Prisoners of Conscience : U.S. Military Isolates War Resisters

Incarcerated anti-war GI and musician (above) Travis Bishop. Below, he is shown before his court martial at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas on Aug. 14, 2009. Photo by Alice Embree / The Rag Blog.

Army prisoners isolated,
Denied right to legal counsel

[Travis] Bishop, who served a 13-month deployment to Iraq and was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, was court marshaled by the Army for his refusal to deploy to Afghanistan. Given that he had already filed for CO status, many local observers called his sentencing a ‘politically driven prosecution.’

By Dahr Jamail / September 29, 2009

The military’s treatment of Army prisoners is “part of a broader pattern the military has of just throwing people in jail and not letting them talk to their attorneys, not letting visitors come, and this is outrageous. In the civilian world even murderers get visits from their friends,” according to civil defense attorney James Branum.

Afghanistan war resister Travis Bishop has been held largely “incommunicado” in the Northwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Lewis, Washington.

Bishop, who is being held by the military as a “prisoner of conscience,” according to Amnesty International, was transported to Fort Lewis on September 9 to serve a 12-month sentence in the Regional Correctional Facility. He had refused orders to deploy to Afghanistan based on his religious beliefs, and had filed for Conscientious Objector (CO) status. years.

Bishop, who served a 13-month deployment to Iraq and was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, was court marshaled by the Army for his refusal to deploy to Afghanistan. Given that he had already filed for CO status, many local observers called his sentencing a “politically driven prosecution.”

By holding Bishop incommunicado, the military violated Bishop’s legal right to counsel, a violation of the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution, according to his civil defense attorney James Branum.

The Sixth Amendment is the part of the Bill of Rights that sets forth rights related to criminal prosecutions in federal courts, and reads, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”

Attorney LeGrande Jones, who practices in Olympia and was designated by Branum as the local counsel for Bishop, was also denied access to Bishop, on the grounds that Jones was on an unnamed and unobtainable “watch-list,” which constitutes deprivation of counsel.

Jones was denied entry to Fort Lewis and told he would never be allowed to enter the base. Fort Lewis authorities never gave him a reason for his being denied access to the base and his client. To this, Branum told Truthout, “Fort Lewis authorities have a duty to tell LeGrande the reasons why he is being barred from Fort Lewis, and therefore [barred] from communicating with his client in the Fort Lewis brig.”

Until September 18, Bishop’s condition was unclear due to his having been completely cut off from the public.

Branum, who is the legal adviser to the Oklahoma GI Rights Hotline and co-chair of the Military Law Task Force, also represents Leo Church, another war resister being held at Fort Lewis.

Church, who was also stationed at Fort Hood, went AWOL (Absent Without Leave) to prevent his wife and children from becoming homeless. The fact that he was unable to financially support his family off his military pay alone dictated that Church seek other means to support them. With his pleas to the military for assistance going unheeded, he opted to go AWOL in order to support his dependents.

According to Branum, “Church received eight months jail time because he put the safety and welfare of his children over his obligation to the Army. Leo tried to get help from his unit, but was denied.”

Branum told Truthout that Church had been able to contact him while at Fort Lewis, but the call was monitored by a guard, violating his attorney-client privilege.

Gerry Condon, with Project Safe Haven (an advocacy group for GI resisters in Canada), and a veteran himself as a member of the Greater Seattle Veterans for Peace, told Truthout he believes Bishop and Church are being held in a way that is both “intolerable and unconstitutional.”

Condon, who is working to try to support both Bishop and Church, told Truthout, “They are denied all visitors, except for immediate family, clergy and legal counsel [legal counsel is limited at this time]. No friends or fiancés. This is not the normal practice at other brigs.”

Branum told Truthout he feels that how Bishop and Church are being treated at Fort Lewis is “part of a broader pattern the military has of just throwing people in jail and not letting them talk to their attorneys, not let visitors come, and this is outrageous. In the civilian world even murderers get visits from their friends.”

Speaking further of the conditions in which the military is holding Bishop and Church, Condon added, “Fort Lewis authorities have made it virtually impossible for Bishop and Church to make phone calls. They must first get money on their calling account. This must be done by money order and according to several other similarly prohibitive procedures. And the money may not be credited to the account until a month after it is received. Plus, officials at the Fort Lewis brig must approve the names of people that can be called.”

