The following interview with Matthis Chiroux was conducted by Stephen Dohnberg and first appeared on digitaljournal.com
“Readers may remember Sgt Chiroux as one of the 'Hempstead 15', a group of 10 veterans and 5 citizen protesters who were arrested during the night of the final presidential debate at Hofstra University, Long Island, NY. Before the Oct 15/08 event, Iraq Veterans Against the War presented requests to ask one question of candidates John McCain and Barack Obama.
The IVAW were rebuffed, and in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, the members broached security lines. During the melee, Sgt Nick Morgan was stepped on by a police horse. Morgan's case is still in the courts. As one veteran noted, "the candidates have all the time for Joe the Plumber, while Nick the Vet gets his skull crushed."
In a curious twist, charges of "misconduct" for Chiroux's refusal to redeploy were not brought against him until three days after the Hofstra Debate protest, despite his initial refusal to deploy after witnessing the May 15,2008 testimony of 9 other soldiers who described to members of U.S. Congress what they perceived as atrocities and illegal conduct contravening international law and rules of engagement.
When I met with Matthis in Washington,D.C. on Mar 21 during the ANSWER Coalition's march of the Pentagon, he informed me that his lawyer had quipped "I don't even know how you aren't in jail now!"
In a press release prepared for the Misconduct hearing, Chiroux stated "I go now to St. Louis to honor my promises and convictions"
‘Obama or No-Bama, the military must cease prosecuting Soldiers of conscience, and we will demonstrate to them why.’
Directly after the hearing, Chiroux and other IVAW members will publicly testify on specific experiences that led them to resist the "occupation". As if to illustrate the Orwellian re framing of the U.S. presence in the middle east, they remind people that the former 'Global War on Terror' is now the 'Overseas Contingency Operation'
I had a chance to catch up with Sgt Chiroux amid a very busy schedule from Strasbourg, France, where he was participating in the protests of the G20 Summit.”
SD: Your initial court date was changed - why?
Chiroux: My former JAG attorney volunteered for Iraq service and was deployed a number of weeks ago. Thus, I had to get a new lawyer and a new court date. I think the Army may have been hoping I'd already bought tickets for people to be in attendance and it would have wiped out my finances. Lucky for me, I'm a last minute kinda guy. My replacement is a JAG attorney. Thomas M. Roughneen
SD: It's not on a military base - is there a meaning to that?
Chiroux: No. No meaning, I don't think. This is the home of the U.S. Army's Individual Ready Reserve, though, so any other Army IRRers who refuse to deploy and demand hearings will have them in the same place. We're going to try to demonstrate to the military how foolish prosecuting folks and bringing activists to their doorstep over and over again would be.
SD: What is the official charge you face?
Chiroux: "Misconduct." They're trying to throw me out of the Army for it. I'm happy to be discharged from the Army, but will not submit to my refusal to deploy being characterized as misconduct.
SD: Are you confident about your prospects?
Chiroux: I'm pretty confident I won't go to jail, as they'd have to upgrade this hearing from administrative to judicial, but I highly doubt the military will tell me I'm right and send me home to celebrate. That's why GI Resistance is so important to ending U.S. Imperialism. The forces that be refuse to do what's right, so we need to make them do right by leaving them no other choice.
SD: What kind of punishment do you face ? What is the maximum and minimum?
Chiroux: Well, this isn't a court-martial, so the worst thing I face right now is something other than an honorable discharge. That could change though if the Army get's a bug up their ass and decides to Court Martial me.
SD: Will you be given a chance to have witnesses?
Chiroux: Yes, I'll have a few witnesses. Not in the actual "case" but afterward when they're deciding what punishment I should receive should they find me guilty. I think the term for the section is "mitigation." I'll have Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild on hand to offer constitutional testimony. As well, I may have a vet or two, and I'm going to submit Winter Soldier testimony to the record, as well my letter from Congress and a number of letters of support from former NCO's of mine.
(editor's note from SD: the Congressional letter contains signatures of support from many members of the Progressive Caucus, including Representatives Kucinich, Conyers, Woolsey, and more than a dozen others)
SD: What corners have you received support from?
Chiroux: Just about every corner of the American and European Antiwar movement. A lot of socialists and libertarians, which really excites me as it suggests we've found an issue that can unite even those with almost opposite political sentiments.
SD: Do you feel nervous about the process? Do you have faith in the U.S. legal process?
Chiroux: I have little faith in the legal process in the U.S. I have every faith in my ability to survive the legal process in the U.S. I'm a fighter, and they know that. Even if they put me in jail, which I think is unlikely, it'll only make me fight harder.
SD: What are you hoping to convey to the court and the public through this case?
Chiroux: That war resisters are not criminals. We are not cowards. We are the best, brightest, most dedicated and conscientious folks America has to offer. It's time for the conscience of our nation to stir. We are so intelligent, yet we are serving ignorance, and there are few more pathetic sights to behold. Rise up my people rise up!
SD: Are there legal precedents for your actions?
Chiroux: Sure. The Nuremberg Trials come to mind. However, many have decided International Law should not apply, despite Art. 6 Para. 2 of the Constitution. I don't think anyone's outright won a war resistance case in the U.S., but there's a first time for everything.
SD: You have said you want to remain in America. Has the thought of leaving America crossed your mind?
Chiroux: Sure. I'm in Europe right now!!!! But I'm coming home. I won't run from the Army. They are absolutely nothing to be scared of. Like a hog-nose snake, they'll puff up and look mean, but when rolled on their backs they'll play dead. And even if they do bite, I bite harder.
SD: The antiwar / Anti Imperialist movement is in flux since Obama's election and a LOT of the peace movement is giving him a "wait and see" pass like they did with Kerry in 2004. What is your message for the "blind faith" Obama supporters?
Chiroux: Just because we have a Black president doesn't mean we can't have a racist war. Obama's expanding the war now in Afghanistan and into Pakistan, just like Johnson (and Nixon) expanded the Vietnam War into Cambodia. He's plotted us on a clear course from Imperialism to Imperialism-Light. But as any ex-smoker will tell you, just because you switched from Reds to Lights doesn't mean you've kicked the habit!
SD: You were just in Strasbourg for the G 20 summit and are still in Europe making you're way back to the U.S. for your trial. Is it fair to say that citizens and media in Europe have a VERY different understanding of the geopolitical scene than North Americans? What would be some examples?
Chiroux: I was in Strasbourg for the anti-NATO summit in response to the NATO summit taking place just a few miles away. Before the first day of the planned demonstrations, police attacked young demonstrators with tear gas, grenades, batons and even rocks.
In response, those kids not only didn't go home, they burnt down half the city including a police station not but half a kilometer away from where Obama was speaking. I've never seen that kind of thing in the states before...well not yet anyway. U.S. politicians should prevent this type of uprising in the U.S. by protecting the peoples' right to demonstrate and shutting down their imperialist agendas now.
Those interested in following the progress of Sgt Chiroux's actions and hearing can visit matthisresists.us and for additional context can clink on the links provided throughout the article.
You can join Sgt Chiroux and reporter Stephen Dohnberg live on CFRB 1010's 'Sunday Nights With Steve and Liana Kerzner' this Sunday April 19 at 8 p.m. Eastern. The call-in program can be heard internationally via live streaming from CFRB's homepage. International and long-distance callers can phone using a toll-free line.