“You can either support the troops or you can support the war, but you can’t do both” Camillo Mejia, conscientious objector of the Iraq War
The Army unit was patrolling in Iraq when a child, perhaps ten, threw a rock at the soldiers. One unit leader grabbed the child and announced his intention to arrest him and take him back to the base.
But the father of the boy stepped into the middle of the confrontation and begged the soldiers not to take away the boy, promising he would punish him. How will you punish him? the unit leader asked. The boy’s father slapped his son in the face. But that was not enough for the unit leader, who started to take the boy away again. The father slapped the boy again; still, the unit leader shook his head.
The father then started severely beating the child in front of the American soldiers and a group of Iraqis who had collected around the troops. This apparently appeased the unit leader, and the boy was let free to be beaten to a pulp.
“Better for the man the beat up his kid, than for us to shoot him” said Camillo Mejia, one of the soldiers to witness the event.
This is just one of many war horror stories told by Mejia, the country’s most recognizable conscientious objector to what a majority of Americans now consider the immoral and meaningless Iraq War. Mejia spoke at the Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City Monday night.
Mejia served in Iraq for six months before he decided to become a conscientious objector while on leave in the United States in 2003. On March 16, 2004, Mejia filed for discharge as a conscientious objector, arguing he believed the war to be "illegal and immoral". He later served nine months in a military jail at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma after his conviction on May 21, 2004 when the military decided to make an example of him.
After his conviction, Mejia’s father, >Maritza Castillo said, "Where is the justice? The American soldier who tortured Iraqi prisoners was sentenced to one year in prison and my son, who denounced these abuses and followed his conscience, was also sentenced to one year in prison. Is that fair? Is that just?"
Mejia is the first American soldier to actually serve in Iraq and then filed as a conscientious objector, though several more soldiers are now official and unofficial conscientious objectors (some have even gone to Canada) as the White House administrations’ lies about the war become more apparent to a majority of Americans and the military pursues interrogation techniques against captured Iraqis that many throughout the world consider torture.
Mejia has since become an outspoken anti-war activist. He spoke to about 150 people Monday night.
After his experience in Iraq, “there was a change within me,” Mejia said. He said his unit killed thirty Iraqis during his tour, only three of whom were armed. He witnessed “sleep deprivation” techniques applied to arrested Iraqis. He knows one soldier whose life changed forever when he took shrapnel in his head that left him serious debilitated.
And for what? Mejia points out he eventually came to realize that there were no links between Iraq and the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and no weapons of mass destruction were found in the country. He said he went from a gung-ho soldier to someone who considered the war unjust and meaningless.
Like Mejia, a majority of Americans now believe President George Bush and other administration officials lied to the American people about Iraq-911 link and the weapons of mass destructions. A growing number of Americans are also demanding the president’s impeachment for these lies.
Mejia said the Iraqis no longer welcome the American invasion, if they ever did. “Think as human beings” he urged the crowd Monday night. “Think of the tanks, war planes, a curfew, the areas covered with barbed wire. I don’t think they want any military there.”
Mejia also talked about how career officers in the American military try to intentionally instigate “firefights,” so they can use the resulting combat experience to help them get promotions.
He also criticized the mainstream news media for not covering the war, leaving Americans with false impressions. He talked about how thousands soldiers are coming back with post traumatic stress syndrome because of the violence and atrocities in which they have participated or witnessed. The military is now trying to find ways to refuse to treat the soldiers who are coming back home with shell shock.
“A lot of them [American soldiers] may not come back in a body bag, but they are dead in other ways.”
Mejia lives in Miami, where he plans to attend college soon. He has been speaking across the nation in recent months.
“I become free when I decided to not go back to Iraq,” he said.
Postscript: The Daily Oklahoman did not cover the speech, though it did run a short story by the Associated Press on its website about Mejia before he spoke. How can people get the truth about the war when the corporate media refuses to cover it beyond regurgitating White House administration lies? Meanwhile, this month is turning into a major bloodbath for American soldiers. Four more were killed yesterday. This follows the twenty-four soldiers killed last week. As the carnage continues, President George Bush declines to meet with Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq. Sheehan wants to know what her son died for, and she is camping out at Crawford, Texas in order to get the president to talk to her.