Condon told Truthout, “Travis Bishop is a leader in what has become an international GI resistance movement that is attempting to bring troops home from both occupations by following their consciences and international law. They deserve all the support we can give them, especially while they are in prison – they are owed their constitutional liberties.”

Branum told Truthout that as far as he knows, he may well be the only person on Bishop’s call list.

Both Bishop and Church have been prevented from adding any names to their respective “authorized contacts” lists (even for family members), which effectively cuts them off from almost all contact with the outside world. According to Branum, mail and commissary funds sent by friends and supporters will likely be “returned to sender” due to what he feels is “a cruel and inhumane policy.”

In addition, there are no work programs at the Fort Lewis brig, nor any classes available for soldiers to take while they are incarcerated. Generally, work programs and/or classes are available for incarcerated soldiers.

“By participating in work programs and school classes, soldiers being held in brigs can get time cut off their sentences,” Branum explained to Truthout, “But these don’t exist at Fort Lewis, so that means Travis and Leo can’t get time taken off their sentences. Travis will do a minimum of 10 months, and could have theoretically worked an additional month off his sentence if Fort Lewis had these programs.”

Branum, who is the lead attorney for both Bishop and Church, told Truthout the actions of officials at Fort Lewis violate his clients’ constitutional rights.

“Bishop and Church’s defense team and supporters are in the process of negotiating with Fort Lewis officials to ensure transparency and that Bishop and Church’s legal rights are being met,” Branum stated in a press release on the matter that was published on September 17. “The unusual circumstances of isolation of these soldiers is unquestionably illegal. If Fort Lewis doesn’t change its ways, we will be forced to go to court and demand justice.”

On September 18, officials at Fort Lewis finally allowed Branum to speak with Bishop on the telephone, but not privately.

Bishop was accompanied by two guards, who monitored his conversation with Branum. In addition, Fort Lewis authorities claimed that the recently rebuilt/remodeled brig does not yet have proper facilities to facilitate a private telephone conversation.

Speaking further about the conversation he was finally allowed to have with Bishop, Branum added, “In the phone call we did get to do, they still refused to let Travis talk to me privately. He actually had two guards in the room with him the entire time, which obviously negates any compliance with attorney-client privilege. And presumably the phone call was taped (all of the other brigs have special rooms for attorney calls, that have phone lines to the outside that are not taped) which is completely unconstitutional. The brig of course will say, “well we won’t listen to that tape” but that is bullshit, and it is illegal.”

“The only reason they [Fort Lewis authorities] let me talk to Travis on Friday [September 18] was that he was finally “medically cleared,” Branum told Truthout, “This took 10 days in this case, and it looks like this is their standard operating procedure, which is completely wrong.”

When Truthout questioned the public affairs office at Fort Lewis about Bishop’s situation, we were told all matters were being handled “legally, and according to standard operating procedure,” and “any wrongdoing would be investigated.”

Branum added, “They are giving the excuse that “we don’t have the secure room for attorney phone calls set up yet,” but can’t tell me when they are going to have the room set up.”

Branum and Jones are planning to file a lawsuit against Fort Lewis in the near future, specifically targeting the denial of attorney-client privilege.

Both soldiers are being supported by two GI resistance cafes: Under the Hood cafe (in Killeen, Texas, near Fort Hood) and Coffee Strong (in Tacoma, Washington, near Fort Lewis).

[Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist, is the author of The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, (Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from occupied Iraq for nine months as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last five years.]

Source / truthout / Courage to Resist

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8 Responses to Prisoners of Conscience : U.S. Military Isolates War Resisters

  1. Anonymous says:

    Fort Lewis is a pit. The prisoners are routinely mistreated and even given rotting food, and are given isolation for arbitrary reasons (or no reason). The facility is filthy and even in disrepair. I was in contact with a family with a father imprisoned there a few years ago, with similar discriminatory treatment (he had been blocked from even applying for CO status!), and the ordeal was difficult for all, to say the least. They stuck to their CO guns, and their family member was released slightly early and discharged from the service. The healing and return to normalcy will take years, if ever.

    – Piltz

  2. dospesentas says:

    It’s a little late to claim CO status after you’ve been inducted and taken the oath. Does the oath mean nothing?

    There is a pact made with our country by every inductee. When they fail to hold up their part, they suffer the consequences.

    Prison is not supposed to be a ‘positive’ experience it’s punishment. Perhaps these individuals should have though more about the consequence of their actions. In the old days they would have been shot.

