(By Drew Brown, originally published in The Seattle Times, October 25 2006)
Dissent on Iraq | A grass-roots group of active-duty service members plans to petition Congress to ask that U.S. forces be withdrawn from Iraq and brought home.
WASHINGTON Liam Madden opposed the war in Iraq before he deployed with his Marine unit in late 2004. But he came home convinced the war was wrong.
"The more informed I got, the more I opposed the war," said Madden, 22, a Marine Corps sergeant in Quantico, Va. "The more I know, the easier it is to support withdrawal."
Madden is one of about 118 members of the U.S. military who plan to petition Congress asking that U.S. forces be withdrawn from Iraq and brought home, said attorney J.E. McNeil. McNeil is advising the grass-roots group of active-duty service members, who organized the petition drive through a Web site, www.appealforredress.org.
In a rare display of public dissent, Madden and Jonathan Hutto, a Navy seaman based in Norfolk, Va., plan to go public today. Members of the military are more limited than civilians in how they can express dissent.
Although a number of troops, including at least one officer, have been brought up on charges for refusing to serve in Iraq and dozens more have deserted, this is the first time active members have publicly petitioned Congress to end the war.
There are 1.4 million troops on active duty, including members of the National Guard and Reserve.
Recently, several retired military generals called on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign, contending he botched the war and put troops at risk.
The grass-roots movement of active-duty service members is based in Norfolk, Va., and is sponsored by several anti-war groups, including Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out. Service members can submit appeals online, giving their names, duty status and service branches.
Under military regulations, troops are free to speak their minds as long as they aren't on duty, in uniform and saying anything disrespectful to their chain of command or the president, McNeil said.
"They've got to be clear that they are speaking for themselves and not the military," said McNeil, executive director of the Center on Conscience & War, based in Washington. The organization was formed by Quakers and other church groups in 1940 to protect the rights of conscientious objectors.
The Military Whistleblower Protection Act of 1995 allows servicemen and servicewomen to communicate grievances directly to Congress without threat of penalty or reprisal.
Eric Seitz, a Honolulu attorney who has handled military cases for more than 40 years, said: "The kinds of resistance and opposition and outrage that military people are now beginning to express has been simmering ... But it's about to just burst out in huge waves."
Seitz is representing Fort Lewis-based 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, who is being prosecuted for refusing to serve in Iraq.
The message active-duty members are sending to Congress:
"As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home."