Wrong and Wright

Who are these diplomats and soldiers who’ve been saying public figures made false statements that spurred a war of aggression in Iraq? And why should we care? Retired Col. Ann Wright and Susan Dixon answer such questions and more in Dissent: Voices of Conscience—Government Insiders Speak Out Against the War in Iraq. The book profiles some of the dissidents who blew the whistle during the rush to war and helps readers grasp some of the risks and rewards of such activism.

Dissent comes in six parts. Section one is a chronology of events prior to the United States and British forces 2003 attack on Iraq, with 161 references for readers to follow up on. Wright and Dixon’s narrative reveals the governments of Bush and Blair as playing fast and loose with facts to make their case that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction and links to 9/11 posed a threat that required the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Co-author Wright, a veteran of nearly three decades with the U.S. Army and Army Reserve, is one of three State Department diplomats profiled who resigned a post upon the invasion of Iraq. In the book’s third part, her resignation letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell on the brink of that conflict is prophetic. She writes: “I strongly believe that going to war now will make the world more dangerous, not safer.”

Few Americans know much about government insiders from Australia, Denmark and Britain who went public to disclose officials’ behind-the-scenes breaking of the law prior to the Iraq war. Part four is a corrective to that. Consider Katharine Gun, a 20-something translator for the British government. In January of 2003, she leaked a top-secret e-mail to a national newspaper which revealed U.S. spying on members of the United Nations Security Council as a way to win consent for invading Iraq. Gun was arrested and fired. “I decided the risk to my career was minute compared to the upcoming war in Iraq,” Gun said. Her jury trial ended the day it was to start when the government dropped all charges. Gun walks the talk.

So does Russell Tice, an intelligence analyst, one of seven whistle-blowers whose stories comprise part four. He told The New York Times in 2004 that his employer, the National Security Agency, was spying on American citizens thanks to a green light from President Bush in 2002, who had no legal approval to do so from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. The NSA had also shared its secret spying data with the FBI, the same agency that spied on dissident groups such as the Black Panthers in the 1960s. Government mistreatment of such marginal groups is now being extended to the mainstream. This is a trend in American political culture given short shrift in the book.

Dissident American and coalition allies within the armed forces—from officers to enlisted personnel and lawyers—make up the book’s fifth and longest section. Retired officers’ opposition to Bush’s Iraq war policies is noteworthy. But the protest of active-duty service persons such as Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejía of the Florida National Guard really stands out. He served in Iraq and refused to return as a result of the needless human suffering he participated in there. From a U.S. prison cell after his court-martial for going AWOL, Mejía writes to those still engaged in Iraqi combat operations: “Let us, collectively, free our minds, soften our hearts, comfort the wounded, put down our weapons, and reassert ourselves as human beings by putting an end to war.”

Despite growing militarism, some people on the government’s payroll can and do resist illegal war. Their conscience is not for sale.