OK joins international day of action for Bradley Manning with events in OKC and Crescent

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09-Manning OKC Crescent 7-27-2013 8-37-44 PM

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.

OCC Legal Director James M. Branum and Executive Director Rena Guay hold vigil for Bradley Manning in Crescent, Oklahoma, his home town.

OCC Legal Director James M. Branum and Executive Director Rena Guay hold vigil for Bradley Manning in Crescent, Oklahoma, his home town.

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.

Army to deploy conscientious objector

Published by:

Christopher Munoz

Editor’s note: The lawyer representing PVC Munoz, James M. Branum, is legal director for OCC.

Private still scheduled for upcoming deployment to Afghanistan

Killeen, Texas – A soldier seeking a discharge from the Army based on a conscientious objection to war has been told by the command at Fort Hood that it still intends to deploy him to Afghanistan sometime in the coming weeks.

PVC Christopher MunozPrivate Second Class Christopher Munoz, 22, applied for a C.O. (conscientious objector) discharge on June 25, 2013. He has also asked for his deployment to be delayed until request for discharge would be given a fair hearing.

Servicemembers are eligible for C.O. status if they can prove to military authorities that they are opposed to all wars, and that the opposition is grounded in religious belief or moral conviction that is sincere and occurred at some point after enlistment. PV2 Munoz’s application asserts that he qualified for this status according to the provisions of Army Regulation 600-43.

As a C.O applicant, PV2 Munoz cannot be made to carry weapons or munitions if deployed.

“If deployed, PV2 Munoz will be at significant risk for harassment by his fellow soldiers since he will effectively be a ‘dead weight’ on the unit. Despite these very real risks, PV2 Munoz’s command has said that a delay of his deployment will not be considered,” said James M. Branum, an attorney who represents PV2 Munoz. Continue reading

War Resister Kimberly Rivera receives lengthy prison sentence “to send a message to the war resisters in Canada and their supporters”

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kimandmario

This press release was sent out a short time ago by the War Resisters Support Campaign of Canada. OCCPR Legal Director James M. Branum was the lead defense counsel on this case.


WAR RESISTERS SUPPORT CAMPAIGN

www.resisters.ca

For Immediate Release
Monday, April 29, 2013

Iraq War Resister Kimberly Rivera sentenced to 14 months in military prison after deportation by Harper government

TORONTO—On Monday afternoon, during a court-martial hearing at Fort Carson, Colorado, Kimberly Rivera was sentenced to 14 months in military prison and a dishonourable discharge after publicly expressing her conscientious objection to the Iraq War while in Canada.

Under the terms of a pre-trial agreement, she will serve 10 months of that sentence.

Private First Class Kimberly Rivera deployed to Iraq in 2006 and sought asylum in Canada in 2007 because she decided she could no longer be complicit in the war. A mother of four young children—including two who were born in Canada—she was forced back to the United States of America by the Conservative government after receiving a negative decision on her pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA). A Federal Court judge denied her request for a stay of removal, finding the possibility of her arrest and detention in the U.S. to be “speculative.” Rivera was arrested three days later, on September 20, 2012, as she presented herself at the U.S. border.

“Kim is being punished for her beliefs and for her comments to the press while she was in Canada,” said James M. Branum, the defense attorney who represented Rivera during the court-martial proceedings. “Because she spoke out against the Iraq War, Kim’s sentence is harsher than the punishment given to 94 percent of deserters who are not punished but administratively discharged. In the closing arguments, the prosecutor argued that the judge needed to give PFC Rivera a harsh sentence to send a message to the other war resisters in Canada and their supporters.”

The tremendous public outcry related to Rivera’s case shows the deep and broad support that Canadians continue to express for Iraq War resisters. In a period of 10 days leading up to the Rivera family deportation, 20,000 people signed a Change.org petition (http://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/minister-kenney-stop-the-deportation-of-iraq-war-resister-kimberly-rivera) supporting the family. Faith (http://www.united-church.ca/communications/news/general/120911b), labour (http://www.usw.ca/media/statements/opinions?id=0032) and human rights organizations spoke out, Amnesty International (http://www.amnesty.ca/news/news-item/amnesty-international-expresses-dismay-in-the-case-of-conscientious-objector-kimberly) adopted Kim as a prisoner of conscience, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu published an opinion piece in The Globe and Mail newspaper (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/dont-deport-war-resister-kimberly-rivera/article4544856/) calling the deportation order “unjust.”

In stark contrast to this outpouring of support, Conservative MPs cheered when the Rivera family’s removal was announced in the House of Commons.

