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Vets speak against war at peace group convention

Dallas Morning News

IRVING – Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia spent nine months in a military prison for refusing to return to his National Guard unit at war in Iraq.

Sgt. Mejia, the first Iraq combat veteran to file for conscientious-objector status, was treated well at the Fort Sill prison in Oklahoma. Soldiers still ask to shake his hand.

"I felt like I had spoken for a lot of people," said Sgt. Mejia, 29, of Miami. "A lot of soldiers are against the war."

Sgt. Mejia will lead a workshop today on war resistance at the annual Veterans for Peace National Convention, held this year at the University of Dallas. The conference continues through Sunday and is open to the public.

Sgt. Mejia's tour in Iraq turned him into a pacifist.

Lance Cpl. Michael Hoffman, a former Marine Corps artilleryman, still believes war can be justified in some cases.

Iraq is not one of them, he said.

"We have done more harm than good, easily," said Mr. Hoffman, who advanced with the initial invasion into Baghdad. "For every school we help rebuild, we destroy two. For every terrorist we catch, we make two more."

Many troops serving in Iraq say they strongly believe they are fighting a just and necessary war.

But speakers at the Veterans for Peace conference said the stench of rotting bodies, the desroyed cities and innocent blood spilled amid international condemnation of the U.S. invasion of Iraq had changed them forever.

"If people understood what we are really doing, this war would be over tomorrow," said Mr. Hoffman, a co-founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Retired U.S. Navy pilot John Porth appreciated the message.

"We're overwhelmed by propaganda," said Mr. Porth, who arrived from New Jersey for the conference. The veteran of World War II and Korea said he was a hawk once but no more.

"Sometimes I'm called unpatriotic because I'm anti-war. But I can't see sending your children and my children into an unjust war," he said.

Gordon Soderberg, a former Navy medic, drove a red, white and blue school bus of West Coast veterans to the conference.

The "Impeachment Tour" bus has an upside-down flag painted on it in the international distress symbol.

"They've taken us to war for false reasons," he said, explaining these veterans' campaign to impeach President Bush.

"The misleading of the public, the Congress, the United Nations, these are acts of treason that need to be investigated."

Speaker Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, who was killed in Iraq last year. She is leading a carpool from the convention to President Bush's Crawford, Texas, home on Saturday to demand that the president honor those who had died in Iraq by bringing remaining troops home.

Sgt. Mejia said it was painful to leave his unit, which he considered family. But he never regretted his decision.

At the conference, he met American veterans of wars through the generations. A survivor of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, Japan, also is speaking at the conference.

"Having to kill somebody, knowing in my heart I was against the war, going to prison didn't compare," Sgt. Mejia said. "There was no greater damage that could be done to your soul."



What: Annual Veterans for Peace national convention

When: Through Sunday; open to the public

Where: University of Dallas in Irving

Schedule and fees: 314-725-6005;



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"The Downing Street Memo and related British documents also point out that Great Britain was worried that while the United States certainly had the military capability to invade Iraq and destroy it's army the Bush Administration never bothered to take in account the aftermath of that invasion other than blithely assuming that the Iraqi people would welcome the invaders with open arms. This assumption on America's part fell a bit short of the mark. Now, with American casualties mounting, the nation of Iraq still in turmoil more than two years after the invasion and no solid American plan for pacifying the country, allegations of torture and prisoner abuse by the Army at the Abu Grab an Guantanamo Bay prisons and a growing insurgency in both Iraq and Afghanistan, even some stalwart Republican supporters of the President are beginning to question the pretext for the war and it's aftermath.

The White House however is continuing to refuse admit that it's pretexts for war were mistaken, although it has been forced to acknowledge that there never were any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. One by one, all the reasons it gave to justify invasion... that Iraq had something to do with the 9/11 attacks, that Iraq was harboring and aiding terrorists, that Saddam Hussein could launch a massive bio-chemical attack in as little as forty five minutes...have all been disproved. Ironically, George Bush has been forced to fall back on the one justification that before the invasion even he said wasn't a valid reason to attack; namely that Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator and the world would be better off without him.

Up until the Downing Street Memo, these revelations have only pointed to the Bush Administration being politically and strategically inept which, given the nature of American politics, is not illegal. However, the evidence is mounting that George Bush and his staff deliberately misled Congress and the American people in order to bring about a war with Iraq, which most certainly is a crime.

Whether this war was waged to distract the public from the Administrations intelligence failures that led to 9/11, or the White House's desire to secure another base of operations in the Middle East in response to the growing antipathy by the Saudi Arabian people to American military installations in that country, or to secure not just Iraq's vast oil reserves but also to control the water supplies of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the arid Middle East or something so elemental as the desire for revenge against a man who tried to assassinate the President's father is still a matter of conjecture. Maybe it's all of the above. What is certain is that barring some additional Administration slight of hand that will distract the American peoples growing concern about the war and it's costs, President Bush faces a long, hot summer."

Mr. President, over 1 million americans have had enough of the bullshit. We called upon you with a letter directly, and asked for you to answer the questions of the downing street minutes. Cindy Sheehan's son is dead, my friend Travis is never coming back to life. My uncle gave his life for the reserves, and not for a war that was based on lies.

Your stonewalling bullshit has come to an end, if Dick Cheney used you in this scam then come clean instead of hiding your complicity.



Doug E.

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