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Since the US invaded Iraq last year, hundreds of American soldiers have broken the law and abandoned their units on the battlefield. And, as Dan Frosch writes in Alternet, the GI Rights Hotline, a coalition of advocacy groups that offer legal advice to American troops, has received thousands of calls from active soldiers inquiring about conscientious objector status since the war began.

Tonight at 8:00pm, 60 Minutes II will air a segment on Camilo Mejia, a 28-year-old Florida National Guard Staff Sergeant who refused to return to Iraq in October, after being home on furlough. Mejia has taken a public stand of conscience against what he calls an illegal and immoral war, and has filed an application for conscientious objector status.

Despite this application, Mejia has been charged by the Army with desertion and is currently being held at Ft. Stewart in Georgia, where he is awaiting trial by a Special Court Martial, which will likely result in a one year prison sentence and a Bad Conduct Discharge. (For more about Mejia's decision, click here to read Christian Parenti's recent Nation Online article on his case.)

Mejia's mother, Maritza Castillo, is asking concerned activists to write two letters: one to Mejia himself expressing your support for his stand and another to the Commanding General asking that the Army accept Mejia's conscientious objection application, which would result in Mejia's release.

Mejia's Address:Ssg. Mejia CamiloA Company, USAG MED-HOLD, 865Hase RoadFt. Stewart, GA 31315.

The Commanding General's address:Major General William G. Webster, Jr.Commanding General, Fort Stewart42 Wayne PlaceFt Stewart, GA 31314.

Please take the opportunity to help this brave soldier and his courageous mother. And call the GI Rights Hotline at 1-800-394-9544 or click here for info on conscientious objector status.

Poor Bill Frist, he can't be proud of what he has become. He ran for the Senate with a simple mission: prevent health care reforms that might pose a threat to his family's $800-million stake in Columbia/HCA, the nation's leading owner of hospitals. There was never going to be anything honorable about his service, but nothing all that embarrassing in a Washington that welcomes self-serving senators with open arms.

Frist was a comfortably forgettable legislator -- good hair, good suit, bad politics -- until former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, went all segregationist at States Rights Party presidential candidate Strom Thurmond's going-away party. The Bush administration needed another prissy southerner to ride herd on the Senate. Frist fit the bill, moved into the nice office and became a comfortably forgettable Senate Majority Leader.

With the Republican-controlled Congress rendered irrelevant by its complete subservience to the Bush administration's political agenda, Frist quietly went back to the business of protecting the family business.

As the editor of a magazine with one of America's greatest humorists-- Calvin Trillin--I love a good joke. But there's a time and a place for humor. President Bush's joke about the failure to find WMD in Iraq--made at the annual black tie dinner for radio and television correspondents last week--was callous and tasteless. As one Iraq war veteran put it, "war is the single most serious event that a president or government can carry its people into. This cheapens the sacrifice that American soldiers and their families are dealing with every single day." Or as David Corn wrote in his Nation weblog, "Imagine if Lyndon Johnson had joked about the trumped-up Gulf of Tonkin incident."

Over at MSNBC's Hardball Chris Matthews--who attended the March 24 dinner-- grilled GOP spinmeister Tucker Eskew:

Matthews: Would you have him [Bush] tell those jokes as he tours the VA hospitals?

Eskew: He tours the hospitals an awful lot. He doesn't need a lesson in compassion toward the American soldiers, Chris.

Matthews: Maybe there's a question here of taste.

Eskew: I think the president has very good taste.

Matthews: You felt the jokes were right?

Eskew: That's self-deprecation, Chris. I think you misinterpret it.

Matthews: So, you think the guys who got hurt and killed in this war thought it was funny? I just don't think it was funny.

But over at that joke of a news operation, Fox "Fair and Balanced" News, Sean Hannity thought it was all a big laugh. When I went on his show last Friday I listened to him huff and he puff as he tried to pin the blame on liberals for not having a sense of humor. (I'd link to it but the show, oddly, doesn't make transcripts available.) Sean--hang it up! What Americans need from this President is truthtelling--not joketelling.

