CCA’s legal director James M. Branum, was interviewed on Democracy Now! about Bowe Bergdahl and the conscientious objector discharge from the US military.
Day of international action for Oklahoma native on July 27
Like thousands of Bradley Manning supporters around the world, those in Oklahoma held rallies and vigils on Saturday, July 27 for the whistleblower whose court martial just concluded at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The difference for this group was being able to make their statement on the main street of Bradley Manning’s home town of Crescent, about 40 miles north of Oklahoma City.
The dual-location event, sponsored by the Oklahoma Center for Conscience, began with an early evening protest near a busy highway overpass in Oklahoma City, where 12 folks displayed a “Free Bradley Manning” banner and handmade signs and waved to cars passing by. Then they jumped in cars and vans for a caravan north up State Highway 74 to the small town where Manning was born and lived until he was a teenager.
Arriving before dusk, and meeting supporters who had traveled from Stillwater and other central Oklahoma communities, the activists gathered in front of the joint City Hall/Police Station with tealights, a large banner and signs. For an hour, as darkness descended, they quietly stood as a witness for the man they see as a truth-teller who exposed wrongdoing, lies, human rights abuses and war crimes. Several police officers came outside and quietly flanked the line of vigilers, where they remained throughout the event.
Perhaps in part due to the police presence, there was almost no negative reaction, “no more than we get anywhere else,” said Rena Guay, who organized the event. “A couple of hand signals from cars were clearly non-supportive, but there were far more instances of waves, peace signs, thumbs up, honks and even a loud ‘Thank You’,” she explained.
About halfway through their hour-long vigil, the group was joined by three young people from the town, two of whom grew up with Bradley.
“Having Crescent citizens express approval, and some even join us was a pleasant surprise,” Guay said. “We were a bit curious what the general reaction would be, and we were afraid residents might think we were protesting the town rather than honoring one of its own.”
“We are grateful to the town officials and police, who granted our request for the event, and then respectfully monitored the situation,” said James Branum, legal director of the Oklahoma Center for Conscience. “We may come back for another action when the sentence is announced in a month or two, and maybe will have a chance to eat and visit a bit at the newly reopened Okie Café, or check out the great old brick buildings and local landmarks in daylight.”
The Oklahoma Center for Conscience is a member of the Bradley Manning Support Network, and the state affiliate of the War Resisters League. For more information, see centerforconsience.org or bradleymanning.org.
by James M. Branum
As a long-time peace activist, I’ve grown a bit jaded. I’ve heard many excellent speakers when they’ve come through our city, but often after hearing them I’m left with a burning question — so what? Does the act of hearing the truth about an area of injustice really make a difference?
These questions were on my mind in early April when I drove to Church of the Open Arms to hear Ethan McCord speak about his wartime and post-wartime experiences.
Ethan’s presentation had three key components: (1) the showing of the Academy award nominated short documentary film Incident in New Baghdad , (2) Ethan telling his story, and (3) Ethan answering questions and engaging in conversation with the audience. Seeing the film was of course compelling, but the real meat of the presentation was in Ethan just telling his own story.
For those who weren’t there, let me tell you the quick nutshell version of Ethan’s story. Like most soldiers, he thought that his military service would help make the world safer and more stable, however his actual combat experiences gradually eroded these beliefs. The most significant of these experiences came on July 12, 2007, when his unit (B. Co. 2-16) came up on the site of an American slaughter of Iraqi civilians, done by way of the big guns of an Apache helicopter.
Ethan and another soldier (a 20-year old private) were the first to reach a van that had been attacked. The private saw the carnage in the van and turned away retching. In the van was the corpse of a 43 year old father (Saleh Mutasaleh) and what appeared to be two other young victims of the American air assault, a 10 year old boy named Sajah and his 5 year old sister Doaha. A short time later though, Ethan discovered that the two children were actually alive. Ethan took the girl and later the boy and tried to get them help, but his unit refused to take the children to the Army hospital, and in fact his platoon leader told him to “stop trying to save these f—ing kids.”
Events like this do not pass away easily from a soldier’s mind. Ethan tried to get mental health afterwards, but he was denied care. He had no choice but to “soldier on” and get his tour over with. When he got home, he tried to move on with his life, but PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) wouldn’t let him make an easy transition to civilian life. Still Ethan did his best to be a good father and to move on from the past.
And then came Wikileaks and their public leak of the “Collateral Murder” video (which shows in disturbing detail what Ethan had experienced on the ground — it can be viewed online at collateralmurder.org ). Ethan at first was angry to have the past thrown back in his face, but in time realized it was time to speak out about what he saw and experienced. And he has been speaking ever since.
After Ethan told his story, he went on to talk about the importance of truth telling itself and why Bradley Manning did the right thing in leaking evidence of war crimes to the world. He explained that of course Bradley may have had relationship and other problems, but that Bradley showed the full extent of his courage by telling the truth anyway.
The Christian scriptures say that the “truth will set you free,” but too often we run from the truth. We are afraid of its challenges and condemnations. Yet, we can only pretend it does not exist. The Collateral Murder video showed us all, in terrible black and white video, the terrible black and white truth of the American occupation of Iraq. What happened in the “Incident in new Baghdad” was just one day in a series of other terrible days. Thanks to Bradley Manning, we know the truth. The question is, what will we do with it.
