On this day in 1987, the United Nations Human Rights Commission recognized conscientious objection to military service as a basic human right.
Almost 2,000 years prior to that, Jesus told his followers to put down their weapons.
Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. —Matthew 26:52, NRSV.
Here’s a list of people serving sentences in the U.S. who were convicted of acts related to their objection to killing in military service, compiled by the War Resisters International for their December 1, 2008 Prisoners for Peace Day:
Robin Long (6 Sep 2008-14 Sep 2009)
Miramar Naval Consolidated Brig, PO BOX 452136, San Diego CA 92145-2136, USA
Serving a 15 months prison sentence for being AWOL.
Helen Woodson (03231-045) (9 Jan 2003-9 Sep 2011)
FMC Carswell, Max Unit, POB 27137, Ft. Worth, Texas 76127, USA
106 months. Parole violation with anti-war protest at the federal courthouse, Kansas City, Missouri, on 11 Mar 2004
Rafil Dhafir (11921-052) (26 Apr 2000-26 Apr 2022)
FCI Terre Haute, POB 33, Terre Haute, IN 47808, USA
22 years for convictions resulting from providing humanitarian and financial aid to Iraqis in violation of U.S. sanctions, February 2005
The full international list can be found on WRI’s Prisoners for Peace 2008 Honor Roll.
And then there was Joshua Casteel, an interrogator at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. His turning point came when a 22-year-old Saudi who came to Iraq for jihad was brought before him for questioning. “He admitted it,” says Casteel, 26, a deeply religious Catholic convert from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “I asked him why he had come to Iraq to kill. Then he asked me why I had come to Iraq to kill. He said I wasn’t following the teachings of Jesus, which was pretty ironic. But I thought he sounded just like me. He was not a maniacal kind of killer. He had never fired a weapon in his life … I know what it’s like to proselytise. At one time I had been a pretty nationalistic kid. I understood where he was coming from but in order to do my job I couldn’t look at him as a human being. I had to look at him as an object of exploitation.”
Two days later Casteel went to Qatar on leave. When he came back he told his commander that he would be applying for conscientious objector status. “I said I wouldn’t turn in my weapon while I was there or talk to the media but would carry on doing my job and when I got back home I would ask to leave the military.” He filed his application on February 16 and was granted an honourable discharge on May 31.
This story moves me to tears. I cannot imagine working in a warehouse of torture as an interrogator and have Christ break through the lips of a jihadi.
Courage to Resist will sponsor a week-long campaign of letter-writing to war resisters in prison from March 16-23. In the meantime, let’s keep in our prayers those who suffer in prison for the sake of Christ and for the refusal to harm other children of God in service to the state.