The letter below suggests there are others out there--in this case, a man who served his nation in a previous war--who agree.

March 26, 2004

Dear Ms. vanden Heuvel,

I saw you on Hannity & Colmes this evening. You are absolutely right on. As a Vietnam veteran I thank you for standing up to Sean Hannity (and Alan) regarding George Bush's rather distorted sense of humor regarding his inability to find WMDs in Iraq. May all the souls of those who have died in this insane war rest in peace.

Thank You,Bob Luce

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I recently received the letter below. It's so moving, powerful and illustrative of the situation of many young US soliders in Iraq that I thought it was worth sharing. I am grateful to Marianne Brown and Michael Shepard for their kind and thoughtful words. Everyone at The Nation hopes that their son will return safely and quickly.

Dear Nation,

My stepson, who is in the 428th Military Police reserves, was just sent to Iraq. Needless to say, my husband and I now live daily lives of terror and worry. I want to thank Katrina vanden Heuvel for her persistence in bringing up the fact that 547 (and probably more) of our loved ones have died and thousands more wounded each time she speaks on TV.

She is one of the only people who has the goodness to remember these young people, some of them teenagers, who are being thrown into this bloodbath for who knows how many years. I did everything I could to talk our child out of going. He was a weekend warrior, a kid, a twenty one year old whose lack of worldly expertise and hopes of a grand college education would allow him the option to serve as a police officer someday.

If I hear one more flag draped miscreant sniff and tell me "well he signed up," I may slap them. No, he did not sign up for this bloodbath and occupation. I offered to send him overseas to hide. I offered him a lawyer to get out. I begged him to embrace jail time and a dishonorable discharge. But all to no avail.

How do you tell a twenty one year old what to do? He detests Bush, as do we, but he said, "I can't say anything bad about Bush in front of my unit commander. I'll lose my promotion." He didn't want a dishonorable discharge. The folly of youth. Now he is in Iraq. We don't know where yet. We don't know if we will ever see him again. What we do know is that he just walked into a civil war which, as I speak, is erupting daily into unadulterated hell on earth. We know he may come home in a box, or maimed for life, or psychogically damaged beyond comprehension.

He grew up in a small town and has no clue as to what he will see. When in 2003 my husband and I marched against the war in DC, when in 2001 we marched against the stolen election in DC, we had no idea this would become so personal, that it would hit us in the face and hearts by removing a loved one and put us in the position of being antiwar activists even more radical in our opposition to this occupation.

This hits home like nothing else does, not like losing my job or my elderly mother filing for bankruptcy. We can handle that, we can work that out. This time it's wondering daily, as our kid travels in inadequate Humvees, whether we will ever see him again, or see him again in one piece.

As a sidenote: the military is so desperate for warm bodies, they sent him over with scoliosis of the spine, which they verified he had at Fort Dix with an x-ray exam. I told my stepson to send me his medical records. I wanted a paper trail. The next day they loaded him onto a plane and took him away. The army says now, they lost his x-rays. How convenient for them.

I ask Ms. vanden Heuvel to please continue to speak with her eloquence she shows on TV to the anger many military families feel who watch the laughing, tittering talking heads on corporate TV make jokes all day, run puff pieces as news, and ignore the very real horrors of wondering where a child is in Iraq, will he come home, is he okay, what's it like for him to endure 120 degree heat, is he afraid, will someone be with him if he dies, or is wounded, will someone hold his hand and tell him we love him, is there a way out of this, when will he come home, will we ever see him again?

Thank you for remembering to bring up the children soldiers who have died and continue to be used as cannon fodder for this corporate bloodbath.

Respectfully, Mrs. Marianne Brown and Mr. Michael ShepardParents of Michael Shepard, Jr. (428th MP army reserves)South Haven MI

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