By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
More than 100 U.S. service members have signed a rare appeal urging Congress to support the "prompt withdrawal" of all American troops and bases from Iraq, organizers said yesterday.
"Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home," reads the statement of a small grass-roots group of active-duty military personnel and reservists that says it aims to give U.S. military members a voice in Iraq war policy.
"As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of American military forces and bases from Iraq," it reads. The group, which aims to collect 2,000 signatures and deliver the "Appeal for Redress" to Congress in January, is sponsored by antiwar activists including Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out.
The unusual appeal -- the first of its kind in the Iraq war, organizers say -- makes use of a legal protection afforded by the Military Whistle-Blower Protection Act, which provides that members of the military, acting in their capacity as citizens, can send a protected communication to Congress without reprisal.
"Just because you put on the uniform of our country doesn't mean you've given up your rights as a citizen," said J.E. McNeil, a lawyer for the group and executive director for the Center on Conscience & War, a Washington organization that protects the rights of conscientious objectors.
But the service members can exercise this right only while off duty and out of uniform, and they must otherwise make clear they are not speaking for the military. In addition, they cannot say anything disrespectful about their commanders, including the president, McNeil said.
Navy Seaman Jonathan Hutto of Atlanta was the first service member to sign the appeal.
"I hear discussions every day among my shipmates about the war in Iraq and how it doesn't make any sense at this point," said Hutto, who is based in Norfolk and served from September 2005 until March on a ship off Iraq's coast. "There is no victory in sight, and war is still inevitable." He said he opposes the war because of its human and economic tolls, adding that the billions of dollars should be spent on jobs and education at home.
Marine Corps Sgt. Liam Madden, 22, served in Iraq's restive Anbar province from September 2004 until February 2005 and found his opposition to the war intensified after he returned to the United States. "I don't think any more Iraqis or Americans should die because of the U.S. occupation," he said, expressing disappointment that Iraqi elections in January 2005 did not lead to a decline in violence.
"I think some things are worth fighting for, I just don't feel Iraq is one of them," said Madden, of Bellows Falls, Vt. The Quantico-based Marine plans to leave the service to attend college in January.
Madden said he and Hutton met and learned of the vehicle for expressing their views to Congress when they attended a lecture at the YMCA in Norfolk by David Cortright, the author of "Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War."
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.