SEATTLE -- Ricky Clousing, a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, and a veteran of the Iraq War who has been AWOL for a year announced at the Veterans for Peace convention in Seattle that he will turn himself in at the gates of Fort Lewis and face whatever punishment the military chooses to impose.
Clousing said he did not apply for conscientious objector status because he is not certain he would oppose every possible war, such as one fought in self-defense. He said he has spent the past year trying to figure out how to turn himself in, that the military has refused to comment on his status and that he is now choosing to force them to deal with it.
Clousing spoke at a press conference on the campus of the University of Washington. Many supporters of his stand made brief remarks before he spoke. Clousing said he served in Baghdad and Mosul as an interrogator, and that this meant he spoke to Iraqi civilians every day and learned what they thought about the war. Clousing said he witnessed the routine incarceration of civilians with no basis and no ability to contact their families. He spoke in particular of four brothers, the youngest aged 12, locked up for three to four weeks. Physical abuse of civilians and the killing of one Iraqi civilian were among the crimes Clousing said he witnessed.
Clousing described U.S. vehicles smashing into Iraqi cars, bashing windows, and opening fire on livestock for fun. He described these acts as not isolated incidents, but "the daily devastation of occupation… daily incidents where innocent Iraqis are being killed, and it's not reported in the media." He said that he was part of a convoy from which a humvee opened fire without warning on a civilian in a car who was no threat, and killed him. Clousing reported the incident to his superiors, he said, but they openly dismissed it as anything of importance.
Clousing's mother, Sharon Pankalla, joined him at the podium in support of his decision to refuse to fight. She said that her son had joined the Army, excited and proud to fight for American liberties, but that after he returned from Iraq he was depressed and confused. When he sought help he was told, in that common military phrase, to "suck it up."
"Most of our men and women over there," Pankalla said, "are young and naïve and believe what our government tells them. And some of them die. And I am so sad for their families, and so thankful that mine survived and that he has the strength of heart to follow his convictions." Pankalla said she hoped others could do the same.
Speaking immediately before Clousing was a conscientious objector to the Iraq War named Joshua Casteel who had met Clousing in interrogator school, where, he said, "they don't tell you that you'll have to strip men naked, wet them, and stand them in front of an air conditioner because you're trying to induce hypothermia. They don't tell you you'll be instructed to use the blunt edge of an axe to soften someone up for questioning. They don't tell you that Rumsfeld will deny using dogs just four days after you've been instructed to use them."
Other speakers supporting Clousing included:
--Kelly Dougherty, Co-Founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War, who said that Mark Wilkerson, 22, from Colorado was denied conscientious objector status, went AWOL, and is now about to turn himself in as well.
--Camilio Mejia of IVAW and VFP, who served nine months in military jail for resisting this war. "Ricky will be a free man even if he goes to jail," Mejia said.
--Hart Viges, an Iraq War vet who said that he joined up after 9-11 thinking there was an enemy to go after, but that he had a change of heart and became a conscientious objector.
--Michael Wong, who went AWOL during the Vietnam War and is featured in the film "Sir, No Sir." Wong said that he and the many other war resisters featured in that film are all now doing well with excellent careers. It is a lie, he said, when the military tells you that refusing to fight will ruin your life. "Ricky," he said, "is beginning a lifetime of service to community, nation, and world."
--Judy Linehan of Military Families Speak Out, whose son was deployed to Iraq. She said, "These resisters that are coming forward with enormous courage are our leaders."
Clousing concluded his own remarks by saying "I stand before you today about to surrender myself to military custody….We as Americans find ourselves in a critical era where we have traded humanity for patriotism, we have traded our civil liberties for a sense of security. Henry David Thoreau said we must not become that same evil which we condemn."