“In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act”-George Orwell
“We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!”-from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men”
With twenty-one U.S. Marines killed in Iraq over the last three days, it is crucial we continue a relentless look at the lies leading us into this botched war. Our American soldiers are paying the highest price for these lies, and no amount of “We Support Our Troops” car ribbons will bring them back to life or give their deaths more meaning.
As many progressive commentators have noted, the political scandal now called Rovegate has a larger meaning than the various nuances and mishaps of its principal players and whether Karl Rove broke the law when he apparently outed covert CIA agent Valerie Plame to a Time Magazine reporter or whether jailed New York Times reporter Judith Miller should be fired for her lies about weapons of mass destruction.
A more important issue is the scandal shows how the Bush administration deceived the American public in taking this country into a war that has now turned into the worst military debacle in the country’s history. Rove was just one of many White House officials who abandoned the truth so “W” could have his meaningless war over weapons of mass destruction that were never found.
The war has increased the world terrorist threat and costs billions of taxpayers’ dollars. More than 1,800 American soldiers have been killed and nearly 14,000 have been wounded. More than 25,000 civilian Iraqis have been killed. The toll goes higher every day. Now our guys in Iraq are forming alliances and agreements with Iran, another axis of evil nation.
We have not won the war under the terms given to us by our president, and we will not win the war no matter how the Bush administration spins/lies a victory. We are losing. Let me say this again. We are losing. We are getting our butts kicked by the Iraqi insurgency, just like we got our butts kicked in Vietnam by the Viet Cong. Meanwhile, those we support in Iraq are joining forces with a nation hostile to the United States. Any other reading of the war facts is yet another White House-sponsored lie.
Taking the country to war on lies is the most grievous act a United States President can commit. This is a non-partisan issue. It transcends party politics. We cannot, or at least we should not, let our presidents lie us into wars.
But there is an even the larger issue of how Bush’s war lies represent the growing fragility and vulnerability of American democracy.
Millions of Americans, for example, still will not demand an investigation of Bush’s war lies. Some of these people are certainly ill-informed, brainwashed by the ultra-conservative Fox News or any other number of right-wing, corporate mediate outlets that spew Bush propaganda and have the audacity to call it “journalism.”
But some, it is fair to say, are lifestyle liberal, political conservatives who frankly do not care an American president has lied the country into war. (They would call me “naïve.”) They are reaping the rewards of corporate-worship and lower taxes on the wealthy. Others are religious zealots who also do not care about the president’s lies as long as their fundamentalist, medieval views—which emulate the views of Islamic extremists in so many ways—are validated by the White House. Then there are those in the mainstream corporate media who refuse or are afraid to discuss the lies at any length or depth.
These last three groups of people are not only immoral but also short-sighted. By allowing a president to take the country to war on lies, they have, in essence, removed any barriers, any threshold, of presidential power. They have done immense, immeasurable harm to this country.
It is not hyperbole to say that after George W. Bush, American presidents, Republican, Democratic or whatever, will be able to lie at will about anything without repercussion. The question, then, is this: Will we have a democratic government after George Bush, no matter who is elected?
In their zeal to support the president despite his war lies, many Republicans have lost sight of what will happen when Bush is no longer president. It is quite possible a Democrat could be our next president. What will prevent this new president from also lying about anything, even another war? Given Bush’s ultra-divisive politics, what will prevent millions upon millions of Democrats from ignoring these hypothetical lies in order to overturn some of the more insidious and immoral acts of the conservative agenda or advancing progressive programs?
I want to say the Democrats have more honor, more respect for democracy, and there is truth to this in the “left-leaning” sections of the party. But I also fear the new political climate will be so firmly entrenched by the time Bush leaves the White House that lies and distortions and double-speak from our presidents will be the new architecture, the new platform, the new frame of American government. And that simply means we will longer live in a democracy.
