Statement of Michael T. McPhearson,
Veteran of the First Gulf War and Member, Veterans for Peace
Michael McPhearson served in the U.S. Army 1981-1992. Mr. McPhearson is a Persian Gulf War combat veteran who served in Operation Desert Shield/Storm 1991-92. Mr. McPhearson is also a peace activist. As a representative of Veterans For Peace (VFP) and Military Families Speak Out, McPhearson has traveled widely in the cause of peace. In December 2003, Mr. McPhearson traveled to Iraq as aVFP delegation member and also attended an international peace conference in Turkey in January 2004. Mr. McPhearson joins the ACLU today immediately upon his return from Bologna, Italy where he attended a peace conference. As a New Jersey staff member of the National Conference for Community and Justice, he focuses on teaching young people to become advocates in bringing disparate people together.
I am here today as citizen, a combat veteran and the father of a son who is now serving our country. I am here to protest the status and treatment of the prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. I am here to state my concerns about the creation of a new class of prisoners, the denial of due process and, most heinous, the possible use of torture.
As a citizen, I expect the government to do all within its power to keep us safe. I know it is a near impossible task, especially in these difficult times. I was in New York on 9/11. I remember the fear of the day and the fear of the following weeks. Security was and continues to be of prime concern. Yet as we endeavor to secure our safety we must not forget the principles upon which our democracy is built. I cannot allow the denial of human rights in my name. If my government is willing to deny one person's rights then one day it may deny me my rights. This is unacceptable.
For many, this thinking is too idealistic. I am told we fight a deadlier enemy. They say times have changed and we fight a different kind of war.
Perhaps the means to wage war and tactics are different. But the role of the combatants remains the same. When I invaded Iraq in 1991 as part of the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division, I understood that the enemy was out to kill me, and my job was also to kill the enemy. This is what combatants do on the battlefield. This is what we are trained to do. I also understood that if I were captured I would be at the mercy of my enemy; the same people I was trying to kill. Being a prisoner of war is an experience to be avoided. But if captured, I hoped to be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention. I took comfort in my belief that the U.S. was dedicated to following the convention. At least that is what I was taught.
As a result of growing up in Fayetteville, NC next to Fort Bragg, soldiers have always been a part of my life. In fact my mother was once married to a Vietnam veteran. So I empathized with the soldiers in Vietnam, especially the prisoners of war. I knew about their stories of torture and the North Vietnamese lack of respect for human rights. Even as a child, I was proud of my country's commitment to following international law and upholding human rights. I believed we were different than the enemy.
Today, soldiers cannot take comfort in our treatment of P.O.Ws. In fact they must wonder whether, if captured, they will be treated as "Enemy Combatants".
Of course I pray that my son will never see battle or if he must fight, that he return home safe. But I also worry that he and others serving our nation will face retaliation or even fiercer and more desperate fighters because we no longer adhere to our own principles and disregard international law.
Our Declaration of Independence states, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." This statement refers to all people, not just U.S. citizens. It was written before there was a Republic called the United States of America. My government is abandoning the principles of this document - the principles I fought for and for which my son serves. It is unacceptable that my country act in this manner. My love of country and fear for soldiers' safety demands I stand up in protest.