June 17, 2008
Sgt. Matthis Chiroux, served in the Army until being honorably
discharged last summer after over four years of service in
Afghanistan, Japan, Europe and the Philippines. On Sunday, he
publicly announced his intention to refuse orders to deploy to
Iraq. He is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
AMY GOODMAN: A US Army reservist who publicly refused to deploy
to Iraq last month may face prosecution from the military
after refusing to report for active duty with his unit in
Sergeant Matthis Chiroux served in the Army for five years, with
tours in Afghanistan, Japan, Germany and the Philippines. He was
honorably discharged last summer and was placed in the
Individual Ready Reserves, a pool of former soldiers who
can be "reactivated" and ordered to deploy to war.
Last month, Sergeant Chiroux announced he would not deploy to
Iraq. He made the announcement in the Capitol Hill Rotunda
after members of Iraq Veterans Against the War testified
before the Congressional
Progressive Caucus during Winter Soldier on the Hill.
On Sunday, Father's Day, the deadline for Chiroux to report for
active duty expired. Chiroux now joins us from Washington, D.C.
Matthis Chiroux, welcome to Democracy Now!
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Good morning, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: So tell us what is happening right now. When were
you supposed to deploy or report for active duty?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: OK, I was supposed to report Sunday,
Father's Day. I did not. I was in Washington, D.C. with
the Iraq Veterans Against the War at their chapter house.
I gave a short speech on the porch of our house there, and
I stood with my dad, and I
kept my promise to the
military, I kept my promise to my country, to refuse an
illegal order to participate in an unlawful occupation.
AMY GOODMAN: So what happens now?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Well, right now it's turned into a bit of
a waiting game, as far as the military goes. You know, I
made my intentions clear, and then I followed through on
them, and I'm waiting to hear from the military.
There's no real way I can know what consequences to face here.
You know, many,
many members of the Individual Ready Reserve, about 15,000
of them, have been called up since the beginning of this
occupation of Iraq, and only 7,500 of them have reported.
So there's about half there that's unaccounted for. And
many of those
individuals have been ignored by the military,
as they should be. It is an illegal order to call up and
deploy to Iraq. Others
have been charged with desertion. So, during a time of
war, actually, desertion can be punishable by death. So,
you know, my spectrum of consequence
is in the situation range literally anywhere from nothing to
death. So I
will wait faithfully in the United States, as I promised to do,
to see how the military will react.
AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant Matthis Chiroux, why did you sign up and
did you sign up?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: I
signed up about a month after I got out of high school. I
was a very, very poor student in Auburn, Alabama. I
graduated high school with nothing more than a 2.1, no real
money in my bank account, no prospects for a good job or
you know, I joined the military primarily looking for
personal progress, though after enlisting and after
spending 4th of July, you know,
three weeks before I reported for basic training here in
Washington, D.C. with my mother, I also felt proud about
the fact that I would be participating in the global war
on terror, to bring to justice those
individuals who perpetrated 9/11, or the events of 9/11, anyway,
on this country. So I joined both out of a desire to pave
a way forward to a career and to university and also to
spend some time serving the nation.
AMY GOODMAN: And what year was it that you signed up?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: 2002. I was in the military from August 1,
2002I reported to basic training at Fort Knox, Kentuckyto July
31, 2007, when I was honorably discharged from Heidelberg,
AMY GOODMAN: When did you go to Iraq?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: I've never been to Iraq, ma'am. This would
have been my first tour. Fortunatelywell, by nothing more
than good fortune, my five years in the military, all
after September 11th, I was never asked to deploy to Iraq.
And I'm quite thankful for that, because I think I would
have been facing a very similar situation as I am now.
