Sgt. Travis Bishop served 14 months in Iraq before he was ordered to deploy to war stricken Afghanistan. Yet he refused to go and calls the war “illegal.” He is the second soldier in the past two weeks to resist the war from Fort Hood. Bishop believes it’s unethical to support the occupation in Afghanistan on moral and legal grounds. He has filed for conscientious objector status and faces a court martial.
Last week Spc. Victor Agosto refused to deploy to Afghanistan. Lawyer James Branum, legal advisor to the GI Rights Hotline of Oklahoma and co-chair of the Military Law Task Force, represents both Bishop and Agosto.
Branum argues that the war, invasion and occupation of Afghanistan is in violation of the U.S. Constitution and international law, contrary to mainstream opinion that the war is a justified one. Branum says the war does not meet the criteria for lawful war under the UN Charter. According to the Charter, member nations, including the U.S., should give up war forever, aside from two exceptions: self-defense or otherwise authorized by the UN Security Council.
It was the Taliban that attacked the U.S. not the people of Afghanistan, notes Branum. And under U.S. law, the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, any treaty enacted by the U.S. is now the supreme law of the land, says Branum. That includes the signing of the UN Charter, which should be respected, he said.
In an interview with truthout.org Bishop said he was inspired by Agosto’s example to refuse deployment. Bishop said his decision was a moral awakening and motivated by religious beliefs.
“I started to see a big difference between our reality there and what was in the news,” said Bishop. Bishop said he began reading his bible to mentally and spiritually prepare him after he found out he was being ordered to Afghanistan.
“I had a religious transformation, and realized that all war is wrong,” said Bishop.
In February when Bishop received his orders, he said he did not know there was a support network or a way out and thought resisting the war was only something that happened during the Vietnam era. As the months passed Bishop met with soldiers at a GI resistance café where they told him he sounded like a conscientious objector. He began to meet with Branum shortly thereafter.
The day his unit was deployed Bishop went absent without leave for a week to gain more time in preparing his paper work as a conscientious objector. He was eventually charged with two counts of missing movement and disobeying a direct order.
Soldiers resisting war these days are not isolated cases. In November 2007, the Pentagon revealed that between 2003 and 2007 there had been an 80 percent increase in overall desertion rates in the Army (desertion refers to soldiers who go AWOL and never intend to return to service). From 2003 to 2006 Army AWOL rates were the highest since 1980. Between 2000 and 2006, more than 40,000 troops from all military branches deserted, more than half from the Army. Desertion rates alone jumped by 42 percent from 2006 to 2007.
Troop morale is low these days whether they support the war or not, said Bishop.
“There’s a lot of soldiers that go just because they feel they have to go,” he said. “They are driven by money and legal obligation, not patriotism. They go because they don’t want to lose their job and get in trouble. A lot of people I talk to that are in, they feel as I do, but they say things like ‘I only have four more months, so I’ll ride it out and hope not to get stop-lossed.”’
According to military commanders, U.S. and NATO troop deaths from bombings in Afghanistan spiked six-fold in July, compared to the same month last year. More U.S. troops were killed in July than any other month of the entire Afghanistan war. The amount of violence there only continues to increase, critics charge.
Bishop on the other hand hopes his refusal to return to war will inspire others to seek their conscience and speak out against the occupation.
“My hope is that people who feel like me, that they don’t have a voice and are having doubts, I hope that this shows them that not only can you talk to someone about this, but that you actually have a choice,” said Bishop.
“Choice is the first thing they take away from you in the military. You’re taught that you don’t have a choice. That’s not true. And not wanting to kill someone or get killed does not make you a coward. I hope my actions show this to more people,” he said.