Retired Army Colonel Ann Wright resigned from her post as a U.S. State Department official in March 2003 in protest of the invasion of Iraq. Wright will speak about her career and anti-war activism as part of Memorial Day services at Arlington West on Monday, May 26. She will also be signing her book Dissent: Voices of Conscience and giving readings from it Monday at the Veterans Memorial Building from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. as well as at Chaucer’s Books at 7 p.m.
You are coming to speaking at Arlington West this next week, what is your talk going to focus on?
Well, I’m going to be talking about the costs of war, and as we can see with the crosses at Arlington West the great cost of loss of life by both Americans and Iraqis. And not only the deaths, but also the tremendous number of injuries that have occurred. I will call for and end to the war in Iraq and also for the Bush administration not to attack Iran.
Are you worried that there is a chance of war with Iran?
I’m very concerned that the Bush administration will not use diplomacy and instead will just use pure military might to attack Iran. I think we need to have a very strong diplomatic initiative with Iran. We should talk, not use bullets. To me, the talk of attacking Iran – the Bush administration saying that all options are on the table – just inflames the situation rather than providing an opportunity for both nations to level their concerns. Iran has some definite concerns about the United States. The United States had invaded the country on the west and on the east of Iran and the administration has been making belligerent statements about Iran. If you were an Iranian government official you would say “We have to be able to defend ourselves.” So in consideration of the belligerent statements Iran has made, it’s kind of a tit-for-tat thing.
It seems like there’s a lot of accusations going on between the United States and Iran both of which have a lot of interests in Iraq.
Absolutely, if you look at the Shia government in Iraq, a lot of those people were in exile in Iran for years. It’s quite ironic that the Bush administration is placing such faith in the Al-Maliki government and yet his group was in Iran for a long time. When [Iran president] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to Baghdad he was accorded the red carpet treatment by his friends that had been living in Tehran.
How has your view on American foreign policy, specifically regarding Iraq, changed in the five years since you resigned?
It really hasn’t changed at all. I resigned because I felt it was going to be an illegal war. It didn’t have the authorization of the U.N. Security Council and as much as the Bush administration tried to make people believe that weapons of mass destruction were going to be used against the United States, I don’t think many people believed it. Five years later we have occupied Iraq and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed or wounded. The level of destruction to the country coupled with the amount of corruption in both our own and the Iraqi governments means that the people of Iraq are really suffering unbelievably. You look at the numbers of Iraqis that have had to flee their homes that are refugees in other countries, and are internally displaced in their own country. Two million are externally displaced and a million to a million and a half have had to flee their homes but can’t get out of the country. So the decision of the Bush administration to invade and occupy – occupy without any plans for occupation – has been a real disaster.
How can the people of Santa Barbara best show their opposition to the war?
It’s always good to stay in contact with your congressional representatives by sending them e-mails and phone calls. It’s also good to show your commitment by being out on weekly vigils. Supporting Arlington West on your beautiful beach would be very helpful too. Being there to be the conscience of the community is very important. It’s being done in communities all over America. I travel all over the country and every community has a vigil every week. The level of visual opposition to the war is there but tragically commercial media doesn’t cover it.
Have you seen anything similar to Arlington West, as far as the dramatic display of all the crosses on the beach?
Yeah, there are quite a few communities that present the Arlington West equivalent. Down in Santa Monica every Sunday they have a presentation. Oceanside sometimes has it and it also moves down to San Diego. In the Midwest there are presentations in Chicago and St Louis. On the East Coast, Philadelphia and New York have some. Arlington West is one of the most dramatic of the presentations. Another meaningful presentation is the boots that are put out as a symbol of people who have died.
How has your book been received? How has it been effective as an example of dissent from someone inside the administration stepping out and condemning the war?