I havethere has never been any lack of disgust for the Iraq
occupation on my behalf. You know, I remember quite clearly
watching the invasion while I was still in Army journalism
school in Fort Meade, Maryland. I remember watching it on
my company's big screen television and feeling entirely
shocked and awed to see what was going on at the other end
of those cameras in Baghdad and know that our actions were
not sanctioned by the international community and were,
you know, coming onat the word of a few people who were saying
Saddam Hussein is a threat. So since that time, since the
invasion, I've been against this occupation to various
degrees. But fortunately, I was never unlawfully asked to
serve there until now.
AMY GOODMAN: Afghanistan?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Afghanistan, I went to in 2005, although
only for a very short stint. I was an Army journalist
working for General B.B. Bell at the time. He was still
the commander of US Army Europe. And we went down to catch
up with a unit from Hohenfels, Germany, a training unit
that was in fact only supposed to be assisting other
soldiers who were training in Hohenfels, Germany. They had been
deployed as a non-deployable unit under the direct command of a
Romanian battalion, and I went down to Afghanistan to tell the
stories of those soldiers deployed with that unit.
But, Amy, my combat
experience is very limited, and I don't want anybody to
feel like I'm trying to hide that point. I never
discharged a round in a combat zone, and I never took one,
either. But that does not make me any less qualified to
determine or to choose between, as I'm required to, a
lawful and an unlawful order and either following or
refusing those orders alike.
AMY GOODMAN: Matthis
Chiroux, you were a military reporter?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Yes, Amy, I was.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you do?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Well, I spent a lot of time writing
stories and taking photographs in the interest of the
commands that I served. It's a smaller career field in the
Army, but it's a very highly
creative and independent field, where you spend a lot of time
producing, like I said, stories, photographs, coordinating
interviews, coordinating transportation to wind up where you
be to conduct your interviews and produce a story, basically
just like anything any civilian journalist would do,
except at the end of
the day my duty was not as much to the truth as it was to the
truth that the Army wanted not just its soldiers to see
it, but civilians on the outside.
So, you know, for example, I once did a story about a Romanian
soldier who had been wounded in Afghanistan. He had had his leg
blown off by a mine, and I went to interview him at the
hospital to produce
a reallyyou know, to produce a piece for the US Army Europe
quarterly magazine about basically how we, as the American Army,
were so generous by agreeing to treat a coalition soldier
in a US Army hospital. Now, this story came at quite a
personal expense for me. When I went to do it at the
hospital, he was one out of about, I believe, sixty-five
men and women who had lost limbs in either Afghanistan or
Iraq, and I went to do the story about the Romanian guy,
ignoring the dozens of other American troops who had also been
suffering greatly in combat, but their stories could not make us
look, I guess, nearly as well as this Romanian guy who we were
And, you know, I'll never actually forget leaving the ward that
day. And there was a young man, couldn't have been more
than nineteen years old, lying on a gurney, and he was
missing both arms and legs, and he looked over at me,
because I had the camera, and I was there with the story,
and he said, "Hey, are you a journalist?" And I said,
"Yeah, I'm from the US Army Europe, and I'm here to cover this
story about this Romanian troop right down the hall. Do
you know him?" And to which he just got really quiet and
distant and looked at me and said, "Sixty-five
blue-blooded Americans on this hall, and the journalist
shows up to do the story about the Romanian. That's
And I remember looking back at this young man and havingfeeling
like my diaphragm was being sucked down my thighs, because
what could I tell this guy? You know, "Yes, I am here to
do the happy, rosy story about the Romanian who's getting
taken care of. I'm not here to talk to you. Andbut that's
my job, just as it was your job to do whatever you were
doing when you got your legs blown off." It was my job to
produce stories in the manner which my leadership told me to
write them and told me to produce them.
