Sailor refuses to be part of Iraq war

In a case that hearkens back to the Vietnam era, 23-year-old Navy Petty Officer Third Class Pablo Paredes has said, in effect, “Hell no, I won’t go.” At the pier in San Diego, Calif., Dec. 6, wearing a black T-shirt with the slogan, “Like a cabinet member, I resign,” Paredes, a Navy electronics technician, refused to board a transport ship headed to Iraq. “I don’t want to be a part of a ship that’s taking 3,000 Marines over there, knowing 100 or more won’t come back,” he told reporters. “I’d rather do military prison time than six months of dirty work for a war that I and many others do not support.”

Twelve days after refusing to board the ship, Paredes reported for duty at the San Diego Naval Station, but Navy officials said they consider him a deserter. He has applied for conscientious objector (CO) status. While the Navy decides what to do about him, he has been assigned to light duty at the base.

Although his family is “worried and concerned about his future,” said his older brother Victor, 28, “we support him and we’re very proud.”

“We’re pretty much your ‘average Joe’ American family,” Victor Paredes said. “We’re an immigrant family who chose to call this country home. We love the ideals, but we don’t support this aggression.”

Their father, a cab driver, came to the U.S. at 17 from Ecuador. Their mother, a secretary, came from Puerto Rico. Pablo and Victor grew up in a tough neighborhood in the Bronx, N.Y. Pablo joined the Navy at 18. “Never in a million years did I imagine we would go to war with somebody who had done nothing to us,” he says.

“When you come out of the inner city, a young person with a lot of energy, things are not the easiest,” Victor Paredes told the World. Aggressive military recruiters “offer options that seem good for a young man in a tough environment.”

Pablo had never been involved in politics. But as he started to read more, he began to develop “a sense of humanity,” an awareness that “we are part of the world community,” his brother said. He understood that he had a commitment to the Navy, but sought out duty that he felt was solely for defense.

When he returned to the U.S. last fall after three years based in Japan, he was “vocally straightforward” with his superiors about his feelings, and requested land-based, nonviolent duty. He did not know about the CO process. His request was denied, and he received orders to deploy to the Persian Gulf. By refusing to go, Pablo took a courageous stance “in support of life,” his brother said.

Pablo says he draws inspiration from Camilo Mejia, the soldier who refused to return to Iraq, charging that the U.S. was engaged in torture and other violations of international law. The Army rejected Mejia’s charges and denied his CO application. Instead they charged him with desertion. He is serving a one-year term in the Ft. Sill, Okla., stockade.

Tod Ensign, of Citizen Soldier, says the military slaps on the deserter label because they want to “dirt-bag” people like Paredes and Mejia, paint them as “cowards who abandon their buddies to do the dying.”

Paredes’ lawyer, Jeremy Warren, is trying to get him discharged from the Navy with minimal penalty. “It’s never been his intent to desert. He has no beef with the Navy. It’s the war.” Paredes’ views are “heartfelt,” Warren told the World from his San Diego office. “Hopefully they will respect his conscience.”

Warren said Paredes is getting a lot of support “behind the scenes” from former and active military personnel. “People should know that any one individual who does what he is doing represents a lot of others.”

Paredes’ action “took a lot of courage,” his attorney said. “I feel like it’s an honor to represent him.”

Meanwhile, Pfc. Jeremy Hinzman of the Army 82nd Airborne Division is awaiting Canada’s decision on whether to let him stay there as a refugee. Hinzman, 25, from Rapid City, S.D., enlisted in 2001, drawn by the lure of college tuition aid as well as public service. The bloody reality of war hit him during training and in Afghanistan. His CO application was denied. When he returned to Ft. Bragg in late 2003, and learned he would be shipped to Iraq, he and his wife decided to seek refugee status in Canada with their toddler son.

Hinzman’s lawyer, Jeffry House, says Hinzman was wrongly denied CO status in the U.S., and should be declared a refugee based on Geneva Conventions definitions. House himself is a Wisconsin native who came to Canada 35 years ago as a Vietnam-era draft refugee. Today his Toronto office is hearing from a steady stream of Americans looking for a way out of the Iraq war. He is receiving up to 150 e-mails a day. About a dozen have either filed refugee applications or are considering doing so. What they have in common, he told the World, is the “idea that the war is bogus.”

Readers wishing to support Paredes and Hinzman can do so at the following web sites:

www.swiftsmartveterans.com (for Paredes) and www.jeremyhinzman.net.

suewebb@pww.orgclick here for Spanish text