So what? Why the Collateral Murder video is important

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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[1] , (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 ). 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 ( 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 ( 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.

[1]             A trailer from the film can be viewed online at The full film will have its US broadcast premier on The Documentary Channel on May 27th at 7 pm CST.


This op-ed was first published in Oklahoma Peace Strategy News, a publication of Peace House Oklahoma City.

OCCPR to recognize and celebrate Oklahoma conscientious objectors

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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 or call 405-773-4741.

We are proud to nominate Bradley Manning for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize

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PFC Bradley Manning


Bradley Manning Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize by Oklahoma Peace Organization

Accused whistleblower deserves the prize for casting light on war crimes committed in Iraq, nomination states

The Oklahoma Center for Conscience and Peace Research (OCCPR) announced on Tuesday that it has nominated US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In its nomination, OCCPR stated that it chose Bradley Manning because of his alleged role in leaking documents and other evidence of war crimes, corruption and lies related to the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the notorious “collateral murder” video (downloadable online at which US forces firing on unarmed Iraqi civilians, members of the press and children.

“Bradley Manning should have received full whistle-blower protections for his actions but instead has
served 19 months in prison without a trial, including 10 months spent in solitary confinement,” said
James M. Branum, OCCPR Legal Director.

“We understand that PFC Manning will be placed on a military show-trial, where his guilt will be
determined by a ‘jury’ hand-picked by the very command that is accusing him. We have no doubt
that, absent international pressure, PFC Manning will be found guilty and sentenced to life in prison or
possibly even given the death penalty, without a hint of justice applied in his case. We have made this
nomination in the hopes that it might lead to renewed attention and concern given to his plight.”

OCCPR has exhibited its support for Manning since news of his arrest was first announced, holding
a number of rallies and advocacy events on his behalf. “Because Bradley is an Oklahoma native, we
feel a special responsibility to show that there are Oklahomans who support him, seek his freedom
and will continue to work for his cause,” said Rena Guay OCCPR Executive Director. “We have
spoken to media from around the world about our interest in the Manning case, because the whole
world is watching what the United States will do to someone who they believe has exposed secrets
about war crimes, diplomatic doublespeak and policy hypocrisy.”

OCCPR was founded in 2004 and works to increase understanding of conscientious objection
and resistance to war. Its founders include religious and veteran groups; its fiscal sponsor is Joy
Mennonite Church of Oklahoma City.

For more information:

James M. Branum

OKC says NO to war with Iran

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OCCPR's Legal Director, James M. Branum, and its Executive Director, Rena Guay, join protest against war with Iran on 2/2/12

OCCPR's Legal Director, James M. Branum, and its Executive Director, Rena Guay, join protest against war with Iran on 2/2/12

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.

As Bradley Manning’s trial nears, supporters rally

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With Bradley Manning’s Article 32 (pre-trial) hearing beginning on Dec. 16 and expected to last several days, supporters around the country are staging coordinated support actions. Oklahoma Center for Conscience and Peace Research organized a rally near Penn Square Mall and was joined by Nathaniel Batchelder of the Peace House and Norman peace activist Pat MacCauley. For more information, see the Bradley Manning Support Network.

2011 Oklahoma City Peace Fest gives us a chance to visit with old friends and make new ones

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Tabling at 2011 Peace Fest

The annual Peace Festival, organized by the Oklahoma City Peace House, is always a great opportunity for our outreach efforts. We see lots of people we know of course, but what really thrills us each year are the new connections we make with folks who want to know what’s happening in central Oklahoma to help stop war, support resisters and foster a world of mutual cooperation. At our booth, we try to answer that question!