We’ve been very pleased with the reception. It was held up for five months by the State Department. I submitted it because I signed a clause in my employment saying that if I wrote about foreign policy or foreign affairs I would submit a manuscript to them. I did, but it took an inordinately long period of time for them to give approval. When the approval came they only asked if I would elaborate on two footnotes but still they held up the book for two or three months more than they needed to. The book is a vehicle for talking about the issues of an illegal war, torture, and eavesdropping. We profile 25 people in our government, the British government, and the Danish and Australian governments and what these people have done to stand up to the administration. We also cover military folks, American and British, who have spoken out and have gone to jail for refusing to go to Iraq or go back to Iraq. The second phrase of the title is Voices of Conscience. The voices of conscience are the stories of those people who felt it was their duty to speak out about what was happening to their country in this period.
Have you been involved at all with the issues and controversies over veterans’ benefits?
Certainly I’m very concerned about it and I’ve been working with a variety of veterans, particularly Iraq veterans against the war. One aspect I’ve been focusing on is the sexual assault and rape of women in the military. In fact, I’ve just written a large article that came out two weeks ago about rape and murder cover-ups by the US military.
You mention in that article that most of the sexual assaults happen before the women are even recruited.
Yes, it’s amazing how many recruiters are preying upon young women who are potential recruits. The number of recruiters that have been reprimanded a few have been court-martialed, most just reprimanded – is astounding. One in three women who join the military will be assaulted or raped during the time that they are in the military. The perpetrators are members of the military. Usually it’s men in their chain of command who demand sexual favors. Particularly it’s in Iraq where they can say, “Listen, if you don’t do what I want you to do, you could be dead tomorrow.” That’s why we’re disturbed about some of the instances of death involving women who we know were raped first and then they were found dead and the military says its suicide. Well, I’m not too sure about that. In two cases the families really have strong evidence that their daughters were murdered.
Is the military cooperating in the investigations or are they involved in a cover-up?
I think they’re covering it up. Both of these families have been trying to get the Army to re-open these investigations based on the evidence that the military finally provided to them. They can look at the evidence and say, “We can see that our daughter was beaten, bitten, burned, and raped before she supposedly committed suicide.” This has been going on for years and the military has not reopened the cases. The figures of one-in-three will eventually go up higher, probably two-in-five or higher. It should be plastered above every recruiting station: “Warning: This is a predatory organization. One in three women will be raped during their service.”
Now you served 29 years in the Army before you got a job in the State Department, do you feel this is a new development or was it something you were aware of during your career in the army?
I think the degree in which this is going on is higher now. Although, we are now finding out more about rapes that were committed during the period when I was in the military and the women never reported it. The Vietnam-era women who were sexually assaulted usually kept it to themselves and we’re only finding out about it now because they’re going to the Veteran’s Administration (VA) for Post-Traumatic Shock Disorder treatment. As they get counseling, all of a sudden these old memories start flooding back about these incidents of sexual assault. That’s where the VA is getting its statistics.
Memorial Day is usually a day of honoring the service members who have lost their lives but with this war it seems like there’s so much scandal. Do you think that it overshadows the holiday?
I think it does, because we are very concerned about the destiny of our country and the institutions of it, particularly the military on Memorial Day. When you see the institution of the military, that I was a part of for almost 30 years, coming apart at the seams in some ways, it does give cause for concern. The reason I’m being very outspoken about this is because I know that we will continue to have a military and I want it to be the most professional military possible. One that respects international and domestic laws, does not kill innocent civilians, does not rape its own women and men. Statistics are coming out that suggest as many as one in ten are raped by their own men in their units. These are all very disturbing parts of the military that must be cleaned up if the military wants to become professional.
Do you have any optimism for change in policy with the coming presidential elections?
If John McCain gets in we know the war will continue unabated. Although now he says by 2013 he’ll start removing troops. Barack and Hilary both say they’re committed to withdrawing troops but they don’t really have a timetable. I think for those of us that want the war ended it doesn’t matter which of the three is elected because we will have to be out on the streets protesting a lot the first six months of any administration. Because even if Obama or Clinton become president, they will not be removing troops as fast as we want them to. We’ll have to put pressure on them. It’s not just Iraq, but things like Guantanamo Bay, torture, the treatment of prisoners, and eavesdropping. The list of things we will want our new president to change is long.