On Monday, I scored a small but significant victory for the peace movement, for troops and civilians all over the world, and for myself: I faced the military for my refusal to deploy to Iraq and walked away a free man with a general discharge from the Army's Individual Ready Reserve.
This does not affect my discharge from Active Duty Service, however, which is the term of enlistment from which my G.I. Bill derives. My benefits remain mine, and I will use them to continue my education, something I believe all people should have an inherent right to -- without fighting in anyone's army.
At the hearing on Monday in St Louis, Missouri, I was accompanied by my three JAG attorneys, my civilian representation, James Branham; and by Prof. Marjorie Cohn, the President of the National Lawyers Guild, and my mother Patricia, both of whom testified on my behalf. The hearing was also attended by Mike McPherson, Executive Director of Veterans for Peace, Bill Ramsey, of St. Louis Instead of War, and Alexandra, my girlfriend.
My eyes were glued to the panel of officers I was facing, the whole time. I looked those officers in the eyes, and I could see the humanity in each of them. I don't know if they agreed with me, but there was humanity; their hearts and minds were open.
The prosecution opened the proceedings by reading a list of when they sent me the call-up, when I contacted them in Feb. 2008 and asked for a delay to finish a semester of school I had just paid $4,500 for. They tracked when they issued me several delay orders until the final orders for me to report back for active duty on June 15th -- Father's Day last year. They tracked when they sent me several failure to appear notices and when they finally initiated the discharge process against me.
After this, they showed the YouTube video of my refusal to deploy after a hearing of former, and some still active duty, soldiers and marines on Capitol Hill last year. They followed that with excerpts of the speech I gave on the front porch of a rowhouse in northwest DC, where Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) activists lived at the time, on Father's Day last year, the day I was supposed to report. Then followed a Democracy Now interview I did the day after.
They questioned a young Captain about the paperwork process, and then they called me to testify.
I thought I'd be more nervous than I was, but I very much felt relieved. You know, there's all kinds of nifty ways to communicate now-a-days, and maybe call me old-fashioned, but there's nothing like looking someone in the eyes and telling them what's in your soul. And I bared it for those officers with humanity in their eyes.
I told them I believe that the war in Iraq is illegal, and that as a soldier, I thought it was my responsibility to resist it. I told them I was originally planning on deploying, despite my belief that the war is illegal, but that after I was exposed to Winter Soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan, in March last year, I found clarity. And I found courage.
We submitted the Winter Soldier book, as well the IVAW-produced Warrior Writers book for the record as exhibits -- to be referenced by future panels of officers taking part in hearings like mine.
The officers asked me why I thought the war was unconstitutional, and I pulled the copy of the Constitution that I carry with me from my back pocket. I read from Article 6, Paragraph 2, the Supremacy Clause. The prosecution objected, insisting the document was irrelevant.
After much deliberation, the lead council of the board, a civilian lawyer, shut down debate and said the board wouldn't hear the constitution, and that questioning should continue.
So I said fine, I can just quote it, and I quoted, "this Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land."
I said when we violated the U.N. Charter to invade and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, we had violated U.S. law and the Constitution, and that it is every Soldiers' responsibility to resists the crimes of our government for which we are ultimately responsible.
I focused upon the eyes of each board member as I spoke. I told them I was there because they needed to know that we are not cowards, and we are not traitors, but people who are dedicated to doing what's right.
Startlingly, they stared back at me with no disgust in their eyes. They heard me, and they considered what I said. They didn't smile, but then again, they did not threaten me. They listened. And as I spoke and the words rolled off my tongue, I felt a heavy weight lifted from me. I suddenly felt the solidarity of millions there in the room with me.
I thought of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian citizen who refused to fight in Hitler's army. He was decapitated after the authorities had exhausted every avenue of opportunity to get him to accept some form of duty, even if without a weapon.
I thought of those brave GIs in Vietnam who stood against the system, who worked to prevent the victimization of their brothers and sisters by resisting the genocide. Many went to jail. One was shot and killed while trying to escape.
I thought of my brothers and sisters in IVAW, those who realize the humanity in us all deserves to be respected beyond what the military has trained us to think.
In her testimony, Professor Cohn gave the most thorough, detailed, understandable and spot-on breakdown of the illegalities of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan I've ever heard. She focused on the U.N. Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Nürnberg Tribunals, U.S. Federal and Constitutional law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
When my mother testified, she recounted the last thing I said to her in July 2002 before I got out of the car to catch a ride to basic training: "I have to go be a grown-up now." I had no idea what I was getting into.
My lead attorney told a story of his father, a retired sergeant major. He said he was shocked to learn one day that his father supported Mohammad Ali's decision to refuse deployment to Vietnam, despite the fact that he had done two tours himself.
His father told him that he disagreed with Ali's decision but had respect for any man who would stand up for what he believed in and be held accountable by his own will. His father told him this is what it means to be honorable. "Sgt. Chiroux is an honorable man," said my attorney. "He could have stayed home. He's here. He's a man of honor. He deserves an honorable discharge."
After deliberation, I was found guilty of misconduct for refusing to deploy to Iraq. The panel recommended I be given a general discharge from the reserves under honorable conditions.
I left the building with the biggest smile I've had for years. I feel truly vindicated. My ass is mine, and so is my soul. Maybe the decision can be overturned in time, but at least on Monday, they got the principle right.
Later that same afternoon, I testified at Winter Soldier in St Louis and spoke of long moments in my life which have remained mere shadows for years. I'll tell you about them tomorrow.