Moving Beyond the Election

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

ANDOVER, Mass. — Some are trying to make the prosecution of war crimes an issue of the presidential campaign while others already are moving past that. Members of the anti-war movement are looking beyond the presidential election this fall and the support in Congress in order to find military officers to disobey orders from superiors and the president.

It wasn’t surprising that attendees at an Andover, Mass., conference, which I watched online, called for war crimes prosecutions against President Bush and Vice President Cheney and expressed heated opinions toward the White House. Expectedly as well, enthusiasm was tepid for Senator Obama, who supported, along with Mr. Bush, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a law that made telecommunications companies immune from civil law suits for their role in facilitating government wire tapping for the purposes of national security. So too was the acrimony aimed at House Speaker Pelosi, who has failed to acquiesce to their frequent demand that Congress stop funding American military efforts in Iraq.

Where the conference broke new ground was on the amount of time and discussion focused on getting members of the uniformed officers corps to come over to their side. The rhetoric went so far that the organizer of the conference and the dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, Lawrence Velvel, attempted to stop it.

A Brattleboro, Vt., activist and author of a successful petition in his town calling for the arrest and indictment of Messrs. Bush and Cheney, Kurt Daims, addressed the audience: “We have been trying to tell Congress, ‘don’t fund the war.’ We’ve just got to go around them,” Mr. Daims, a panelist, said. “We don’t talk to the president … We don’t talk to Congress … We talk to the military and say ‘Hey, your oath is to the Constitution, not to the president.'”

Mr. Velvel urged Mr. Daims to tamp down his call for activists to attempt to convince sympathetic officers to disobey orders. Mr. Velvel stressed the imperative to maintain “civilian control of the military,” which he called the “very thing that prevents a coup d’etat by the military in this country.”

Subsequent speakers spoke for and against the concept of anti-war activists bringing their message directly to members of the military. “We don’t want [the military] taking over our country. What we’ve come to realize is if we have to … protect ourselves in self defense, the military would possibly and, then only, step in to protect our civil efforts,” a former Nashua, N.H., state representative, Henry McElroy, said. Mr. McElroy urged that interested participants partake in a further planning session on the military after the conference.

The founder of and a member of the panel, David Swanson, said he made a “distinction between asking the military to seize illegal powers and asking members of the military to respect their obligation under the constitution … to disobey illegal orders.” He also pointed to a petition available at his Web site advising members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to “refuse illegal orders to attack Iran.”

Mr. Velvel put a cap to that discussion as well when he reminded participants that members of the Joint Chiefs have the option to resign their commissions when they disagree with orders. “The appropriate thing to do is resign, otherwise you have lost civilian control of the military,” he said.

It says something that the far left is so detached even from traditional American politics as well as the Democratic Party that some have turned to winning over individual members of the military to achieve their goal of ending military action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Before Sunday’s session began, I spoke to a handful of attendees, none of whom were enthusiastic about Mr. Obama’s candidacy. Typical was the director of the increasingly influential anti-war group, World Can’t Wait, Debra Sweet, who said she opposed Mr. Obama’s favoring of stepped up military action in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “A lot of the base of the anti-war movement is hoping that Obama is the anti-war candidate. I don’t for a minute believe that’s going to happen,” she said.

The big message coming out of the conference — aside from the discussion of the military — is that no matter what happens on Election Day, the anti-war movement will keep militating against Mr. Bush. Much like the debates over Richard Nixon and Watergate that continue to rage even today, the left will never be through with George W. Bush.

Mr. Gitell ( is a contributing editor of The New York Sun.

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