    Military justice is NOT the same as civilian. Comparisons are NOT always valid.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m guessing that the oath that military recruits take says nothing about participating in illegal wars of aggression. The US military has as much regard for the Constitution as it does for its own soldiers, which is to say, very little. Honestly, anybody who takes Uncle Sam’s dollar is a sucker, because there’s no honor in serving dishonorable people.

  4. Masterspork says:

    It is a big deal because he went AWOL before filling to be a CO. This is not personal vendetta against him. Except that while a member of the US Military you are under Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and not civilian law. One example is that you can be put in jail fro having a affair if your married in the Military. Because of that you have to know the differences in the UCMJ and Civilian law. So if you do not know the differences their day in court is not going to go so well. Ever wonder why that Lt is now free?

    It is not unheard of that a Base can restrict people based on their back grounds. Also you are telling me that Mr. Jones was the only person that could have represented Branum’s client. (Also why was Mr Barnum not able to go there himself?)

    How does going Awol help his family? Also unless he has a very large family I really can be done. There is the Wic office that can be used because anyone E-4 and below is eligible. Not to mention the money you get for housing on top of your base pay. All of this is done before you even go to basic. It can be done. So something does not seem as Mr Church says.


    This is not a case of having a different opinion. This is a case that he joined the military and dodged a deployment that will have others pay for his action because they will have not only do their job but his workload as well. Being able to do civilian law is not the same UCMJ.


    There was never a illegal war to begin with because Desert Strom did not end with a peace treaty but a Cease Fire. Iraq never followed the terms for over a decade. Also the UN gave us and renewed mandates for us to be there legally. Also the operation in Afghanistan was sanctioned by the UN, yet people are now saying that operation is now illegal.

    First of all UCMJ, it is the rule if your in the Military. Second the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan where BOTH approved to use force if required.

    *Edit* For some reason open-end ID is not working

  5. Anonymous says:

    Do you mean to say that if a military person sees an order as being illegal(ie shooting persons of ethnic background) that he should not refuse to obey?

  6. Masterspork says:

    The order will have to be seen as Illegal according to Laws of war. So it would be a individual act. So for your example what was the person doing? It is not what the person looks like, but what the person is doing. Even if the person is acting hostile, you have your escalation of force rules. So it is not the wild wild west out there.

    Also before we deploy, we have extensive classes on what you can and cannot do in the combat zone. Also how to report a illegal act the the right people.

    But simply deploying to a area is not a illegal order. Despite what Bishop and Victor say.

  7. Mariann says:

    MP — glad to hear you say that about the classes — I have heard that from other servicemen, and it’s somewhat reassuring. My young nephew, now deployed in Iraq, apparently carried away from this training some impression that it was not nearly as important as obeying superiors first and thinking about it afterwards. He also argues with me that the contract he signed with the Army somehow exempts him from civilian and/or international law; well, of course I know better but he is the one in harm’s way. My impression is that he thinks very highly of his platoon leader, trusting that this individual will never lead him astray.

    I sent him a RagBlog story about Victor and he was appalled; said V. is a “coward” — an appraisal I do not at all share.

    My nephew wants to be a good military man and succeed in the Army. He might consider a military career, depending on his experiences this year and next. I’m hoping he knows enough about being a good man to give him courage for whatever challenges he faces, whether challenges of combat or of conscience. I’d like to feel that his leaders will work to keep him aware of his personal responsibility as well as his responsibility to follow orders.

  8. Masterspork says:

    I would very much disagree with him because in the classes JAG go over this very thoroughly and explains that you can go to jail for not following the Rules of War. When you sign up for military service you fall under UCMJ which in some areas is more strict then civilian law. But you still have to follow the Geneva Convention rules. For example as a medic I cannot use any weapon that is fully automatic, uses a round over 9mm and no explosives. Any vehicles that have a Red Cross cannot be armed at all. It goes on like this.

    The reason I do not like Victor is his job he would be a Fobbit.

    That he would not have been in any danger while he was there. Yet he makes it out that we are doing these horrible things. The truth is that he was Stop Lossed and he was looking for any excuse to get out of it. There was a guy that was sent over with us with PTSD on the Commander’s security detail that went out almost every day. We finally managed to get him of that detail and later sent back home 6-7 months after we left. I think he got a Honorable discharge. But here is a blog that is from Victor’s first line supervisor.

    It is just one of those things that you have to experience to see what you are really made of. Hope he does well.

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