Thursday, May 10, 2007

May 14: Recognizing Conscientious Objectors on International Conscientious Objectors' Day

Download or listen to the show: Recognizing Conscientious Objectors on International Conscientious Objectors Day

David Harris was at Stanford University in early 1965 when he joined the embryonic movement against the Vietnam War. In 1966, he was elected Stanford Student Body President on a “radical” platform that called for an end to the war, equal rights for men and women students, and student control of student regulations. Shortly after that Harris refused a student deferment from military conscription, announced that he would not cooperate with the conscription system, and helped found the draft resistance movement devoted to civil disobedience against forced military service. A leading figure in the anti-war movement who refused to report for military service he was tried and convicted in San Francisco and imprisoned for twenty months.

After peace agreements were signed in 1973, David Harris began a career in journalism. Author of ten books, David writes about national and international issues and has reported from the United States, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Panama, Germany, France, and Lithuania.

Aimee Allison is a 14-year Oakland resident and holds a BA and Masters from Stanford University where she was student body president. She was a Conscientious Objector in the Persian Gulf War. Attracted by the army’s offer of education, she enlisted as a combat medic in order to pay to attend Stanford. As an undergraduate, she developed a strong commitment to pacifism while caring for veterans at the Palo Alto VA Hospital.

For more than a dozen years, Aimee has been a counselor to military personnel who are seeking CO status, a public speaker against war, and a non-violence trainer. She has been featured in the documentary Blood Makes the Grass Grow. As the lead organizer for the Defense Committee of Stephen Funk, the first openly gay Conscientious Objector, Aimee worked closely with Out Against the War, Asian Pacific Islander Coalition Against War, and Veterans for Peace.

Camillo Meija is a former Staff Sergeant of the Florida National Guard and an anti-war activist. Camillo spent six months in Iraq, then returned for a 2-week furlough to the US after which he did not return for duty. He was charged with desertion and sentenced to one year in prison. In March 2004 he turned himself in to the military and filed for conscientious objector status. He claimed that he left his post in order to avoid duties that could be considered war crimes. One of his attorneys, former United States Attorney General Ramsey Clark, claimed that Mejia was thus protected from desertion charges by international law. Nevertheless, Mejía was placed under court-martial.

On May 21, 2004 Mejía was convicted of desertion by a military jury and sentenced to a year in jail and a bad conduct discharge. During his time in custody he was recognized by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience and was awarded by Refuse and Resist with its Courageous Resister Award. His just published book, "Road from ar Ramadi; The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejía," gives an insider view of being a soldier on the ground in Iraq.

Agustín Aguayo applied for a conscientious objector discharge from the Army three years ago and served for one year in Iraq as a medic, all the while refusing to load his weapon. He was convicted of desertion and missing movement March 6, 2007 in a U.S. military court in Germany. Although he faced a maximum of seven years in prison, Agustín was sentenced to eight months in the brig for following his conscience and refusing to participate in war. Having been imprisoned pending trial since September 2006, he was released from the brig on April 18, 2007.

Agustín is currently on leave from the military although still active duty. He is on a speaking tour sharing his experiences.

Background info:
Definition of CO; History of CO Day; Partial list of COs around the world

Universal Soldier, Buffy St. Marie
Blowin' in the Wind, Bob Dylan

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