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A prisoner of conscience



Published: Tue, October 17, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



By CAMILO E. MEJIA

MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE

In 2004, I was sentenced to 12 months in a U.S. Army jail because I refused to go back to Iraq. Even then, I knew that our military presence there was fueling a national resistance while boosting terrorism across the world. And I knew our commander in chief was not being straight with us.

Now the National Intelligence Estimate confirms that the Iraq war has become a "cause celebre" for terrorists. And Bob Woodward's latest book, "State of Denial," confirms that the president has consistently gotten a negative picture of Iraq in private only to turn around and give a positive picture in public.

When I became a prisoner of conscience for refusing to return to my Florida National Guard unit in Iraq, morale among my unit was already low. But I'm sure it's much lower now for all the troops who are there, or for those who are about to deploy, some for up to a fourth time.

President Bush did not tell us, or the American public, the truth about weapons of mass destruction -- or about the strength of the insurgency. And Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld keeps extending the tours of our already-exhausted troops. Add to that the fierce resistance and it's all guaranteed to corrode morale.

We need to face up to the problems in Iraq.

National resistance

According to the U.S. military's own admission, less than 6 percent of attacks on U.S. troops are conducted by foreign fighters. We are facing off against a national resistance.

A new poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes shows that 71 percent of the Iraqis want us out of their country within a year, and a staggering 61 percent of them approve of attacks on American troops there. Even those who support the war should be able to see that our military cannot prevail under these conditions.

Gen. John Abizaid, head of the Pentagon's Central Command, said that the U.S. military had done all it could, Woodward writes. In no uncertain terms, Abizaid said we need to get out.

Bush and others, including the authors of the National Intelligence Estimate, say it is crucial for the United States to stay in Iraq because otherwise we will lose standing in the world. But Lt. Gen. William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, recently told members of Congress that getting out of Iraq would have the opposite effect. He noted that as soon as we left Vietnam, our standing dramatically rose around the world.

The American people should demand the end of the occupation of Iraq and the immediate return of all troops.

I don't want any other member of our military to have to face the dilemma I confronted: whether to refuse an order and go to jail, or whether to go to Iraq and fight -- and perhaps die -- for a deceitful and illegitimate occupation.

We owe it to our military to bring them home now, and we owe it to the people of Iraq to end the war.

It will make the world safer, and it's the right and decent thing to do.

Camilo E. Mejia, a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, served nine months in a U.S. Army jail for refusing to return to his Florida Guard unit in Iraq. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services




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