“The Conservative government knew that Kim would be jailed and separated from her children when they forced her back to the U.S., yet they cheered her deportation,” said Michelle Robidoux, a spokesperson for the War Resisters Support Campaign. “They are out of step with the great majority of Canadians who opposed the Iraq War and who support allowing U.S. war resisters to stay in Canada.”

On February 1, 2013, the Federal Court of Canada issued a decision in the case of another U.S. war resister, Jules Tindungan, finding that the U.S. court-martial system “fails to comply with basic fairness requirements found in Canadian and International Law.” The Court also found that the Refugee Board failed to deal properly with evidence that soldiers who have spoken out publicly about their objections to U.S. military actions are subjected to particularly harsh punishments because of having voiced their political opinions. (http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/federal-court-rules-in-favour-of-us-war-resister-jules-tindungan-1752888.htm)

“The sentence Kim received today underlines the concerns we have been raising all along, and what the Federal Court now acknowledges, that soldiers who speak out against unjust wars face harsher punishment and have no recourse within the U.S. military justice system,” said Robidoux.

“Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney were ardent supporters of the Iraq War, and they want U.S. Iraq War resisters punished. But Parliament has voted twice to stop these deportations, and the majority of Canadians believe Kim and the other resisters did the right thing. We will continue to fight to make sure this injustice does not happen to any other U.S. war resister who is seeking asylum in Canada.”

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For further information, please contact:
Michelle Robidoux, Spokesperson, War Resisters Support Campaign, 416-856-5008; or
Ken Marciniec, Communications Volunteer, War Resister Support Campaign, 416-803-6066,
communications(at)resisters(dot)ca

Announcing Oklahoma Conscience Award event, May 11, honoring Cheyenne Peace Chief

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Lawrence Hart
The 2013 Oklahoma Conscience Award goes to …lawrence_hart160

Cheyenne Peace Chief and Mennonite Pastor Lawrence Hart

What: OCCPR Oklahoma Conscience Award Ceremony and Fundraiser
When: Saturday, May 11, 5 pm
Where: Church of the Open Arms, 3131 N. Penn., Oklahoma City

Join us for a simple ceremony in which we will highlight some of Mr. Hart’s contributions and service to his people, to Oklahoma and to the Earth and all its people. The program will also include an annual report about OCCPR’s work throughout the year providing legal support to conscientious objectors and other war resisters, as well as education and outreach on ending war and building global understanding and a culture of peace and justice.

The event is free and all are welcome. However, donations are appreciated, as this is OCCPR’s primary fundraiser for the year. We are funded solely by community support. If unable to attend, but wishing to make a donation, please see the mailing address and online donation link below. Donations are tax deductible.

Light refreshments will be served.

OCCPR is a local chapter of the War Resisters League, and a member of the Bradley Manning Support Network. For more info about OCCPR, see www.centerforconscience.org

The Cheyenne-Arapaho tribal newspaper recently did a cover story on Lawrence Hart. This link is to the PDF copy of the paper (which is large and takes a while to download):
http://www.c-a-tribes.org/Websites/michaelwood/images/April_1__2013.pdf

DONATION INFO:
Oklahoma Center for Conscience
c/o Joy Mennonite Church
504 NE 16
Oklahoma City, OK 73104Donate online

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Download the flier, to print and share.

Imprisoned US Army war resister needs your help today

Published by:

Justin Colby

Part of the work of the Oklahoma Center for Conscience is helping to provide low cost (and sometimes no cost) legal assistance to military war resisters. The following story is about one of the clients that our legal director has worked with. We urge you to read this statement and then to write a letter of support today so that this war resister can be release from prison.


Statement by SPC Justin Colby

This statement was written by SPC Justin Colby on the morning of March 22, 2013, just a few hours before he would be sent away to 9 months in military prison, reduction to the rank of Private, loss of all pay and forfeitures and a bad conduct discharge.

Justin Colby

My name is Justin Colby and I am an Active Duty soldier serving in the United States Army. I am writing today to talk about some of my experiences serving in the US Army. I was admit right up front that there were many positive experiences about my serving the Army (and I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for many of those that I served with), but for the purposes of this writing I will focus on the negative experiences that shaped my ability to participate in this organization.

 

I enlisted in May of 2003. My first duty station was South Korea. While I was in South Korea, I learned about the Iraq war. Glaring discrepancies became obvious. One professor said that Iraq never attacked the United States. As I talked to other soldiers about this, none of the people I served with could seem to explain why we should attack a country that never attacked us. When I asked at the command level why we were attacking Iraq I was dismissed completely.

