Martyrs of the Republic

Ah, how things change! The military court in LT Ehren Watada’s trial has denied any courtroom discussion of the legality of the war in Iraq. Yes, the vast majority of Americans, Senators and Congressmen have already admitted that the war was based on lies, fostered by a narrow set of agenda setters, for a non-national security agenda, violates international law, and is likely unconstitutional. Yes, we all suspect today that the war for "democracy" is no more than make-believe, even as the war for oil and bases is all but lost. Yet victory is claimed daily by White House schemers, as disaster inexorably creeps throughout the streets of Baghdad, and of Washington, D.C. But these facts and conditions are all so much fluff and nonsense to the military court.

It appears that Watada will be tried for missing a troop movement, conduct unbecoming an officer and contempt toward officials. Logically, a soldier’s duty to reject and challenge unlawful orders may result in a missed troop movement, or two, or ten thousand. However, charging Watada with conduct unbecoming and showing contempt towards officials is too rich, even for the stupefying non sequitur that is military justice.

I served as an Air Force officer or cadet under Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton and Bush 43. Contempt towards elected officials of one sort or another, including at times our own military leadership, was shown every year, by nearly every rank. Not surprisingly, the harshest words — and institutional toleration of them — were reserved for those officials who attempted to question pre-existing military culture or worse, to question military budgets or bookkeeping.

Carter, naturally, was held in contempt. His tree-hugging micromanaging style was not compensated by Naval Academy years and early military service. Reagan, big spender and big talker, was seemingly adored — until it became clear that he was an anti-nuclear friend of Gorbachev, unlikely to substantially use the Pentagon machine he had so generously primed. In the mid-1980s, when we gave Stinger missiles to various freedom fighters in Afghanistan and Angola, congressional hawks and the military, while concerned about the risk, approved the shipments because it opened up the next generation of Stinger production for ourselves. The freedom we were fighting for appears to have been nothing more than the freedom to buy and sell more weapons at home and abroad, and the freedom to fight at will, wherever, for whomever or whatever.

The Reagan grousing began before Iran-Contra and continued until that great friend of militarism, George H.W. Bush, arrived. Bush the Elder understood institutional-political spending and the military industrial complex, and he knew how to please us. It’s no surprise that we secretly loved him best.

Whether coincidence or grand strategy, Bush 41 gave us something big to do in those tenuous, uncertain early years of the post-Cold War era. But then, he too was disrespected in many military circles for premature withdrawal in Iraq, and for playing emotional world policeman in Somalia. But our practiced contempt would blossom fully with the arrival of Bill Clinton, and his military-hating wife.

All bets were off, after that early "don’t ask, don’t tell" shot across the Pentagon bow. Military officers and enlisted alike felt freedom to discount, condemn, criticize, and joke about the Clinton presidency, his policies, his decisions and actions, and those of his immediate family and staff. And it was all good — few if any courts martials were convened. The July 1999 The Army Lawyer puts it in perspective and is worth a read. To get an idea of what was happening only a few years ago, a reserve major who called the president a "lying draft dodger" and "a moral coward" received not much more than a "letter of caution."

He wasn’t talking about George W. Bush, although he certainly might have been. How things do change! Lt Watada is facing six years in prison, for saying the war appears to him illegal, and the policies that led to this illegal war questionable. Many Republican senators and representatives, and most of the old Bush 41 team have already said and written as much.

It’s funny, except in a nascent totalitarian state, one mustn’t laugh.

Another court case looms, providing one more interesting example of police state intimidation. Navy lawyer LCDR Matthew Diaz is charged with transmitting secret war on terror information to unauthorized persons. He worked as a staff legal advisor at Guantanamo for six months in 2004, and now faces up to 36 years in prison. The unauthorized "terror" information he is accused of giving out seems to have been some names of those held in Guantanamo, in legal limbo, uncharged and mistreated in perpetuity by our Commander in Chief about Whom No Bad Things Must be Breathed or Whispered.

The Congress already suspects, and the Supreme Court already knows, that much of what the President and his political lackeys have done in Guantanamo is illegal under international as well as constitutional law. I guess this is why the executive branch has gotten so sensitive about things like release of the — dare I say Christian — names of those we are holding, seeing as how the Pentagon has already admitted that most of those incarcerated have done little if anything wrong, and many of those will never be charged, even as they remain incarcerated indefinitely.

Diaz, like Watada, Joe Darby, and so many others are men of conscience assigned to an unconscionable political bureaucracy, operating in an immoral political era. They would be first in line to defend this country if we were truly at risk, and the rest of us would admire and praise their courage and their honor. We would, in another time, gladly share their vision of what is worth saving in America. Instead, we shop our hearts out, count our fiat dollars, marvel at our nanny state and commend our warm and loving national socialism. Instead, we look fearfully on those few who would trust that still small voice, that handful who believe the fragile republic might be worth saving, and those rarities who boldly stare down our institutional Goliaths.

These men frighten us a bit, and perhaps we turn away, uncomfortable with what they are risking, and nervous about what it all means for our cherished fantasies about the power of law written in museums, not living in our souls.

In an age where a 21st century Caesar claims divine right to wage preemptive and imperial war — audaciously rejecting the vast majority of American serfdom as well as the country’s elected law-makers — it is nice to know that these few men do frighten the state, as men like them have done in earlier times. Now, as then, the state will arrest them, hold them, intimidate them, punish them and eliminate them. We the people will not act until it is too late, but these men will indeed become our martyrs, and our inspiration, in years to come.

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