The U.S. military presence in Iraq was a major issue in this month's Congressional elections, but little was heard from members of the military themselves. Opinion polls of the 2.8 million active duty and reserve U.S. troops indicate that most of them support the Bush administration policy in Iraq. But there is some indication that that support is waning.
It is called the Appeal for Redress. It is based on the U.S. constitutional right of all citizens to petition Congress if they have a grievance, a right reinforced for the military by law and government regulation. This Appeal calls on Congress to end the U.S. military involvement in Iraq. One of its founders is U.S. Navy Seaman Jonathan Hutto.
"First and foremost, we have to actually win our policy leaders to a policy of withdrawal. Now, I'm not saying that we should just up and run. I would hope that within a six-month to twelve-month period that you could begin to withdraw some substantial forces," says Hutto.
Service members can endorse the Appeal on the Internet. Seaman Hutto says leaders of the Appeal have confirmed through individual telephone calls that 600 active duty and reserve service members have signed on. He says they are working to confirm the identities of 600 more people who have completed the on-line registration form, and the numbers are still growing.
"Reservations and Misgivings"
The seaman says he is "mobilizing the reservations and the misgivings" among his fellow service members, but he is not calling on anyone to disobey orders. Hutto says it is possible for a service member to oppose the Bush administration's policy, and even be very open about that opposition, and still be a good soldier, airman, marine or seaman.
"One has to make a distinction between following the orders that you're sworn to follow, and then having reservations and misgivings about those orders. We have reservations about the policy of the ongoing occupation of Iraq, and we're using our constitutional rights to express that," says Hutto.
Seaman Hutto, who served on a ship in the Persian Gulf, recognizes that he and the other troops who oppose the war are in the minority. Surveys indicate most people in the U.S. military support the administration's policy. Among them is Army Sergeant Timothy Boggs, a reservist stationed in Mosul in northern Iraq. He just finished his second yearlong tour of duty in the country.
"I guess we started something and I think if you start something you've got to finish it. So I do think we have a responsibility to stay here. We didn't come here to get rid of Saddam and then have whoever wanted to take power, you know have a Shiite cleric take power and Iran's going to come in and start controlling things. We do have a responsibility, if we really want peace here in the Middle East, we're going to have to stay and see this through," says Boggs.
To some, the idea of members of the U.S. military expressing an opposing viewpoint is unpatriotic. But supporters of the Appeal for Redress say service members have the same right to communicate with members of congress that other Americans have.
The Appeal's lawyer, J.E. McNeil, notes that the free speech rights of members of the military are somewhat limited by law, but she says they are well within their rights to make this appeal to congress, and to make it public.
"The bottom line in all of this is that when you join the military and you put on the uniform, you don't abandon your citizenship, you don't lose all your rights as a citizen," says McNeil. "To suggest it would be detrimental to the political discussion to have these young men and women talking about it and sharing that insight I think that's essentially telling them, 'You can go to Iraq, you can risk your life, you can risk your body, you can die, but keep your mouth shut'." McNeil says the troops have particularly relevant experience that should be part of the national debate on Iraq policy.
Proud but Vocal
Sergeant Liam Madden is a U.S. Marine and Iraq veteran who is an outspoken signer of the Appeal. "We don't want to seem to be people who are unpatriotic, people who aren't proud to be service members because that's not the case. We want to appeal to the people in the military who just disagree with this war. It's just trying to show the people who already feel this way that they're not alone, that there's a tool out there to have their voice be heard and, hopefully, affect some change," says Madden.
Seaman Hutto explains why he started the Appeal movement. "It's all a part of the democratic process in America. That's all it is. The men and women of the military come out of the same democratic country of America that everybody else comes out of. I don't believe members of the military should be treated any differently. Members of the military can register and vote. They can vote for these politicians who declared war. If they can vote for the politicians they should be able to send an appeal to redress to the politicians," says Hutto.
Freedom of Expression
Many military leaders appear to agree. The Defense Department declined to provide an official to be interviewed for this report. But spokesman Bryan Whitman said in a written statement that "every American, to include service members, has the right to express their personal opinions" within the limits of what he called "propriety" and the law.
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Sergeant Madden says he has been pleasantly surprised that his commanders have not retaliated for his involvement in the Appeal for Redress. "I have to give a lot of credit. I expected there to be some dirty looks or some informal retribution. But it's been business as usual. They've been very respectful of my right to express my opinion. And I just give them all the credit in the world," says Madden.
But his fellow-sergeant, Iraq war supporter Timothy Boggs, says service members who oppose the war should keep their opinions to themselves until their service ends. He says criticism of the war from service members is "hurtful" to their fellow troops and helpful to the enemy.
"If you're a soldier, I think you kind of need to do what you're supposed to do. And your views and opinions come when you have finished your active duty time. They need to keep their mouths closed," says Boggs.
The leaders of the Appeal for Redress hope to have more than two thousand participants by the time the new Congress convenes in January.
Sergeant Madden says he opposed the war even before he spent seven months in Iraq's dangerous Al-Anbar Province in 2004 and 2005, including involvement in the battle of Fallujah and security operations for one of the Iraqi elections. He says his tour of duty confirmed his view. "It was a matter of figuring out a legal, respectful and effective way to oppose the war," says Madden.
His colleague, Seaman Jonathan Hutto, hopes that the Appeal will be particularly effective because it comes from people who have volunteered to risk their lives, if necessary, in order to implement the policies the Congress helps to make.
"These voices are coming from the men and women who have volunteered to serve, who actually take the orders and are actually on the front lines. And I think that impact is very significant because it's a constituency that you don't hear from on a daily basis," says Hutto.
The seaman knows it will be difficult for even two thousand service members to have a significant impact on the conduct of the war, but he says all citizens have a right and a duty to engage in the democratic process, and that is what he is encouraging his fellow-service members to do.
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