 

Eleven months into my Korean tour I was notified that I would be going to Iraq. I started researching more and asking more questions. While my unit was in Kuwait getting ready to cross over the Iraq border I explained to my first sergeant that I did not think I could participate in offensive operations against a country that never attacked us. I asked to apply for conscientious objector status. The First Sergeant made me do pushups until I was completely exhausted and humiliated. He told me that we could take “this” as high up the chain of command as I wanted, but the only result would be that I would be labeled a “domestic terrorist.” This intimidation worked and I crossed the border as commanded.

 

Our destination was Ar-Ramadi, Al Anbar Province, Iraq – in the heart of the Sunni triangle. Immediately, I was terrified. Our base was attacked with mortars daily. Coalition forces and Iraqi resistance fighters came to our medical facility daily, wounded and killed in action. It was very difficult for me to watch mothers cry to us as we tried to save the lives of the women wounded by US forces. On multiple occasions, soldiers opened fire on vehicles carrying unarmed women and children. This happened for a variety of reasons (but most often happened because)if the soldiers commanded them to stop and they failed to stop ,lethal force was authorized. Regardless of the reasons, watching the life slip from a three year old toddler was devastating to both its mother and myself.

 

I can also remember the Marines being particularly brutal in the handling of the dead bodies of the Iraqis killed in action. They would routinely toss the bodies off of their vehicles into the dirt beyond our medical facility. Watching bloodied, mutilated bodies rolling around in the dirt never felt normal to me. I can remember how we openly referred to the Iraqi casualties as “practice patients.” We routinely allowed medics to perform procedures outside of their scope of practice. As medics, we only had sixteen weeks of medical training.

 

To put it in perspective, imagine if you mother had a heart atack and passed away, and you had to come to the hospital to identify her – but when you saw her body, you discovered that it was essentially dissected by somebody with only sixteen weeks of training – and imagine find out it was for “practice.”

 

I made it through our year long deployment to Iraq only to return home to be abused by my new chain of command. I returned in August of 2005. In the late fall I found out that my girlfriend was pregnant. I married her after hearing this news (something I was very excited about), but it ended up being a nightmare. By December of 2005 I discovered that my pregnant wife was addicted to methamphetamine and was having an affair with a convicted felon (with a history of domestic violence). I immediately contacted the Colorado Springs police and Child protective service. I also filed for divorce (seeking custody of my soon-to-be-born son). I was told that this was the only way that I could prevent my soon-to-be-born son from being further harmed was to divorce my wife and demand custody.

 

My June of 2006 things were reaching a very bad place. I was only weeks away from finalizing the divorce (and gaining full custody of my son). But at the end of June I was told that I would be deploying to the National Training Center for training in preparation for a second Iraq deployment. Our deployment to NTC was scheduled for early July, preventing me from protecting my son. I as devastated and both my physical and mental health deteriorated. I begged and pleaded with my leadership to no avail. My life turned into a nightmare. I felt like I had to leave before things got worse. In a time of extreme emotional distress, I left my unit and went AWOL. A short time later I went to Canada where I sought legal status based on my family hardship and my moral objections to further participation in war. After I left, Child Protective Services ended up removing my son from his mother. I unfortunately was unable to gain custody myself due to my legal status with the Army. It is this aspect of my story that I regret most. I can only say that had lost all faith in the legal system to do the right thing.

 

While in Canada I tried to live my life as best I could. In the coming years, I formed a new family (with my Canadian common-law spouse, I had two new children). I always grieved the circumstances of why I had to leave, but I felt betrayed by the Army. I had felt that I had been required to put my own moral concerns aside to deploy the first time (doing this out of a sense of obligation to my oath and to my comrades), but when I later faced a terrible family crisis, the Army abandoned me.

 

By the summer of 2012 I made the decision to return to the US. I had completed the first stage of being sponsored for legal residency in Canada (based on my family ties in Canada) so I was not deported. But I made the decision to come back anyway because I wanted to take responsibility for my actions and not be separated from my extended family. I wanted my children to grow up getting to see their grandparents and their aunts and uncles in the United States. In July I returned to military custody and was eventually sent back to Fort Carson. I continued to serve (doing whatever jobs were asked of me) from July 2012-March 2013. I sought an administrative discharge in lieu of court-martial but my request was denied. Today I will be pleading guilty to the charge of desertion.

