Author expects more soldiers to refuse Iraq duty
By MIKE BARBER
A week ago, Iraq-bound Army 1st. Lt. Ehren Watada, 28, stood up outside Fort Lewis and said he would not fight in what he considers an illegal war.
On Tuesday, Spec. Suzanne Nicole Swift, 21, an Iraq veteran with a Fort Lewis military police unit, returned to the post after being AWOL since January for refusing to go back there with her unit. She was arrested earlier at her mother's home in Eugene, Ore.
Their outright refusal to go to Iraq is likely to be repeated by other soldiers, predicted Peter Laufer, a Vietnam war resister and former radio newsman and author of "Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq," released by Chelsea Green Publishing in May.
"After profiling those in the book, I'm not only not surprised by what Lieutenant Watada did, I expect there to be more cases," Laufer said Tuesday.
"If we have retired generals, guys like Congressman John Murtha -- a 37-year Marine veteran, and 'grunts' (combat infantry veterans) resisting, there's no way ... that there is not going to be an increasing level of resistance in the military," he said.
Desertion figures for the Army compiled by the Defense Department, however, hover around 1 percent of all soldiers. They also dropped 50 percent between 2001 and 2005, from nearly 4,600 before the war began to just more than 2,000 last year.
Pentagon officials say the vast majority of soldiers who desert do so because of personal, family or financial problems, not for political or moral reasons.
Laufer agreed that there's no way to categorize reasons for desertion, but peace groups believe their numbers based upon soldiers phoning them are higher and inconsistent with the Pentagon's.
Laufer added that "there are many who are opposing war in various ways once they come back, while it seems the government is going after those who put the spotlight on themselves."
Laufer's book profiles primarily soldiers or Marines who served in Iraq or opposed the war before it began.
"It's an activist book," Laufer says. "It's very difficult to impugn their credibility. They were either there or en route. That's different than someone who holds a sign that says 'End the War.' "
Some became conscientious objectors, some refused outright to go and others completed their time in the war zone, were honorably discharged and began working against the war.
"In Vietnam many went for a tour of duty and finished. (U.S. troops in Iraq) are going for repeated tours, so that means there are people in service being treated for (post-traumatic stress syndrome) who are subjected to returning to the very place they experienced" what traumatized them, Laufer said.
Watada is the first company level officer Laufer has heard about to refuse to go to Iraq. Watada also is unique in that he does not conscientiously object to war -- he would serve in Afghanistan, but not in Iraq with the Stryker brigade preparing to be deployed in the next week or two. He has tried twice before to resign his commission as an officer, instead.
Joe Piek, Fort Lewis spokesman, said Watada continues to work at his job on-post as an artillery-targeting officer with his battalion's fire support element.
Legrande Jones, one of Watada's lawyers, said Tuesday that the lieutenant has not been confined to the post and continues to come and go to work from his home outside Fort Lewis.
Jones said Watada is trying to dot the i's and cross the t's properly, but is under investigation for his comments made to reporters off post and after work hours. He faces an administrative hearing that has yet to be scheduled to determine whether he has violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Swift, meanwhile, was returned to Fort Lewis Tuesday afternoon after police arrested her at her mother's home Sunday.
She is being processed back into the Army and has been restricted to her unit's area and cannot leave Fort Lewis, Piek said.
Swift deployed to Iraq in 2004 with the 54th Military Police Company based in Karbala, 60 miles northeast of Baghdad. Her mother, Sara Rich, a social worker, told The Register Guard in Eugene that Swift drove a Humvee on combat patrols.
She said her daughter seldom spoke of her experiences and sought help for post-traumatic stress disorder, but also had written to her from Iraq of sexual harassment by male soldiers and worry of sexual assault.
P-I reporter Mike Barber can be reached at 206-448-8018 or email@example.com.
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