which is to say that no—the slogan is “no war, no NATO.” There is no reason for NATO to continue. NATO was an alliance against the Soviet bloc and the Warsaw Pact. It’s in the NATO statutes that they are—NATO is only defensive. It’s not supposed to be going elsewhere. And since the end of the Cold War, it has been used now to justify the Afghanistan war, the aggressive stance, the missile defense shield in East Europe and the kind of aggressiveness developing to the Soviet Union—or the former Soviet Union, to Russia and so forth. And it’s also used to justify—it’s the only justification why Germany allows these bases to be used for the Iraq war. Germany didn’t agree with the Iraq war. It’s because of the NATO alliance. So this is being challenged now.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to end with Andre Shepherd.
ELSA RASSBACH: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: Andre, how much contact did you have with the antiwar movement, both German and US? Is this a support to you now? Were you able to get access to their information? Or, as you said, did most of your information come from your own research on US military bases in Germany?
ANDRE SHEPHERD: Well, I got into extensive contact with the antiwar movement through the Military Counseling Network, who I’ve been in contact with for the last year and half, actually the entire time I’ve been AWOL. As of right now, I am a proud member of Iraq Veterans Against the War for the last month or so. I have connections with—you know, connections with Connection e.V. I’ve spoken with Courage to Resist. And there’s a whole myriad of other peace organizations, like the Tübingen Progressive Americans for Peace and, you know, many others such as that. So there’s a really huge support network that we’re working together with to try to—
AMY GOODMAN: Are you afraid of being picked up, as Augustin Aguayo was? Now, of course, he was on a US military base in Germany, but ultimately, well, you know, picked up by US military when he was first taken. Then he went AWOL. Are you concerned about this?
ANDRE SHEPHERD: As of right now, there’s a little bit of concern, but I am hoping that the Americans will respect the Geneva Conventions and will not, you know, create a possible international incident by trying to pick me up and bring them under their jurisdiction while this process is ongoing.
AMY GOODMAN: And the next step in your application process for asylum here in Germany?
ANDRE SHEPHERD: Currently, I am waiting for a hearing so I can argue my case with my lawyer, Dr. Reinhard Marx. And we will present our case in the most comprehensive fashion that we can. And then we will see what the initial decision will be.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Andre Shepherd, speaking out for the first time internationally about his application for political asylum here in Germany. And thank you to Elsa Rassbach. Your website, if people want to get in touch with it.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you both for being with us. The US Senate has come out with a report on the former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Next segment, we’ll be joined by a German attorney who’s sued Donald Rumsfeld for torture.