Interview with Navy Resistor PABLO PAREDES

Navy Petty Officer Pablo Paredes became the first member of the Navy to refuse to fight in the Iraq war when he refused to board a Navy ship bound for Iraq in December. Pablo tried to submit a conscientious objector (CO) application, but it was dismissed as not meeting proper criteria, leaving Pablo vulnerable to prosecution.

He was convicted by a military court martial May 11 but received a lighter sentence than expected: two months restriction, three months hard labor without confinement, and reduction in rank to E-1. The prosecution had asked for three times as much hard labor.

During sentencing Paredes was permitted to explain his reasons for refusing to participate in the Iraq war: “I am guilty of believing this war is illegal. I’m guilty of believing war in all forms is immoral and useless, and I am guilty of believing that as a service member I have a duty to refuse to participate in this war because it is illegal.” He introduced expert testimony showing that the war was illegal because it was not in self-defense or authorized by the United Nations.

Prosecutor Lt. Brandon Hale commented that Paredes “is trying to infect the military with his own philosophy of disobedience. Sailors all over the world will want to know whether this will be tolerated. Sailors want to know whether doing what he did is a good way to get out of deployment.”

I interviewed Pablo by email on May 6, 2005.

Kirsten: This was a very courageous move. What did you do the night before this action?

Pablo: I just kept it very simple. A few friends and an early night. I spoke with my wife over the phone for hours and hours, and got very little sleep. I guess it all happened too fast to prepare adequately.

How did you weigh out these choices? How did you finally decide to take action and to let your conscience trump your fears?

Well it was very spontaneous. One moment we were discussing irrational ways to get kicked out of the military, like drugs or injuries (self induced) when in the mix of all that, a calm and collected e-mail from a good friend in Japan changed everything. My friend said ever so innocently, and with no idea it would be an eye opening comment, “Why don’t you just refuse to go?” This was such a simple solution to a very complex problem, but often times that’s the best way to go. At the root of everything, I didn’t want to; I refused to take part in this illegal and immoral war and why not just say so and forget all the outlandish ideas that don’t address the root of the matter.

Did anyone else’s courage help inspire you in this act?

I have been inspired after the fact by people like Camilo Mejia and Carl Webb, but at the time I was not familiar with their situations. I don’t know how to explain it, but it wasn’t a scary moment, it was an opportunity. After four and a half in, and being at a point in my life where my beliefs and values were completely incompatible with military service, I was looking for an event like this to act on my conscience and not against it as I’d been doing for some time now. So in some ways it was liberating, it let me make some sacrifices that cleared my conscience of the stain that assisting our armed forces in the cause of war had put on it. I felt like I was doing a sort of penance. When my mother confessed at church (she’s Catholic), she’d always come back feeling like her conscience was clean and a weight had been lifted off of her shoulders. That is what I felt.

In some reports I read, you say a stay in Japan recently changed many of your views in life. I wondered if you could expand on that?

Japan today, is a very good place to compare to the US — in many ways to think critically about our state of affairs. It is a mirror economy and yet there are stark differences. In Japan homelessness is insignificant in comparison to the US. Crime is also minimal in comparison. In Japan the moral values that most people harbor, though more agnostic than we tend to think of ourselves in the states, are very strong. The culture values life, not just in rhetoric but in action. It is more obvious in their defense forces which can not be used for attack, or in their push for the Kyoto Protocol. But specifically what changed me most about Japan is the nationally accepted idea of personal responsibility to the whole. It sounds very simple and it is but it does not exist as social doctrine in the states, we tend to be more about accountability to ourselves. In Japan every one from the guy that packs your meat at the supermarket to your auto salesman are committed to excellence and treat the customer like the boss. This makes certain things work so well. I reflected on this social doctrine and how humanity could be if it were internationally accepted. This is the root of my objection to war. It’s understanding how I am part of a human race that each member of which must work for its success and not in opposition to it. War is the ultimate example and expression of opposition to humanity.

Have any of your friends died in the Iraq war?

