New: Berkeley Supports Amnesty for Military War Resisters and Veterans

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday April 02, 2010 - 05:28:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council recently sent out letters to President Barack Obama, Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressperson Barbara Lee recommending amnesty for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan war military resisters and veterans. 

The council approved the recommendation on a 7-0 vote March 9, with two councilmembers, Gordon Wozniak and Susan Wengraf abstaining on various grounds. 

Although the resolution had initially been scheduled for vote on Feb. 23, it was postponed after some councilmembers said they had concerns about the way it was worded. 

A subcommittee comprised of councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Linda Maio was formed to edit the language, which when finally adopted said that the council supported “Universal and unconditional amnesty for Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan War military resisters and veterans who acted In opposition to the war for matters of conscience.” 

The final resolution has some changes from the original passed by the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission last November. 

The Berkeley City Council’s resolution recommends that “all military personnel, serving since Oct. 7, 2001, be granted universal and unconditional amnesty amounting to forgiveness for all convictions or pending charges of desertion or Absence Without Leave (AWOL) or Unauthorized Absence (UA) if such leave or absence is determined to be caused by matters of personal conscience in opposition to the illegal wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.” 

It also recommends that military personnel convicted due to charges resulting from exercising free speech about their opposition to the wars in Iraq and Pakistan since Oct. 7, 2001 be granted amnesty for those convictions.  

The resolution supports amnesty for all veterans with less than honorable discharges for absence offenses stemming from personal conscience regarding opposition to the wars starting on or after Oct. 7, 2001. It calls for those veterans to have their “discharges automatically upgraded to honorable discharges or to general under honorable conditions and that those veterans be granted all benefits otherwise due to them.” 

According to Peace and Justice Commission Chair Bob Meola, the Berkeley City Council’s resolution is the first time the topic of universal unconditional amnesty has been approached since former U.S. President Jimmy Carter granted unconditional amnesty amounting to “full, complete and unconditional pardon” to draft resisters during the Vietnam War.” 

“I hope this resolution will serve as a model and inspire cities and towns across the United States to pass similar resolutions and ignite a movement which will result in universal and unconditional amnesty for Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan war resisters and veterans,” said Meola, who wrote the original resolution. “The troops who have had the courage to resist have been traumatized enough. They have followed their consciences and deserve healing and support and appreciation from people everywhere. The GI Resistance movement is growing. Its members are heroes and heroes should be treated as heroes as they are welcomed back into civilian society.” 

Wozniak, who abstained from voting, said that the original resolution had been “very badly worded essentially giving any serviceman unlimited amnesty for current or future violation of military rules.”  

“We currently have an all volunteer army; thus the analogy to the Vietnam war is inaccurate, since during that conflict there was a conscript army,” Wozniak said. “Although the revised resolution was more narrowly worded, I still disagree with some of the language. While I believe that conscientious objectors have the right to refuse to serve in combat, they also should bear the consequences of their decision.” 

Berkeley, which has been a sanctuary city for conscientious objectors since 1991, became a sanctuary city for military resisters to immoral and illegal wars in 2007.