Free the Fort Bragg 50
By Dee Knight
Published Sep 7, 2009
The resistance of conscientious objector Dustin "Che" Stevens has
sparked a national petition campaign to free Stevens and the 50-plus
other GIs currently held in the 82nd Holdover Unit at Fort Bragg,
N.C., awaiting absent without leave and desertion charges. The
petition says these GIs "live in a legal limbo of poor living
conditions, verbal abuse and arbitrary punishments while waiting for
up to a year to be actually charged and brought before a court
martial. The result is that these soldiers are subjected to many
months of unjust and illegal punishment prior to their day in court."
The petition requests that the Army "improve living conditions,
reassign sadistic supervisors, end all informal punishments, and
expedite resolution for these soldiers so that they can return home
to begin rebuilding their lives as soon as possible." It also
requests that the time they spend in the Holdover Unit count as part
of any sentence they might receive.
Signers include Mike Ferner, national president of Veterans for
Peace; retired U.S. Army Colonel Ann Wright; Marjorie Cohn, president
of the National Lawyers Guild; historian Howard Zinn; leaders of Iraq
Veterans Against the War and Courage To Resist; organizers at GI
coffee houses at Fort Hood and Fort Lewis; and many more. The
petition is directed to the Fort Bragg Commanding General and the
Commanding Officer of the 82nd Holdover Unit, 82nd Airborne Division,
Fort Bragg, N.C. (To sign and contribute to this campaign, go to
Conditions at Fort Bragg were exposed recently in articles by Courage
To Resist project coordinator Sarah Lazare and Dahr Jamail, author of
"The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and
Afghanistan." Their report, "Echo PlatoonWarehousing Soldiers in the
Homeland," appeared in "Tom Dispatch" on Aug. 10. (It is online at
According to the Echo Platoon report, soldiers who have gone AWOL and
then voluntarily turned themselves in or were forcibly returned,
"remain suspended in a legal limbo of forced uncertainty that can
extend from several months to a year or more, while the military
takes its time deciding their fate. Some of them, however, are
offered a free pass out of this military half-lifebut only if they
agree to deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq."
"Echo is like jail with some privileges," says Spc. Kevin McCormick,
21. He was held there for more than seven months on AWOL and
desertion charges, then offered release if he would accept deployment
to Iraqdespite being suicidal.
"You're less than human to the commanders," Spc. McCormick said,
adding that they act as if "you don't deserve to be alive. A sergeant
told us he wanted to take us out and shoot us in the back of the
head. We get threatened all the time there."
A Fort Bragg spokesperson, Capt. Ronald Thaxton, said, "I can't
confirm or deny verbal abuse. It depends on if a person is angry."
Spc. Dustin "Che" Stevens, whose decision to publicize his own
resistance led to the exposure of conditions at Fort Bragg, said:
"I've been here almost seven months, and only a few people have
gotten out during that time. There was a Purple Heart veteran who was
here and is now serving a 15-month jail sentence. ... Unfortunately,
our sentence does not take into account the time served here. Some of
us get paid, albeit the E1 or entry level wages, but I'd gladly give
them the money back if I could go home."
Sgt. Travis Bishop sentenced at Ft. Hood for resisting
Fort Hood, Texas, is another base where there has been a recent surge
in resistance. Sgt. Travis Bishop became the second GI in two weeks
court martialed there for resistance, and was sentenced on Aug. 13 to
12 months in military prison. A strong support delegation was present
at the court martial from Under The Hood, a GI coffee house in nearby
Killeen, Texas, as well as Students for a Democratic Society
representatives and other supporters who came from Austin, Texas.
Travis based his defense on the failure of the Army to notify
soldiers of their right to apply for conscientious objector status.
Neither the judge nor the jury of "peers"all many ranks higher than
Sgt. Bishoppaid attention to this argument. But Bishop's attorney,
James Branum, who is co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild's
Military Law Task Force, said he plans to take the appeal through all
military courts and "if necessary, the Supreme Court."