So, situations like thatI mean, that's a particularly poignant
one for me in my mind, but typically situations like that,
where I would be
telling a story, I would be writing a story based in fact, based
in quote, but I would also be limiting the scope of that story
to the topic which would make the military look like it
was really taking care of its people, make it look like it
was really taking care of coalition troops and, you know,
make it look like it was really accomplishing something,
either in Iraq, Afghanistan, or any place in the world
that I served. I
had the very unique experience of spending more than
four-and-a-half years overseas.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you raise that story, Matthis, with your
editor? Did you say
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Absolutely, I did. Yes, I did. I raised
it, and I told him I thought it was terrible and that
actually that experience kind of affected mewell, very
much affected me for awhile. And, you know, it came less
than a year before I got out of the military. And that
wasthat one was what put the nail in the coffin for me. I
didn'tI was disgusted that
I was being ordered to,
like I said, produce a story about this guy, to go in and have
to interview a
man who has had
his leg blown off in somebody else's war not but a week
earlier and to not be able to report about the fact that
when I interviewed him, I was in full protective gear, because
this young man had contracted a bacteria from the sands of
Afghanistan that is spreading pretty rampantly, or at least at
the time was, through Army hospitals all over the world,
and he was inside an isolation chamber where, you know,
all the oxygen was flowing in, rather than out, to try and
keep his bacteria contained.
AMY GOODMAN: What was the bacteria?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: I believe it started with an "A." I'm not
a doctor, but it was something like "acetobacteria" or
something like that.
AMY GOODMAN: And you didn't describe what he looked like, where
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Absolutely not. Well, I took a couple of
photos of him. You know, those are still out around
online. But I didn't
AMY GOODMAN: And did the military newspaper run the photos?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: It was posted on a website. It was
released on a military newswire. As well, it was published
in US Army Europe's quarterly magazine, which I helped to,
you know, shoot for, write, edit and produce, EurArmy
AMY GOODMAN: You just
couldn't explain why he was in
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: No, I didn'tI didn't reportI didn't
report on the bacteria.
AMY GOODMAN: You just couldn't explain why he was in that
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Well, I knew why he was in that isolation
chamber, but the fact is, for us to be broadcasting to the
world, you know, however necessary it may be that we have
a Romanian soldier here that's in isolation, not but a
week after, you know, having his leg blown off, because
he's got a bacteria that's spreading throughout all kinds
of Army hospitals, you know, that does not paint the rosy
picture that the military requires most of its journalists to
AMY GOODMAN: And what
did your editors say when you asked if you could cover the
US soldiers, like the one who had his arms and legs blown off?
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Well, I didn't ask "Could I?" I asked why
we didn't, why we wouldn't. And she said it's not in line
with our strategic goals. We had a strategy map for US
Army Europe, a command information strategy map, which
outlined about seven or eight different points that we
wanted to be advertising to the world and to our soldiers.
And I believe while one of them was talk about US Army
Europe healthcare and why it's so good and so top-notch, but one
of the main strategic goals of working for that magazine
was to foster positive relationships between the US
military and militaries of emerging allies in the East,
such as Romania or Poland, you know, all of these former
bloc states and just Eastern states that are now
contributing troops to efforts both in Iraq and Afghanistan.
AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant Matthis Chiroux, we only have fifty
seconds left on the satellite, and I want to ask you what
happens to you now. On Sunday, you announced you're not
going to report for duty. Are you AWOL? Are you absent
SGT. MATTHIS CHIROUX: Well, I'm not absent without leave until
they tell me I'm absent without leave. To me, I'm
following the US Constitution. I'm upholding the law, and
I'm going to continue behaving as such. I refuse to be
labeled or be shamed by these actions. I refuse to behave
like a criminal. I am going to stay here in Washington,
D.C., until at least Thursday. I've been here for the past
two-and-a-half weeks lobbying members of Congress to come out in
official support of resisters to the Iraq occupation for cause
of its unconstitutional nature, as well as being waged in
violation of international laws and the like. I believe
we've made progress, and I believeThursday, I believe
members of Congress will be coming out in support of war
AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant Matthis Chiroux, we're going to leave it
there, and I want to thank you very much for being with
us. Again, as of Sunday, he has publicly announced that he
is refusing orders to deploy to Iraq.