Petition Closed

We the undersigned, are concerned that most members of the US military do not know that they have the right to seek to be discharged on the grounds of conscientious objection to war under the law (more detailed information on our concerns can be found at www.RightToObject.org)

We are asking that you direct the Department of Defense to created appropriate DOD regulations that require:

1. that all servicemembers be notified of their right to seek a discharge on the grounds of conscience, on at least an annual basis, 

2. that MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) not just ask if a recruit is a C.O. (as is current practice), but also to explain what a C.O. is, and 

3. that all officers, officer candidates and NCO’s be trained on the essential elements of the DOD and appropriate branch specific regulations on conscientious objection.

Respectfully,

Letter to
President of the United States Barack Obama
President of the United States
I just signed the following petition addressed to: President Obama.

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Protect the rights of conscientious objectors in the military

Introduction

Current law allows for any member of the military to apply for conscientious objection status. The requirements are complex, but in short an applicant must prove that: (1)the applicant is opposed to all wars, (2) the applicant is sincere in his or her beliefs, (3) the applicant’s beliefs are religious and/or based in conscience, and (4) that the belief against war crystalized sometime after the servicemember enlisted in the military. Current law also requires that applicant undergo a rigorous process (including interviews by a chaplain and a mental health professional, a hearing before an independent hearing officer) followed by a lengthy review process that extends all the way to the Pentagon.
Many things about the current law work well, but this campaign was created to address some of the failings of the current system, which are best illustrated by the case of SGT Travis Bishop.

The Travis Bishop Case and the Issue of Notice

A more detailed account of Travis story can be found here: Courage to Resist – Travis Bishop or here: Fort Hood Voices

Like many soldiers, after his deployment to Iraq (but before his scheduled 2009 deployment to Afghanistan), Travis Bishop had serious doubts about the morality of war. However, he did not know until only a few days before his deployment that he could have sought discharge as a conscientious objector. Here’s what he said back in 2009 about this time in his life…

A few days before I was set to deploy, I was approached by members of an organization who told me that I had a choice. They told me that they were here to support me, and that if I really was against the war our country was currently in, I could choose not to go. All those old feelings and worries came back with a vengeance, and I began to question the war again. After a full day of thinking, the only reason I had come up with for me to go was the fact that my best friend was going too. And, in the end, I decided that, although he might hate me for it, he was better off with me not going in the long run. I had to put my needs before his, though it killed me inside, because a three year friendship is hard to come by in the Army. I hope that he can forgive me one day.

With only days before the deployment, Travis quickly realized that his theoretical right to be discharged as a conscientious objector was non-existent. There simply was not enough time to draft a C.O. application (something which takes most servicemembers weeks, even months to do) or to under the review process. He was stuck with an impossible choice – to either violate his conscience or violate the law (by going AWOL and/or refusing to deploy).

Travis chose to follow the higher law of conscience. He was tried in a military court-martial and plead not-guilty, so as to raise the issue of his being denied the right to seek discharge a conscientious objector (having never been advised that he had this right). He was, however, convicted and sentenced to 12 months in prison, reduction in rank, pay forfeitures and a bad conduct discharge. Travis did thankfully receive a 3 month reduction in sentence by the Fort Hood base commander.

Since his conviction, Travis has been challenging the trial court’s ruling through the military appellate system, first through the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals and now through the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (USCAAF). His argument on appeal is an important one, because he is seeking to ask the courts to take proactive steps to protect the rights of servicemembers.

This is the basic argument he is making (taken from the “argument” section of his latest appellate brief):

An enlisted soldier in the US Army is in a unique environment, one in which a unique code of rules and discipline governs almost every aspect of a soldier’s life. In this environment, a enlisted soldier is told repeatedly by both commissioned and non commissioned officers that obedience to all lawful orders is compulsory, including orders to
deploy overseas and fight in wars. Like many soldiers, Private Bishop did not know (until a few days before his scheduled deployment) that he had the right under U.S. Dep’T of Army, Reg. 600-43, Conscientious Objection (21 August 2006)
[hereafter AR 600-43) to file an application for conscientious objector status1, and presumably would not have understood that he would be discharged from the military if this status was granted. He also would presumably not know that he would be excused from combatant duties while his claim was pending under AR 600-43§ 2-10 (a) . Due to Private Bishop’s ignorance of AR 600-43, he believed that he had only two choices: to either disobey his conscience or disobey the law. In reality, he had a third choice, that is to file a timely conscientious objector application and go through the process of having his claim properly adjudicated before his scheduled deployment. However, his ignorance of AR 600-43 effectively denied him the right of exercising this third option.

The issue at hand is one of new impression before this court, hence it is helpful to examine related civilian case law. The case discussed briefly at Private Bishop’s trial 2 was the historic Miranda v. Arizona 384 U.S. 436 (1966) decision. In the decision, the court held that a criminal defendant who is “cut off from the outside world . . . in a police-dominated atmosphere,” Miranda v. Arizona 384 U.S. 436, 445 (1966), is in an environment that “contains inherently compelling
pressures which work to undermine the individual’s will to resist and to compel him to speak where he would not otherwise do so freely.” Miranda v. Arizona 384 U.S. 436, 467 (1966)

The court in Miranda took an admittedly creative approach to solving this problem, requiring that criminal defendants in police custody be informed of their right to avoid self-incrimination. The approach of the Miranda decision is one that could be useful here, namely that certain rights are so important and so easily violated, that a hedge of protection should be made around that right.

Prior to Miranada, criminal defendants of course had the Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination but this right meant little in practical terms, because many defendants were effectively coerced into talking by the “inherently compelling pressures” of custodial police interrogation.

In the same manner, given the unique nature of the pre-deployment training rhythm, a soldier who is about to be deployed should be informed in a timely manner of his or her right to file for conscientious objector status. Failure to inform a soldier of the right to exercise this right should excuse a soldier of all actions taken in compliance with his or her conscience.

Travis will continue his appeals, both at USCAAF and possibly even the US Supreme Court, because this issue is important. But we should not count on the courts to do the right thing here. Appropriate changes to federal law governing conscientious objection could be made by congress. And the executive branch (either through the President himself, the Department of Defense, or even at the level of the military branches) could also fix this problem through implementing appropriate regulations. The solution is simple: a requirement that all servicemembers be notified on a regular basis that they have the right to for C.O. status.

This solution could be implemented in many ways. It could happen through the courts, it could happen through executive or legislative action too. But what is clear is that it must happen.

What is at stake is the most important right of all, the right to follow one’s own conscience. This right was recognized by our founding fathers when they enacted the First Amendment, and it is today recognized under international law as well under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights provision that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” The right of conscientious objection was also more recently recognized by UNCHR resolution 1995/83 and UNCHR 1998/77.

This petition

This petition is part of a broader campaign (see www.RightToObject.org) calling for changes in current military laws and regulations regarding conscientious objection in the military. We are asking President Obama to direct the Department of Defense to created appropriate DOD regulations that require:

1. that all servicemembers be notified of their right to seek a discharge on the grounds of conscience, on at least an annual basis.
2. that MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) not just ask if a recruit is a C.O. (as is current practice), but also to explain what a C.O. is, and
3. that all officers, officer candidates and NCO’s be trained on the essential elements of the DOD and appropriate branch specific regulations on conscientiousobjection
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Sincerely,