My Journey from Sniper to War Resister On June 19, 2007, I took a stand that changed my life forever. As an Army sniper who had been in Iraq for a year (running more than 250 combat missions), I refused to continue to be a part of the occupation. I regret nothing.
In Iraq, I was frequently assigned to the Joint Visitors Bureau (JVB), the protective service for “three star generals and above” and their “civilian equivalents.” This included the vice president, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, their equivalents in a number of our “allied nations” and others. I trained for my job as part of this “special unit” prior to deployment, and I spent the majority of my tour in the company of the most powerful people connected to the “global war on terror.” Even as a JVB agent, my primary job was still infantry. On days when we didn’t have any JVB missions, we would be called on for “search-and-cordon” operations and other infantry assignments. So, although I worked at the JVB, I was still on the roster of a sniper platoon tasked with various missions “outside the wire”— either as “sniper over watch” or conducting house raids.
I reasoned that my actions during these missions were justified in the name of “self defense.” However, I came to realize my perception was wrong. I was in a country that I had no right to be in, violating the lives of people, and doing so without regard to the same standards of dignity and respect that we expect in our own homes and lives.
I have taken and/or destroyed the lives of people who were defending their families from being the “collateral damage” of the day. Iraqi boys are joining groups like al Qaeda for the same reason street kids in the United States join the “Crips” and the “Bloods.” It’s about self-protection, a sense of dignity and making a stand.
Our own sacrifices, as tragic as they are (and they are tragic), are dwarfed in comparison to the carnage that has been brought on the Iraqi people.
“Success” in Iraq is not a matter of the number of coalition deaths “declining.” Success would be an end of the catastrophe we have inflicted on an entire society, and restoration of its dignity and sovereignty. Iraqis continue to die at a rate 20 times higher than that of their occupiers. Meanwhile, we often impose martial law so that no one can travel freely. The day I saw myself in the hate-filled eyes of a young Iraqi boy staring at me was the day I realized I could no longer justify my role in the occupation.
TAKING A STAND
I envy the soldier who sees the injustice of this war from afar and has the courage and conviction to stand against it. What matters is making the stand. Whether you choose not to deploy in the first place or later realize that the military’s mission is fundamentally immoral, the moment you realize the truth is the moment to take a stand. My moment came with only three weeks of combat missions remaining during my one-year tour in Iraq. Moral conviction has no timing. I informed my chain of command of my beliefs. From that first conversation, I could tell that things were not going to go well. I told them that I believed our presence in Iraq was unlawful, that I no longer believed in a policy of war and would file as a conscientious objector.
Seconds after the words left my mouth, my life changed. Inside I had more peace than I had felt in over a year. I knew immediately that I had done the right thing.
However, I was aggressively disarmed, confined and shut off from contacting anyone, including family or an attorney. Before I was formally charged with refusal to follow an order two weeks later, I was illegally confined to a cot in an operations room, placed under 24-hour guard, and accompanied even to the bathroom. I remained confined until I pled guilty (with little choice) less than a week after that. I was immediately sent to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait to serve 30 days in a military prison.
I was released from the brig on July 29 and subsequently kicked out of the military with an “Other Than Honorable” discharge.
AN INFO WAR
After I told my command my beliefs, and once they realized they couldn’t intimidate me and that I was serious, they decided that it was going to become an “information war.” I had many antiwar friends from MySpace and other online networks who got wind that I was being mistreated, and it circulated around the world, literally overnight.
Before I knew it, I was dragged into the first sergeant’s office and my superiors began yelling and screaming about how their names were “all over the Internet.” They didn’t try to deny what was being said about them — that I was being treated unfairly and that they refused to acknowledge my claim as a conscientious objector — they were simply mad about the exposure.
They repeatedly demanded all of my Internet user names and passwords —MySpace, personal e-mail, everything. All under the threat that “more charges” would be brought against me if I refused. They wanted to read my e-mails, all my blogs, everything, in an attempt to find something they could use to say I had been giving out classified information. They wanted to charge me and ruin my credibility, and they desperately sought to justify my illegal confinement.
Two weeks later, when they finally realized that they were not going to be able to charge me with “divulging intel,” they finally charged me with a series of “not following orders.” Not only did these include my refusal to continue combat missions, but ridiculous stuff like “not standing at parade rest” and “being late for work.” You get the picture. My command eventually offered to “chapter me out” if I would immediately plead guilty to everything and accept a summary court martial. My options were clear.
I could play ball, spend 30 days in a brig and get my life back. Or I could let them put me back on a fully confined restriction for the next two months, while they took every opportunity to make an example of me—to show everyone in the battalion, “This is what happens if you oppose the war.” Objecting to the war and standing up to the military was without question, one of the best decisions I have ever made. I did the right thing, and I have my freedom back as a bonus. Maybe ten years from now those of us resisting from within the military today will be seen as some of the first few to speak the truth and to follow up with action.
Seek the truth. Make the stand.
Eli Israel was stationed in Iraq with JVB Bravo Company, 1-149 Infantry of the Kentucky National Guard. This article is excerpted from a longer version that appears on couragetoresist.org.