Oh yes, American presidents lie. Nixon about Watergate, Reagan about the Contras, and Clinton about Lewinski. In retrospect, though, these lies were minor, historical blips showing lack of character and hubris. But lying the country into a major, unilateral, meaningless war is the coupe de grace of lies, the ur-lie, the uber-lie, the quintessential lie. After this presidential war lie, any presidential lie will pale in comparison and will be so judged. Already, for example, we have to deal with the disparity between how the media attacked Clinton over lying about his relationship with Monica Lewinski and how it gave a free “lie-at-will” pass to Bush about war. It remains incomprehensible to millions of Americans and people throughout the war how and why this has happened.
Ultimately, then, the future of democracy in this country is in the hands of people who are placing partisan politics and short-term, personal gain above democracy. When these people wake up, there can be hope. But not until then.
All roads then lead back to Rovegate which shows, once again, undeniably that the administration lied to go to war and continues to lie about it afterwards by attacking those who told the truth. In his quest to smear Ambassador Joseph Wilson who was reporting the truth about Saddam Hussein’s lack of weapons of mass destruction, Rove was merely participating in the conspiracy of lies sanctioned by the president and perpetuated by Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, all of whom will live in historical infamy for their assault on American democracy.
Each of these people sold out their country for personal power and gain. Let us hope our history textbooks will one day reflect this because it would then mean we were able to rescue democracy.
The lies leading to the Iraq War and the acceptance of these lies by some American people will become known as the turning point for our country’s short-lived run with democracy unless Republicans step up soon and demand an independent investigation, possibly leading to Bush’s impeachment. Those who turn away from this difficult task turn away from their country in one of its most dire times.
The “Anti-War Fair” held at Memorial Park in Oklahoma City Saturday drew 1,000 supporters in a well-organized and powerful event that shows just how much Americans have turned against President George Bush’s immoral and senseless war in recent months.
Hundreds more honked their car horns in support as they drove past a long line of war protesters on Classen Avenue near NW 36th Street holding signs. Some of the signs read “Honk For Peace,” “Impeach W,” and “Bush Lied, Thousands Died.” The protesters represented a broad swath of society, from mothers and fathers with their children to grandfathers and grandmothers to young college students from the University of Oklahoma and the University of Central Oklahoma.
(See more Anti-War Fair photographs here.)
As children played in the Memorial Park fountain, speakers such Elizabeth Walters, the daughter of former Governor David Walter, urged the crowd to continue their efforts to pressure the Bush regime to bring the troops home. Walters, an OU student, read a statement written by her father and then received a thunderous ovation.
Booths lined the park with political activism information. Several bands provided music that lasted until 10 p.m. People roamed through the crowd with peace flags and signs that urged “Just Say No To Torture.” People could also visit Camp Casey, in honor of the son of the country’s most visible war protester, Cindy Sheehan, or walk past a line of soldier’s boots representing the human costs of Bush’s war.
One sign showed the names of all the some 1,900 American soldiers who have died so far in the war. (New reports over the weekend, however, told of several more American soldier and Iraqi civilian deaths.)
The local war protest was held in conjunction with a massive anti-war protest march in Washington, D.C. Saturday that organizers said attracted at least 100,000 people. Other protest marches and events were held throughout the county and world.
Polls show that a majority of Americans no longer support the war or approve of Bush’s handling of it. Most now accept the war has made the country less safe from terrorism. Writer Joe Conason recently pointed out how a new conservative-backed study shows “the precipitous, unjustified and destructive invasion of Iraq has further alienated the Muslim world and promoted Islamist fascism.” Past polls have also shown the American public believes Bush lied or misled the American public about the reasons for the war.
The Oklahoma City event shows how much the war protest movement continues to gain momentum and determination even in red states such as Oklahoma. It shows the government is now fighting a costly, immoral war that lacks support from citizens throughout the heartland.
Many of those American soldiers who have died for Bush come from lower-income groups in our culture who have been summarily dismissed from equal opportunity in the country by the Republicans’ continued war against the poor.