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Supporting US Troops by Putting the Iraq War on Trial

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Interview with the Citizens' Hearing on the
Legality of U.S. Actions in Iraq

"Civilian citizen's have an obligation to do more
especially so in time of 'war'"

By Kevin Zeese

Below is an interview of Dr. Zoltan Grossman who is a Member of the Faculty in Geography/Native Studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. For more information on Dr. Grossman see

Also interviewed is Lietta Ruger who is the coordinator of the Washington State Chapter of Military Families Speaks Out. Her blog, Dying to Preserve the Lies, is located at:

Both are active in "The Citizens' Hearing on the Legality of U.S. Actions in Iraq" which will be held on January 20-21, 2007, in Tacoma, Washington, two weeks before the February 5th court martial of Lieutenant Ehren Watada at Fort Lewis. The Citizens' Hearing will function as a tribunal to put the Iraq War on trial, in response to the Army putting Lt. Watada on trial as the first U.S. military officer to refuse deployment to Iraq. See for more.
Kevin Zeese: Why are you doing participating in the Citizens' Hearing on the Legality of the U.S. Actions in Iraq?

Zoltan Grossman: Our January 20-21 tribunal will put the Iraq War on trial, as a response to the U.S. Army court martial of Lt. Ehren Watada (on Feb. 5) for refusing to participate in the war. We intend for the Citizens' Hearing to heighten the discussion of the Iraq invasion and occupation in the public--and within the military itself--as similar tribunals did during the Vietnam War. We are inviting testimony by Iraq War veterans and experts to inform military personnel and other citizens to reflect deeply on their roles and responsibilities in an illegal war.

Despite the recent election results raising many hopes for a withdrawal from Iraq, few congressional leaders have questioned the war's basic legality--only how it is being fought. We should remember that President Nixon's "withdrawal" from Vietnam took years, and was based on a dramatic escalation of violence. The Citizens' Hearing will focus critical attention on the underlying legal premises of the Iraq War at a critical time when its future is being decided.

Lietta Ruger: The communities that have come together to organize and plan the Citizen's Hearing come from a cross section of community focus/interest groups. I participate in supporting the Citizen's Hearing from my perspective as a military family with two loved ones who are returning Iraq veterans (OIF - March 2003 - July 2004).

I have been among the military families speaking out since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. With the ongoing occupation of Iraq almost four years later, it would seem more is needed from among the military families and troops themselves than what civilian citizens have been able to accomplish this past four years in calling attention to the conduct of the war in Iraq.

I do believe the unified and combined efforts of the speaking out military community (Military Families Speak Out, Iraq Veterans Against The War, Veterans for Peace, Gold Star Families for Peace) in concert with the peace and activist community have had weight and impact in heightening public dialogue and influence on Legislators opinions regarding Iraq invasion/occupation. Even so, it will be four years in March 2007 that our military troops have been deployed in Iraq in what is a speculative invasion and occupation of a country which has not threatened or attacked the United States of America.

The responsibility and accountability belong up-line with the Commander-in-Chief and Congress. The function of the military is spelled out by the decisions of the Commander-in-Chief and Congress regarding the use and mission of our military. This Congress continues to fund this war and this Commander-in-Chief/President continues an unwillingness to change course in Iraq, meanwhile it is our military loved ones and Iraqi civilians who continue to be killed and maimed in this ill defined mission of war.

My understanding comes from one who was raised in the military culture on military bases, as a young wife to a young husband who was drafted and deployed to Vietnam and now as a mother-in-law and aunt to returning Iraq veterans. Part of my understanding is that there has always been in place a mechanism requiring American military troops to make discerning decisions about legality/illegality of orders they are given to carry out.

It is even more incumbent on an officer than on enlisted troops to closely examine their orders using the training of military protocols to make a decision and carry it out.

Lt. Ehren Watada through his research made the choice as an officer to examine his role with regard to the Iraq war, and decided that to obey deployment orders to Iraq would constitute obeying an illegal order. I respect his obligation to do exactly that and therefore support what constitutes a different kind of courage in his execution of duty to his country.