It is imperative that we hold those in power responsible for this. And we must begin at the top, holding accountable not only the men who have been president during our Middle East wars of occupation, but also the entire notion of an imperial presidency. No single human being should have the power that the American president has today. For too long have we allowed the military establishment to crucify rank and file soldiers caught in bad situations, while ignoring the greater sins of those who command them.
And it is equally important that we do our best to protect those who tell the truth. The military is doing everything in its power to see that Bradley Manning serves the rest of his life in prison for the crime of telling the truth. It is our job, as people of conscience, to do everything in our to fight for his freedom. I urge you to join the Bradley Manning Support Network (www.bradleymanning.org) in its efforts. We also are working here in Oklahoma on Bradley’s behalf (through the Oklahoma Center for Conscience and Peace Research), as we feel that we have a duty to protect one of our own (Bradley grew up in Crescent, Oklahoma).
Towards the end of Ethan’s presentation, he told us that the powers that be would love to shut him up, and of the many threats he receives for speaking out. Ethan took a risk by coming to Oklahoma.
The question for us is, will it be in vain? What will we do for the cause of truth and peace?
James M. Branum serves as the legal director of the Oklahoma Center for Conscience and Peace Research (www.centerforconscience.org) and as the Minister of Peace and Justice at Joy Mennonite Church. As an attorney he has represented hundreds of American servicemembers in seeking a discharge from their military obligations. He also defended dozens of servicemembers for the “crime” of acting in accordance with their conscience.
Conscientious Objectors of Oklahoma to be remembered and honored by peace group at 5/12 event in OKC
On May 12, the Oklahoma Center for Conscience and Peace Research will celebrate International Conscientious Objectors Day with its second annual Oklahoma Conscience Award Ceremony and Fundraiser. Conscientious Objectors Day is observed around the world each May 15. This year OCCPR will recognize conscientious objectors from Oklahoma or with an Oklahoma connection (stationed at one of the state’s military bases, did alternative service in Oklahoma, or did time in prison in Oklahoma for refusing to serve), including COs from the 1940s to the present.
The event will be held at Mayflower Congregational UCC Church, 3901 NW 63rd in Oklahoma City, starting at 7pm. The program will include a presentation of certificates to COs or their families, as well as a video featuring interviews with Oklahoma COs and current peace and justice activists who are inspired by them. Musically talented members of the local community, many of whom are members of OCCPR supporting organizations or other peace activists, will provide entertainment. Light refreshments will be served.
The public is invited to attend this free event. Donations will be gratefully accepted to assist the organization in its ongoing work.
Rena Guay, OCCPR Executive Director, says that meeting numerous Oklahoma COs this year has been an eye-opening experience. “I’ve been struck by how many COs from past conflicts are among us, throughout Oklahoma, seemingly average hardworking Oklahomans, who once made a very un-average decision about war.”
“They’ve never sought public acclaim for it, and they shy from this attention. Yet, when we speak to them, they say their refusal, sometimes decades ago, to wage war, and to instead “wage peace” through humanitarian service, was something that has continued to impact their thinking and behavior. It is a major milestone of their lives that almost no one knows about. Our small recognition seeks to give to them this missing public value for their act of conscience.”
“We will also have a moment to remember the many Oklahoma COs who remain unknown, or who have already passed away,” Guay said “Their families are invited to join us, or contact us if they would like for their loved one to be recognized in memorium.”
As the local affiliate of the War Resisters League, OCCPR informs the public, especially young people, about military recruitment, peace-oriented career alternatives, and how to document CO status that can be recognized by the Selective Service should the draft be reinstated. It helps prepare documentation for these proactive COS, and works with the Center on Conscience in Washington to archive and preserve them. The group also serves as the Oklahoma representative for the Bradley Manning Support Network, and works with the GI Rights Network, the Military Law Task Force, Courage to Resist, Veterans for Peace, the Peace Alliance, SOA Watch, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and other organizations to educate Oklahomans about war and militarism, and positive advocacy and action to end war and to support nonviolent conflict resolution on a global level.
OCCPR maintains a legal support program to assist those in military service who come to realize they cannot participate in war, to provide them with information about the process of obtaining a CO discharge as defined in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and, when necessary, to retain legal counsel during appeals. The group has recently broadened its outreach to provide more public education on matters of conscience and war, through its own annual journal, and in op-eds and analysis published in periodicals and on the Web.
In every war, there have been those who, following their conscience, have refused to be trained to kill in what they believe to be an immoral activity. The U.S. military has come to allow for these resisters, through either programs of alternative, humanitarian, service, or, in today’s volunteer military, through a process by which those who have developed deeply held religious or moral convictions against war can be documented and, when accepted as sincere, provided an honorable discharge.
OCCPR was founded in 2004 by members of Joy Mennonite Church, Catholic Peace Fellowship, Veterans for Peace, Oklahoma City Friends Meeting (Quakers) and independent activists. It is funded by Oklahoma religious organizations, peace groups and individual citizens. For more information, see visit centerforconscience.org or call 405-773-4741.