No, I am a Navy sailor and spent most of my days in a small ship that did not have much to do with the current aggression. No one I know, nor friends of friends have died in Iraq, but it doesn’t take that to realize how wrong this war is. I had a very safe job in the Navy. It consisted of maintenance and troubleshooting of a missile system. A missile system that has never in the 30 + years our navy has had it been used in a conflict. The current aggression does not use navy war vessels for anything more than cargo ships, realistically this is not a naval battle. I say this to emphasize the safety of someone doing my job, and to explain that my actions had not a thing to do with fear. I did what I did because it will take folks in safe cushy places to resist to bring this war to an end. When our politicians who never see the real images of war decide to resist and act on conscience not money and politics, then the killing will stop.

I see some reports say you were denied CO status partially because you made public statements to the media saying you are not opposed to all wars, but did oppose the Iraq war. Did you understand before you made those comments the distinction between an objection to all wars and an objection to a specific war, as it applied to CO status? In light of your CO experiences, what advice would you give others who are considering refusal to fight and/or are applying for CO status?

I never said I am not opposed to all war, I most certainly am. What the military has done is edit a few media excerpts into making such a case. For example, in one interview I spoke of how politically Afghanistan made more sense than Iraq, I never approved of the attacks on Afghanistan, I was merely expressing how ridiculous, even politically, the invasion/occupation of Iraq is. I encourage every service member to ask him/herself what is in their conscience and to act on it. If that means filing for CO then do so, if it means business as usual then who am I to judge?

I would encourage anyone who is planning to file for CO to seek counseling from the GI Rights Hotline (girights.objector.org or call (800) 394-9544). First, the system is rigged for you to shoot yourself in the foot in applying for CO so if you don’t have counsel you will do exactly that, even then it is not easy to get approved.

What advice would you give to others considering joining the military?

Become very informed, and consider the source of your information. Ask yourself ‘what if the US invaded my mother’s or father’s home country? Do I want to give up my right to speak out against unjust war? There are millions of questions, and actions one should consider before joining, but unfortunately they sign you up at 18 and 17 when you are most likely to not ask those questions.

Do you feel you are being used as an example and that other soldiers are watching you and your case to decide if they should risk following their conscience and refusing to fight the Iraq war? How does That responsibility feel?

I am sure the Navy is aware I am the first Navy resister and in some ways that makes me an example. As far as other military members, I don’t encourage anyone to do what I did, it was my decision, it did not come from pressure, and so no one else should be pressured into such a decision. I would actually encourage people whose conscience is troubling them to seek CO. Imagine if half the military thought it out and filed a CO claim, there would be no illegal action, no one in jail, but it would definitely have an effect. If you think War is wrong, then you would be ill-advised not to consider CO an option.

Now that you’ve taken these actions, what are your future plans?

I take it one day at a time. I hope to teach at the university level one day, and I want to travel very much.

How has this experience made you feel about America and “freedom?”

I really hate borders, they do nothing but what they are designed to do and that is divide people. Freedom is a beautiful word but we know nothing of it, we speak of freedom in the context that our government allows us to, that in itself is not freedom. Two years ago freedom meant checking out books in a library with no one investigating you, not anymore. Lawyers used to call it freedom to represent their clients without fear, after Lynn Stuart that has changed. Freedom is freedom always; if it’s constantly redefined it never was freedom.

Your impending court martial must be terribly frightening. How do you handle the stress so as not to just fall apart?

I keep very active. I have been involved in so much since I took my stand, from forums to anti-recruitment, to March 19th protests, that it is hard to stop and realize the severity of the situation. Also, I want to keep grounded and know that as long as people like Mumia Abu Jamal and Leonard Peltier, and history with people like Nelson Mandela, provide me with role models who really faced persecution for their beliefs, then my cross is very small to carry.

In a best case scenario, what do you hope to accomplish through your actions?

End the War and Occupation in Iraq, and move only forward from there. Kind of ambitious, right?

What have you learned from this?

I’ve learned that individuals can make a big difference.

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