Equally I respect the courage of our deployed men and women in uniform in their execution of what they believe to be their duty, and I respect the different kinds of courage from among our military that will be required to bring resolution to the war in Iraq. I do not think it unreasonable to expect the same level of courage from civilian citizens, military leaders, Congress and the Commander-in-Chief as is expected from our young men and women in the military.

KZ: What kind of witnesses do you expect to be called?

ZG: The format of the Citizens' Hearing will not be so much like a trial as it will resemble a hearing of a congressional committee. Testimony will be offered by Iraq War veterans, experts in international law and war crimes, and human rights advocates.

The figures that have committed to testify include Daniel Ellsberg, former UN Undersecretary General Denis Halliday, Iraq War veterans such as Geoffrey Millard and Harvey Tharp, Gold Star Families Speak Out leader Nadia McCaffrey, international law experts and policy analysts such as Richard Falk, Benjamin G. Davis, Antonia Juhasz and John Burroughs, and human rights advocates such as Eman Khammas.

The testimony will focus attention on the command and structure of the invasion and occupation, and where ultimate responsibility rests for any war crimes.

KZ: Who is involved with this effort?

ZG: A panel of citizens will hear the testimony and examine witnesses. The panel will be comprised of military veterans, members of military families, high school students, and representatives of labor unions, local governments, academia, and religious organizations.

David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and a member of the Jury of Conscience at the 2005 World Tribunal on Iraq will serve as panel chair. (He was also a U.S. Army 2nd Lieutenant stationed in Hawaii during the Vietnam War).

The panel in a sense resembles the organizing committee for the Citizens' Hearing, which is made up of military family members, academics, and peace and human rights organizers who have supported Lt. Watada's stand.

KZ: What is the relationship, if any, to the Watada case?

ZG: The hearing will present the case that Lt. Watada would, if allowed, make at his court martial. His defense attorneys maintain that the war on Iraq is illegal under international treaties and under Article Six of the U.S. Constitution. Further, Lt. Watada's defense argues that the Nuremberg Principles and U.S. military regulations require soldiers to follow only "lawful orders."

In Lt. Watada's view, deployment to Iraq would have made him party to the crimes that permeate the structure and conduct of military operations there. The tribunal will focus on the legality of the war and whether or not the invasion of Iraq in 2003 constituted a "crime against the peace," whether the military occupation and economic constriction of Iraq constitutes a "crime against humanity," and whether individual soldiers have an obligation or duty to refuse unlawful orders. Lt. Watada's case is being supported by the Friends and Family of Lt. Ehren Watada; more information is available at

LR: Lt. Watada's court martial, which he knew would be a consequence, will take place in the venue of application of military law. The purpose of organizing and holding a Citizen's Hearing as we are doing is to open a venue for public dialogue which would not normally be facilitated via the military court martial process.

I firmly believe it is incumbent on all of us as citizens, civilians, military families and troops to actively participate in the discussion and dialogue, bringing a broad spectrum of diverse perspectives to the issue that has galvanized the attention of this country - the Iraq invasion/occupation and our country's part in it past, present and future.

I believe it is incumbent on us to act in support of our troops in challenging their Commander-in-Chief which is, in fact, a civilian citizen's obligation to do, more especially so in time of 'war'. I do hope my brothers and sisters among military families will take an interest in the Citizen's Hearing as relevant to their immediate lives and concerns. I do hope my civilian brothers and sisters will find the Citizen's Hearing as another venue to make their voices heard. I believe the venue being provided by the Citizen's Hearing affords the opportunity for people to exercise courage and duty of service in discussion of the issue of the legality of the Iraq war; the function and future of our military troops and their continued presence in Iraq.

KZ: What will you do with the results?

ZG: The Citizens' Hearing panel will issue a fact-finding report based on the testimony and evidence presented. The testimony and report will be available directly from the Citizens' Hearing website at Supporters can also make contributions of funds (or frequent flyer miles) on the same website. By helping the Citizens' Hearing document the legal case against the war, they can help present the case for Lt. Ehren Watada--and for those who may follow his example.
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Kevin Zeese is co-chair of Come Home America, www.ComeHomeAmerica.US which seeks to end U.S. militarism and empire. He is also co-director of Its Our Economy, www.ItsOurEconomy.US which seeks to democratize the economy and give people greater (more...)
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