Friday, November 18, 2005

Another American Hero

Conscientious objector sets stage for annual gathering
by Chuck Williams
 

Army Spc. Katherine Jashinski, fighting back tears Thursday as she explained why she is a conscientious objector, set the tone for this week's SOA Watch protest just outside the gates of Fort Benning.

What started 15 years ago as a protest to close the School of the Americas, which trained military personnel from Central and Latin America, is also becoming an anti-war movement.

Jashinski, a member of the Texas Army National Guard, is fighting deployment to Afghanistan and seeking a military discharge. A U.S. District Court judge in San Antonio last week refused to grant the 22-year-old Army cook a temporary restraining order that would have delayed her deployment to join her unit, already in Afghanistan. She reported to Fort Benning this week for weapons training.

Father Roy Bourgeois, the Catholic priest who founded the SOA Watch movement, called Jashinski's actions "courageous."

Jashinski's Fort Benning announcement comes as 15,000 protesters prepare to gather in Columbus Saturday and Sunday. SOA Watch seeks the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, which replaced the School of the Americas in 2001. The institute is located at Fort Benning.

"We are here in the name of peace -- veterans, nuns, college students, high school students, parents and grandparents," Bourgeois said Thursday. "We are here to call for the closing of SOA/WHISC. But we cannot possibly gather here without addressing the issue of Iraq and Afghanistan."

In the past three years, more anti-war protesters have joined the SOA Watch protest in Columbus. Bourgeois expects more this year as anti-war sentiment builds.

"We are not in the minority any longer," Bourgeois said. "The front pages of this nation's newspapers clearly show that a majority of the people in our country want this war to stop."

Aimee Allison, a conscientious objector during the Persian Gulf War and one of Jashinski's advisers, said Jashinski's assignment to Fort Benning the same week as the SOA Watch protest is a "happy coincidence."

Jashinski, originally from Waukota, Wis., enlisted in the Texas unit in April 2002.

She filed for a conscientious objector discharge in the summer of 2004, about two months after her unit was activated.

She said her views on war have changed as she has matured.

She said she now must make a choice between "my legal obligation to the Army and my deepest moral values."

"Because I believe so strongly in nonviolence, I cannot perform any role in the military," Jashinski said.

Jashinski is scheduled for weapons training today.

"I will exercise every legal right not to pick up a weapon," Jashinski said.

She said she will continue to seek conscientious objector status, while following military orders that do not conflict with her beliefs.

"I am prepared to accept the consequences for adhering to my beliefs," Jashinski said.

In a ruling last week, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia said granting Jashinski a temporary restraining order would cause substantial harm to the Army.

"The interests of one soldier do not outweigh the interests of an entire country," the judge said.

"What she is doing is more courageous than going to war," Bourgeois said as he and other anti-war protesters stood at Jashinski's side Thursday morning at the main gate to Fort Benning.

Jerry White, a retired general and former commander of Fort Benning, served two combat tours in Vietnam.

He does not see the courage in Jashinski's linking her cause to the SOA Watch protest.

"It is obviously disgusting," White said. "You have got a soldier protesting against the cause where her fellow soldiers are fighting and giving their lives. Being a soldier and jeopardizing the lives of other soldiers is intolerable and disgusting."

White said the SOA Watch protest has now clearly become an anti-war effort.

"It is absolutely an anti-war movement," White said. "If for some reason they were to close the SOA, we would probably still be here. This is a protest against the SOA, against the war in Iraq and God knows what else."

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