On Thursday, February 2, Oklahoma City activists, including members of OCCPR, took part in a nationwide demonstration called No War in Iran.
Huge signs calling on motorists to “Honk for Peace” and “No War on Iran” prompted quite a racket at the busy intersection during the evening rush hour. Veterans of many a streetside demo said the reaction was much more widespread and animated than normal, which they believe shows a lack of support for the belligerent position re: Iran being promoted by the usual war cheerleaders in Washington and on Radio and cable TV.
The event was covered by the City Sentinel, which quoted both Branum and Guay. You can find the article, written by Darla Shelden, on the City Sentinel web site.
OKLAHOMA CITY – News that Oklahoma native Bradley Manning is being moved to Ft. Leavenworth KS has galvanized supporters in Kansas and surrounding states. Reports of the unexpected transfer prompted hurried planning of protests and other support actions by activists in the region for the alleged Wikileaks leaker who has been imprisoned for almost a year at Quantico Marine Base in Virgina.
The Bradley Manning Support Network distributed a press release (see below) on Tuesday afternoon and listservs and Facebook pages lit up with concern and pledges that the move away from the greater DC area would not lessen public displays of concern for Manning’s wellbeing and demands for his freedom.
Members of The Oklahoma Center for Conscience, which has sponsored a number of Oklahoma City events in support of Manning since last August, were connecting with their members as well as activists throughout the country to build a network that would travel to Ft. Leavenworth for demonstrations.
At Joy Mennonite Church, a sponsoring organization of OCC, Minister of Social Justice James M. Branum took note of the large Mennonite population in Kansas, and the Mennonite standing as a peace church, for the prospects of strong support for Manning after the move.
“Bradley Manning allegedly leaked these documents to try to bring an end to the wars. We are reaching out to mobilize the thousands of Mennonites and other Anabaptists in Kansas and neighboring states to act on their peace beliefs in his defense,” Branum said.
OCC Executive Director Rena Guay also thought Manning’s transfer would not lessen the international backlash to his incarceration and condition. “Since last summer, we have been getting a steady stream of global media attention regarding Bradley’s Oklahoma roots and our support for him. Now that he will be quite close, we expect this to increase, and our level of attention to the case and support activity will also increase.” She said she expected many Oklahoma supporters to travel regularly to Ft. Leavenworth for demonstrations.
“Remedying the uncivilized conditions of his imprisonment is but the least of our demands — we want to see his unconditional release and prosecution of the war crimes which have been exposed though Wikileaks,” Guay stated.
BRADLEY MANNING SUPPORT NETWORK
Jeff Paterson, Kevin Zeese
April 19, 2011
MILITARY MOVES TO FURTHER ISOLATE BRADLEY MANNING WITH TRANSFER TO KANSAS
Alleged WikiLeaks source to be moved away from attorney and DC-area backers; however, Kansas residents already preparing to spearhead support
“The military and Administration has been shocked by the support Bradley Manning has garnered globally–specifically at the gates of Quantico, Virginia. Last month, 500 supporters rallied near the Marine brig where PFC Manning has been held since August 2010. It wasn’t a secret that we were preparing to rally one to two thousand for an upcoming DC-area pre-trial hearing,” explains Jeff Paterson of Courage to Resist and the Bradley Manning Support Network.
“PFC Manning’s transfer from Virginia to Kansas limits his access to his civilian attorney David Coombs of Rhode Island. It also severely limits visitation opportunities by his East Coast family and friends,” explains attorney Kevin Zeese, an organizer with the Bradley Manning Support Network.
Congressman Dennis Kucinich declared today, “Any move of PFC Manning does not change the underlying fact, which has not been disputed by the Department of Defense, that he has been held under conditions which may in fact constitute ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ in violation of the 8th amendment.”
Ethan McCord, Kansas resident and a former Soldier who appears in the “Collateral Murder” video that PFC Manning is accused of leaking, declares, “Bradley Manning is accused of doing nothing more than heroically telling the truth. I and many others here in Kansas are already planning support actions at Leavenworth.”
“I’m concerned that the military is simply moving to further isolate PFC Manning. The idea that Quantico brig commander CWO2 Denise Barnes, without direction from above, imposed and maintained the current torturous conditions of PFC Manning’s detention is ridiculous. However, we will demand that Army officials at Leavenworth finally take responsibility for correcting this ongoing injustice. I know many hold out hope for them to do so,” adds Paterson.
US Army intelligence analyst Private First Class Bradley E Manning, 23-years-old, has been held in maximum and solitary-like confinement conditions since his arrest in Iraq in May 2010. He still awaits his first public court hearing, now expected to begin in June. Over 300 of America’s top legal scholars have decried PFC Manning’s confinement conditions as in clear violation of the US Constitution. Over 3,500 individuals have contributed over $280,000 towards PFC Manning’s legal fees and related public education efforts. Over 500,000 people recently signed a statement to President Obama calling for an end to PFC Manning’s torturous conditions of confinement. The Bradley Manning Support Network is dedicated to winning the freedom of PFC Manning.
# # #