Germans Launch Solidarity Campaign for U.S. Resisters
Confined in Mannheim Prison
Call for international support of GIs who refused deployment to Afghanistan
Berlin, January 30, 2008. When Iraq veteran and conscientious objector Agustín Aguayo was confined in the U.S. military prison in Mannheim, Germany from October 2006 until April 2007, he received hundreds of post cards and letters from German supporters. On December 21, 2007, when Agustín was awarded a German peace prize in Stuttgart, he told an audience of hundreds how much the letters and post cards — many in broken English — will always mean to him.
Now Germans are launching a nationwide initiative to send postcards and letters to three U.S. soldiers who have been confined in Mannheim since this past fall for refusing deployment to Afghanistan: Andrew Hegerty, Jeffrey Gauntt, and James Blanks (details below). The three GIs are all members of the 173rd Airborne, which is presently deployed to Afghanistan and previously fought in Iraq. The 173rd Airborne is headquartered in Vicenza, Italy, and has units in Schweinfurt and in Bamberg, Germany. Vicenza has been the site of massive Italian and European protest demonstrations against U.S. plans to enlarge the military facilities there.
The letter-writing campaign in Germany was initiated by American Voices Abroad (AVA) Military Project, a network of U.S. citizens in Europe supporting resisting GIs and the anti-base movement in Europe. The campaign was soon joined by the largest German peace organization, the German Peace Society & Organization of War Resisters (DFG-VK, ), and by Connection, an organization supporting conscientious objectors and war resisters from many countries. Post cards for the soldiers in Mannheim will be made available by DFG-VK at information events and demonstrations throughout Germany this spring as part of a campaign demanding that the German military, the Bundeswehr, withdraw from Afghanistan. Connection is sponsoring an online initiative with postcards in English for the GIs in Mannheim ().
According to surveys, a large majority of Germans oppose the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The German government is nevertheless increasing the participation of German forces in the Afghanistan war. In 2007, for the first time, casualties of non-US soldiers in Afghanistan exceeded those of U.S. soldiers. In September 2008, renewal of the mandate for continued participation of German forces in Afghanistan will be voted upon in the German parliament (Bundestag). Several German officers and soldiers have refused orders for combat duty in Afghanistan, but so far none of them have gone to jail.
In addition to providing its own soldiers, the German government allows the U.S. to use German commercial facilities and the extensive U.S. military facilities in Germany — larger than any outside the U.S. — for these wars. Peace activists point out that Germany achieved sovereignty in 1990 and could cancel the Stationing of Forces agreements with the U.S. at any time. Some 13,500 soldiers with a “home base” in Germany or in Vicenza are presently deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. An additional 8000 GIs in Europe, most of them in stationed Germany, have received deployment orders for 2008.
Before refusing deployment to Afghanistan this past summer, the U.S. soldiers presently in Mannheim did not contact any of the organizations in Europe that support GIs; the soldiers therefore did not receive civilian legal counsel or media support. To make information regarding support possibilities more widely known to GIs stationed in Europe, Germans in December 2007 started a campaign to distribute the GI Rights Hotline card near U.S. military bases throughout Germany. 2000 cards have been distributed in Germany, and 4000 more are being printed; the cards are also being distributed in Vicenza. The GI Rights Hotline card provides contact information to U.S. counseling services, as well as to U.S. organizations such as Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and organizations in Germany that provide GI counseling and/or support GI resistance. Distribution of the GI Rights Hotline card in Germany was initiated by AVA Military Project together with the DFG-VK, and is supported by Pax Christi and the German branch of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
The U.S. soldiers in Mannheim would likely enjoy hearing from supporters in the U.S., Italy, and other countries. To write to these GIs, either go to the Connection online post card (see above), or send letters and postcards by mail. From Europe, please use the postage rate for mail to the USA.
ANDREW HEGERTY, age 19, will be confined in the U.S. military prison in Mannheim, Germany, until ca. August 2008 and will receive a dishonorable discharge for desertion and for failure to follow a lawful order. Andrew was stationed in Vicenza, Italy, and was deployed to Afghanistan from May to September 2007. In September, while on a brief ? in Vicenza, he went absent without leave. He visited his family in Wisconsin, then turned himself in at Fort Knox, Kentucky, hoping for a discharge. However, the Army sent him back to Vicenza. There he refused an order to take part in a meeting to prepare to return to Afghanistan. At his court martial in November 2007, in Vicenza, Andrew pled guilty to charges of desertion and failure to follow an order. He told the court, “I’m not really able to pull the trigger and shoot anyone.”
Andrew’s postal address in Mannheim: Andrew Hegerty, Unit 29723, Box LL, APO, AE 09028-9723, USA
JEFFREY GAUNTT will be confined in the U.S. military prison in Mannheim until ca. April 2008 for going AWOL and for missing deployment. He pled guilty to the charges at a court martial in October 2007 in Vicenza. Jeffrey has not been in combat. He was stationed in Vicenza and left his unit on May 21, 2007, the day before his unit deployed to Afghanistan. On June 19, he turned himself in at the U.S. military base in Rota, Spain. His punishment is ten months in jail, loss of all pay and benefits, and a bad-conduct discharge.
Jeffrey’s postal address in Mannheim: Jeffrey Gauntt, Unit 29723, Box LL, APO, AE 09028-9723, USA
JAMES BLANKS will be confined in the U.S. military prison in Mannheim until ca. February 2008 for going AWOL, missing his unit’s deployment to Afghanistan, and disobeying orders. He pled guilty to the charges at a court martial in September 2007 in Vicenza. James was stationed in Bamberg, Germany and left his unit on April 20, 2007. His battalion left for Afghanistan on May 17, but James did not return to Bamberg until May 21. He briefly deployed to Afghanistan before traveling to Vicenza to face charges. He will forfeit pay and receive a bad-conduct discharge.
James’ postal address in Mannheim (post will likely be forwarded): James Blanks, Unit 29723, Box LL, APO, AE 09028-9723, USA
Stars and Stripes news articles on the court martials of these soldiers:
For further information: American Voices Abroad (AVA) Military Project
Contact: Elsa Rassbach, (00) or (011) 49 30 326 015 40, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Contributions: Richard Forward, Purpose: “GI Rights.“ By wire: account # 3300 11 807, Postbank Muenchen, Swift/BIC Code: PBNKDEFF (from Germany – BLZ 700 100 80). By mail: Richard Forward, Preysingstrasse 16, Munich 81667, Germanyhttp://www.connection-ev.de