17 February 2005
was deployed to Iraq in April 2003 and returned home for a two-week
leave in October. Going home gave me the opportunity to put my
thoughts in order and to listen to what my conscience had to say.
People would ask me about my war experiences and answering them took
me back to all the horrors-the firefights, the ambushes, the time I
saw a young Iraqi dragged by his shoulders through a pool of his own
blood or an innocent man was decapitated by our machine gun fire. The
time I saw a soldier broken down inside because he killed a child, or
an old man on his knees, crying with his arms raised to the sky,
perhaps asking God why we had taken the lifeless body of his son.
thought of the suffering of a people whose country was in ruins and
who were further humiliated by the raids, patrols and curfews of an
I realized that none of the reasons we were told about why we were in
Iraq turned out to be true. There were no weapons of mass destruction.
There was no link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. We weren't
helping the Iraqi people and the Iraqi people didn't want us there. We
weren't preventing terrorism or making Americans safer. I couldn't
find a single good reason for having been there, for having shot at
people and been shot at.
home gave me the clarity to see the line between military duty and
moral obligation. I realized that I was part of a war that I believed
was immoral and criminal, a war of aggression, a war of imperial
domination. I realized that acting upon my principles became
incompatible with my role in the military, and I decided that I could
not return to Iraq.
putting my weapon down, I chose to reassert myself as a human being. I
have not deserted the military or been disloyal to the men and women
of the military. I have not been disloyal to a country. I have only
been loyal to my principles.
I turned myself in, with all my fears and doubts, it did it not only
for myself. I did it for the people of Iraq, even for those who fired
upon me-they were just on the other side of a battleground where war
itself was the only enemy. I did it for the Iraqi children, who are
victims of mines and depleted uranium. I did it for the thousands of
unknown civilians killed in war. My time in prison is a small price
compared to the price Iraqis and Americans have paid with their lives.
Mine is a small price compared to the price Humanity has paid for war.
have called me a coward, others have called me a hero. I believe I can
be found somewhere in the middle. To those who have called me a hero,
I say that I don't believe in heroes, but I believe that ordinary
people can do extraordinary things.
those who have called me a coward I say that they are wrong, and that
without knowing it, they are also right. They are wrong when they
think that I left the war for fear of being killed. I admit that fear
was there, but there was also the fear of killing innocent people, the
fear of putting myself in a position where to survive means to kill,
there was the fear of losing my soul in the process of saving my body,
the fear of losing myself to my daughter, to the people who love me,
to the man I used to be, the man I wanted to be. I was afraid of
waking up one morning to realize my humanity had abandoned me.
say without any pride that I did my job as a soldier. I commanded an
infantry squad in combat and we never failed to accomplish our
mission. But those who called me a coward, without knowing it, are
also right. I was a coward not for leaving the war, but for having
been a part of it in the first place. Refusing and resisting this war
was my moral duty, a moral duty that called me to take a principled
action. I failed to fulfill my moral duty as a human being and instead
I chose to fulfill my duty as a soldier. All because I was afraid. I
was terrified, I did not want to stand up to the government and the
army, I was afraid of punishment and humiliation. I went to war
because at the moment I was a coward, and for that I apologize to my
soldiers for not being the type of leader I should have been.
also apologize to the Iraqi people. To them I say I am sorry for the
curfews, for the raids, for the killings. May they find it in their
hearts to forgive me.
of the reasons I did not refuse the war from the beginning was that I
was afraid of losing my freedom. Today, as I sit behind bars I realize
that there are many types of freedom, and that in spite of my
confinement I remain free in many important ways. What good is freedom
if we are afraid to follow our conscience? What good is freedom if we
are not able to live with our own actions? I am confined to a prison
but I feel, today more than ever, connected to all humanity. Behind
these bars I sit a free man because I listened to a higher power, the
voice of my conscience.
I was confined in total segregation, I came across a poem written by a
man who refused and resisted the government of Nazi Germany. For doing
so he was executed. His name is Albrecht Hanshofer, and he wrote this
poem as he awaited execution.
burden of my guilt before the law weighs light upon my shoulders; to plot
and to conspire was my duty to the people; I would have been a criminal had I not.
I am guilty, though not the way you think, I should have done my duty sooner, I was
wrong, I should have called evil more clearly by its
name, I hesitated to condemn it for far too long.
I now accuse myself within my heart:
I have betrayed my conscience far too long, I have deceived myself and fellow man.
I knew the course of evil from the start,
My warning was not loud nor clear enough! Today I know what I was guilty
those who are still quiet, to those who continue to betray their
conscience, to those who are not calling evil more clearly by its
name, to those of us who are still not doing enough to refuse and
resist, I say "come forward." I say "free your
Let us, collectively, free our minds, soften our hearts,
comfort the wounded, put down our weapons, and reassert ourselves as
human beings by putting an end to war.