The Journal News, (Westchester, Rockland and Putnam
Counties in New York)
Small but Growing Resistance to Iraq War
By SUSAN ELAN
Original publication: December 27, 2004
A Bronx sailor who refused to board his ship bound for the Persian Gulf earlier this month has shone a spotlight on the small but growing resistance within the military to the war in Iraq.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Pablo Paredes, 23, could have sat out the remaining 20 months of his six-year enlistment in air-conditioned comfort aboard ship. Instead, Paredes sat on the pier at Naval Station San Diego on Dec. 6, as the amphibious assault ship he was assigned to, the USS Bonhomme Richard, pulled out for the Middle East.
“I don’t want to be a part of a ship that’s taking 3,000 Marines over there, knowing a hundred or more of them won’t come back,” said the surface-to-air missile technician, who enlisted in the Navy in 2000 at age 17. “I can’t sleep at night knowing that’s what I do for a living.”
Opposition within the military to the war in Iraq has taken a variety of forms, including 5,500 desertions reported by the Pentagon, lawsuits filed by reservists fighting prolonged tours of duty, and refusal of an Army Reserve platoon to deliver fuel because their vehicles were insufficiently armored. A small number of troops have sought refuge in Canada or deliberately injured themselves to avoid returning.
Courageous or coward?
Paredes’ stance has generated both hostility and support among veterans. Lt. Col. Oliver North, a key figure in the Reagan administration and now a conservative syndicated columnist, has condemned Paredes as a coward. Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, author of “Born on the Fourth of July,” calls Paredes a hero for his “courageous opposition to the war in Iraq.” Local veterans have reacted with equal passion. “I’m proud of Pablo because the Iraq war is not right and not moral,” said Ivan Medina, 23, of Middletown, N.Y. An Army assistant chaplain who was among the first ground troops to enter Iraq, Medina co-founded Iraq Veterans Against the War after his identical twin brother, Irving, was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on Nov. 14, 2003.
“We were lied to and sent to die for a reason no one understands,” Ivan Medina said.
But Danny Griffin, who heads the Westchester County Chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, said members of the military have a duty to follow orders and Paredes is no exception.
“It may not be the right war but he’s not in a position to question that,” said Griffin, 57, of White Plains. “He signed a contract to serve our military. He’s free to speak but not to refuse orders.”
Calls Iraq war unlawful
Paredes turned himself in to Navy officials Dec. 18 after preparing an application as a conscientious objector and securing a defense attorney. When he enlisted at 17, Paredes said, he didn’t know anything about politics or the world and never expected the United States to go to war “with somebody who had done nothing to us.”
In the Navy, Paredes said, he was taught that he had a duty not to follow orders that are unlawful. “I feel that way about any order that has to do with this war,” he said.
No formal charges have been filed yet, although a warrant for his arrest as a deserter was issued prior to his return to the naval station, said Capt. Jacquie Yost, spokeswoman for the Navy’s Southwest region. Paredes could face a court-martial, time in a military jail, a dishonorable discharge and loss of pay and benefits.
Status as a conscientious objector would not mitigate charges brought against him for refusing to board his ship, Yost said.
Until action is taken, Paredes is reporting daily for duty to the Naval Station San Diego’s Transient Personnel Unit.
Chris Harrison, 31, of Mount Kisco, a former first lieutenant in the Army Reserves and now a member of the anti-Iraq war group Military Families Speak Out, filed for classification as a conscientious objector in December 2002. His application was still outstanding when Harrison was discharged Sept. 1.
“What Pablo is doing is incredibly brave,” Harrison said. “We live in a society where the ultimate ideal of courage is presented as going into combat. I’m not diminishing that, but we have lost sight of the bravery of people who stand up for what they believe in, especially when it’s unpopular at the time.”
San Diego attorney Jeremy Warren, who represents Paredes, said much of the e-mail he has received from active duty and former military about the case reflects similar sentiments.
“The military may be concerned that he is the tip of a developing iceberg,” Warren said. “They may make an example of him.”
In a statement made as he surrendered to Navy authorities, Paredes said he is prepared to suffer the consequences of his act and hopes his efforts have helped raise awareness.
“I wanted to have people hear a voice from within that is willing to say this is criminal, this is injustice, this is murder,” he said.