He should have stayed at Democratic Party headquarters. In a speech delivered in Minneapolis on April 20th (1), Howard Dean said of the US military occupation of Iraq, “Now that we’re there, we’re there and we can’t get out.” He also extended his firm endorsement of George Bush’s policy of aggression, stating “I hope the president is incredibly successful with his policy now that he’s there.”
That’s the role of “progressive” politicians -- and their adoring fans: to endorse the murderous policies of George Bush. The $40,000 raised for the Democratic Party as proceeds from Dean’s speech is simply more blood money, the byproduct of the political apparatus that makes sure the killing floor abroad is kept busy. Perhaps this taste for blood can be explained by the fondness Deaniacs in particular have for screams; this time, though, it is not their pop idol who is roaring, but countless real-life people experiencing the hard-headed realism of the likes of Howard Dean and the rest of George Bush’s supporters.
GIs can expect no help from the likes of Dean and those complicit in his pro-war agenda. By way of useful contrast, are the remarks and actions of retired California state senator Tom Hayden. He is supporting the more than 100 GIs currently seeking political asylum in Canada -- a serious matter, since the death penalty is available for those who go AWOL and desert the military. Hayden notes that, “There are all kinds of soldiers who are dissenting, who are deserting. There are 6,000 according to the Pentagon -- and some of them are in Canada.” (2) Desertion is not undertaken lightly, especially in the face of a relentlessly militaristic media campaign to glorify killing as “service” and aggression as a protection against terrorism. “It’s hard listening to my platoon sergeant saying, ‘If you decide you want to kill a civilian that looks threatening, shoot him. I’d rather fill out paperwork than get one of my soldiers killed by some raghead.’” (3) It seems that for principle and decency, it is necessary to turn away from the faux antiwar crowd to the growing number of military personnel who can no longer stomach what they see and have been sent to do.
One notable case was that of Camilio Meija, whose decision to refuse continuing his role as torturer ultimately led to his court martial:
More disturbing than what Mejia’s sociopath officers were doing to him and his comrades were the things that Mejia were forced to do to others. One job involved running a small detention camp. “They didn’t call it a POW camp because it didn’t meet Red Cross standards,” he explained one winter night. “These intelligence guys—I don’t know who they were, CIA, DIA or just contractors, there were three of them—they wanted three of the prisoners ‘softened up.’ That’s how they put it. My commanding officer told me to keep the prisoners awake, for like forty-eight hours, or maybe it was longer.”
The three resistance suspects, hooded and bound, were locked in tiny metal sheds while Camillo’s squad worked in shifts slamming the metal boxes with a sledgehammer around the clock for more than two days. The only breaks from this were occasional mock executions, in which a soldier would press an unloaded pistol against the head of an increasingly disoriented and tormented prisoner and pull the trigger.
In the end Camilo is court-martialed at Fort Stewart in Georgia and sentenced to a year in prison. But Camilo bears it like the soldier he is. And in so doing he points the way forward, he connects all the pieces: personal trauma, moral responsibility, and a critique of American empire. Like a soldier, he takes action and makes sacrifices in the interest of others. And like all soldiers he will pay a dear price, but this time his fight is just and worth the cost. (4)
Let’s speak frankly: the Iraqi people have been plunged to a depth by the US “coalition” invasion that is worse than the rule of Saddam Hussein. Torture? You have been paying attention, haven’t you? Summary execution? Why, of course—mass killing, offhand killing, spontaneous killing, aimless killing…it’s all killing du jour on the daily menu of life in the newly “freed” Iraq. The freedom to speak without consequences? Hell, US GIs don’t even have that right, as punishment awaits any who openly criticize their Commander in Chief and the war that Deaniacs apparently can’t get enough of. Iraqis can get it in the neck from numerous directions, depending on just what views they express.
But who cares about them? Not the invisible “antiwar movement” of the Anyone But crowd, now silent in the face of daily atrocities and an unjust war. In the face of what we know is going on in Iraq, silence is complicity -- and that is both morally indefensible and a sign of political failure.
The screaming goes on -- are you listening?
Dan Raphael has been an activist since the Vietnam war was heating up, and is a member of the Green Party of the United States.
Other Articles by Dan Raphael
Meaning of Red Lake
Dean warns of danger in Iraq pullout,” Star Tribune.com