Critical Responses to Sir! No Sir!

Military Shuts Down 1st Amendment

Dick Bell, Democracy Cell Project

Greetings from Camp Democracy's main tent on the Mall in Washington, DC, 4 blocks down from the west front of the Capitol. This morning got off with a bang-up press conference featuring four Iraqi vets and one of their supporters were arrested at the Pentagon yesterday. Their crime? They went over to see the new 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon. In a chapel, they found Gideon New Testaments bound in camouflage, and a DVD on how to live in the military as a Christian. The vets were carrying a one page document on the health impact from the radioactive depleted uranium weapons which the U.S. is using in Iraq.

(Depleted uranium is a waste product from the production of uranium for nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons. The material is the densest naturally occurring mineral, a property which makes it the best available material for penetrating armor. A depleted uranium shell fired into a tank cuts through the armor and explodes inside the tank, with the uranium vaporizing and bursting into flame. Untold numbers of American troops and Iraqi civilians are being exposed to the resulting radioactive dust. The U.S. claims that depleted uranium is not dangerous. There are numerous reports from Iraq that areas heavily contaminated with depleted uranium also have much higher levels of unusual birth defects. And many Iraqi veterans suffering from a variety of ailments suspect that depleted uranium is responsible for many of their symptoms.

Officials at the Pentagon arrested the vets after they put some of this depleted uranium document next to the religious literature. At the press conference this morning, the arrested vets attacked their arrests as an attack on their 1st amendment rights, and promised to mount a strong attack on their arrests.

Yesterday's arrests were another sign of the military's efforts to prevent opponents of the war from distributing information at military installations that challenge the war on Iraq. Ann Wright, one of only three State Department officials who resigned in protest over the start of the Iraq War, spoke about her experience earlier this summer at Fort McNair, where she left some postcards about the movie "Sir, No Sir". She was detained, shackled to a chair, and then several weeks later got a letter from the commanding officer of Fort Myer and Fort McNair telling her she was banned from both bases for a year. She appealed this decision, and just got a letter rejecting her appeal last week.

For more information on Camp Democracy and the schedule of events and speakers over the next two weeks, go to the Camp Democracy web site.


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