Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Guantanamo's hero of conscience


Guantanamo BayIt's likely that the next US president will decide the fate of cases against five Guantanamo Bay detainees. The five had their charges dropped last week following an 'act of conscience' on the part of prosecutor Lieut-Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, who had resigned after accusing the military of suppressing evidence that could have helped clear them.

One of the cases involves an Afghan detainee accused of throwing a grenade at a US military jeep, injuring three people. Colonel Vandeveld said prosecutors knew that 24-year-old Mohammed Jawad might have been drugged before the attack, and that the Afghan interior ministry said two other men had confessed to the same crime.

It was early August, and Vandeveld was struggling with the order to prosecute the young detainee. The Los Angeles Times described Vandeveld as a 'hard-nosed lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, a self-described conformist praised by his superiors for his bravery in Iraq'. Vandeveld decided to send an email to well-known Jesuit peace activist John Dear, who visited Australia last year.

'I am beginning to have grave misgivings about what I am doing, and what we are doing as a country,' he wrote. 'I no longer want to participate in the system, but I lack the courage to quit. I am married, with four children, and not only will they suffer, I'll lose a lot of friends.'

Dear, who described the email as 'surprising and moving', dashed off a reply urging Vandeveld to quit.

He said: 'God does not want you to participate in any injustice, and GITMO is so bad, I hope and pray you will quietly, peacefully, prayerfully, just resign, and start your life over.'

Vandeveld resigned in September, telling his superiors: 'I seek more restorative or reparative justice, rather than the rote application of the law'.

John Dear wrote in his National Catholic Reporter column last week that Vandeveld's decision is a 'rare sign of hope in terrible times'.

He went on to suggest the lesson is to follow Vandeveld's example and 'withdraw our cooperation from US militarism, torture, injustice and war making', and to urge friends and families to quit or not to join the armed forces, including in civilian roles.

What does this mean for Australia? Well there is increasing pressure for us to increase our troop commitment in Afghanistan. So far prime minister Kevin Rudd has talked down such further entanglement in the US 'war machine'. He told the National Press Club this month that 'we have no plans whatsoever to provide any additional troops to Afghanistan'.

But the hawks are circling, with officials, including new US Central Command chief, David Petraeus, known to be wanting further commitment from us.

Columnist Paul Kelly wrote in The Australian last Wednesday that an Obama presidency would 'boost US troop levels [in Afghanistan] and seek greater contributions from allies'. As he says, Rudd's most important immediate foreign policy goal is to forge a 'trusting and collaborative relationship with Obama'. So if we are convinced that war is wrong, we will be under pressure to express our views strongly.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Lieut-Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, Guantanamo Bay, john dear, kevin rudd, iraq war, barrack obama



submit a comment

Existing comments

Michael Mullins tells us that "So far prime minister Kevin Rudd has talked down such further entanglement in the US 'war machine'."

I am curious to know why inverted commas are used around the words 'war machine'. Is it NOT a 'war machine'? Who would argue to the contrary? It is surely not a peace machine or even a 'peace machine'!

With respect to the invasion & continuing occupation of Afghanistan I could have sworn that it was all about revenge for 9/11. Did I get that wrong way back when?

Surely by now, at this point in Planet Earth's history we are all "convinced that war is wrong". The invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq is and was obviously wrong. We don't hear a peep from the apologists for same these days. How many more months will it take to accept that the same applies with respect to the invasion and continuing occupation of Afghanistan?

Dear Mr Rudd please express our views strongly. Sooner rather than later.

DAVIDH | 27 October 2008  

The Taliban are not Afghan. The Taliban are a pan-Wahabist militant collective drawn from all corners of the Sunni world. As Wahabis, they have a mediaeval world view, brutally sexist, and brutally un-Enlightened. They are not the sort of people that you’d want running anything.

In his editorial, Mr Mullins does not distinguish between the US-led attempt to suppress the Taliban, and the Bush Administration’s obscene “solution” to the problem posed by the capture of Talibs, and the kidnap and ransom of non-combatants by anti-Taliban warlords. Those warlords are not the sort of people that you’d trust to justly run anything, either.

David Arthur | 27 October 2008  

I am not convinced that war is always wrong. Wars generally start when an invaded nation attempts to defend themselves against aggressors. It is not always wrong to resist aggression in this way. The just war theory, and liberation theology, were efforts to explain the circumstances in which resort to violence might be justified. That is not to say the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is justified, simply to point out that statements such as "war is wrong" are not particularly enlightening nor a substitute for moral reasoning.

Ignatius Smyth | 28 October 2008  

The article's easy segue from Dear on Guantanamo, to Dear on US militarism, to Australia's policy on the Afghanistan war is unfortunate. The last requires much more considered treatment, especially for those of us who reluctantly agreed on a possible just war against the Taliban, and later strenuously opposed Iraq on the same principles. A credible position would mention Darfur.

PaulF | 28 October 2008  

Similar Articles

A Gen X view of Obama as fiction

  • Bronwyn Lay
  • 06 November 2008

If you see some Generation X’s out there in the street, smiling like drunk cats, forgive them their madness - it’s been a long time coming. We are letting our inner lives blend with the polis. We know it might all be fiction but like fiction; it makes us feel less alone inside.


Obama's victory for the art of the possible

  • Jim McDermott
  • 06 November 2008

Standing amidst the euphoric crowds in Times Square, it was like we were all in a fairy tale, waking from a horrible dream. That's not to say the problems our world faces are no less large or scary. But we've been reminded that more is possible than that which meets the eye.