 

A few hours after Justin Colby wrote this, he was sentenced to 15 months in confinement, a bad conduct discharge, reduction to the lowest rank (E-1) and loss of all pay allowances (despite the fact this income is desperately needed to support his family), however, thanks to a sealed pre-trial plea agreement SPC Colby will only be serving a 9 month prison sentence.(Unlike the civilian system, military defendants who have a plea deal receive the lesser sentence of either the pre-agreed terms or what the judge thinks the sentence should be)

 

Justin Colby is currently being held in the county jail in Colorado Springs awaiting transport to military correctional facility. Justin will, however, have the opportunity (likely in 3-6 months) to request clemency from the commanding general of Fort Carson. We are asking for friends, family and supporters of Justin Colby to write letters to the general asking that Justin be given an early release form prison so he can be back with his family. We do ask that all letters be respectful.

 

Please send all letters to:

 

Maj. General Paul J. LaCamera

Public Affairs Office

1626 Ellis Street

Ste. 200, Bldg.118

Fort Carson, CO 80913, USA

Fax: 1-719-526-1021

 

Please also copies of the letters to Justin Colby’s civilian attorney (this is important because we need copies of the letter to submit in the formal clemency process). These copies can be sent to:

 

James M. Branum

Attorney at Law

PO Box 721016

Oklahoma City, OK 73172

Fax: 1-866-757-8785

Email: girightslawyer(at)gmail(dot)com

 

We will be posting an address (at freejustincolby.org) where supporters can write Justin Colby once we know what military prison he is sent to (likely in early-Mid April). Until then he is being held at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His mailing address at the CJC is as follows (guidelines for letters can be found here):

 

Justin Raymond Colby – # 1300004791

Criminal Justice Center

2739 E. Las Vegas St.

Colorado Springs, CO 80906-1522

 

For further updates on Justin Colby, please go to: www.freejustincolby.org (coming soon)

Op-Ed: Nations, Not Just Individuals, Must Be Held Accountable For War Crimes

Published by:

by Moses Mast

The incident of the soldier from the U.S. army leaving the military base in Afghanistan and murdering sixteen Afghanistan citizens, nine of them children, is shocking news to the American people. This is just not American.  We might say we could understand this from our enemies, Muslims or North Korea, but that this, we insist, does not represent America.  Indeed it may not represent mainstream America but if we look at history it does represent a nation at war, all nations, and America is no exception. Stories of wartime massacres abound. We even have atrocities in the Bible, acts that we would not expect from the Hebrew people. It would seem that any nation that becomes more powerful than their neighbors can easily fall into the trap of committing an atrocity.

There is a certain progression of events in these atrocities. First, there is the act of violence, then comes the cover up, and then comes a person who exposes the truth (sometimes called a prophet or a news reporter), and then finally comes the outcry accusing the truth teller of being a traitor.

This particular atrocity in Afghanistan could not be hidden, so the outcry seeks to put the blame on one person so that we as a nation could be absolved from all responsibility for this horrendous act. The United States has a history of war crimes that we should be able to learn from, especially in Vietnam where we committed numerous atrocities of war. The one the news media focused on was the My Lai massacre. where a whole village was murdered. There were several news reporters who tried to look beneath the surface to try and understand how such a crime could be committed. One wrote, “It takes a nation to make a massacre.” His analysis concluded that it was more than the soldiers who did the killing, or even their superiors who gave the orders. The nation that seeks the reason to go to war and wins support for the war, the army that trains its citizens to fight, the congress that funds the war, and the citizens who elected that congress… all these bear a responsibility for what happens in the stress of war itself. This reporter said, “There is no justice if the only people accused of murder are the people we send off to war.”

In the story of the My Lai massacre there is also the story of three helicopter pilots who tried to halt the massacre and protect the wounded. They were able to fly some out to safety. They did this at great risk to their own lives. Later they were recognized and decorated for this heroic deed, but being recognized brought them more trouble from angry citizens and several congressmen who denounced them as traitors.

Stories like this seem to repeat themselves. We see the pattern in the case of Bradley Manning who exposed the war crimes in Iraq. The public reaction should not surprise us; it is exactly as one would expect. We can be hopeful that, just as in Vietnam, the truth will be acknowledged some day. In the meantime what is expected of those who protest the war and support the truth teller? We must still acknowledge that if we live in the United States and experience the economic benefits that we as a nation fight for, then we must do more than protest. It is difficult to know how I as one person can effect any change worth mentioning but I will try and name a few ways we can act.

1) Be truthful and honest about what I contribute to an excuse for war.

2) Take the risk of supporting the truth tellers who expose war crimes.

3) Follow the global standard of living and eliminate the need to take from others to enrich myself.

4) Share the Earth’s resources.

5 ) Support just immigration laws

There must be more one could say. I hope this will stimulate others to say more.  We all need to be a part of the conversation.