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Freedom Fighter of the Month

Pablo Paredes

At the end of World War II, members of the German army were put on trial for war crimes, called the Nuremberg Trials. Time after time, these soldiers tried to defend themselves by saying that they were "only following orders." This international court decided that the "following orders" defense wasn't enough.

The court set a new standard for international law: while soldiers may have a duty to obey their superiors, that they also have a greater duty to obey basic codes of human rights and moral conduct. In other words, if you are in the military and your commander tells you to do something that's against the law, you are supposed to disobey your commander.

It was with this idea in mind that U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Pablo Paredes refused to board a boat to send him to Iraq last December.

Paredes had joined the Navy in 2000, shortly after graduating high school, hoping for a better career and money for education. He says that his time in the Navy made him think differently about the nature of war, and his own values and responsibilities as a human being. By the time he was to be deployed to Iraq, Paredes had developed a moral opposition to all forms of war, and of the war in Iraq specifically.

His disobedience was no easy decision. Refusing to serve could easily lead to court-martial, jail time, and dishonorable discharge. His stance could cost him his job, friends, family, and freedom.

Paredes sums up his stance: "Like all members of the military, I have been trained to recognize my personal responsibility for participating in war crimes. Since the war is itself illegal and has been characterized by repeated and consistent violations of international laws and treaties, of the Geneva Convention rules of war, and of generally accepted standards of human rights, I have a reasonable belief that my training required me to avoid participating in these crimes."

After refusing to deploy, Paredes applied to be a conscientious objector and be discharged from duty. His application was denied, and the military decided to try Paredes in court. He was charged with violating Articles 86 and 87 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, "being absent without authority" and "missing movement by design." He pled not guilty.

During his trial, Professor Marjorie Cohn, an expert on international law, testified that the Iraq war was illegal (violated the UN Charter, which the US has signed and agreed to honor). She also noted that the recent US military actions in Afghanistan and Yugoslavia were also in violation of the law. While the judge did not accept these facts as defending Paredes' decision, he did admit that "I think the government has successfully proved that any seaman recruit has reasonable cause to believe that the wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq were illegal."

At the trial's end, the judge dismissed one of the two charges, and gave Paredes a light sentence for the other: no jail time, two months restriction, three months hard labor without confinement, and reduction in rank.

Axis of Justice supports the brave moral stance taken by Pablo Paredes, and all who resist this immoral war.

Citizens for Pablo
Iraq War on Trial
San Diego Military Counseling Project
Kevin Benderman Defense Committee
Iraq Veterans Against the War
Military Families Speak Out
Courage to Resist