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Courageous Soldier Chooses Conscience Over Career
By Carol Rawert Trainer
This is the story of a courageous young man, PFC James Burmeister, who spoke out against the Iraq War and illegal and immoral tactics. James enlisted in the US Army on June 29, 2005. He served in combat in Iraq as part of Unit 1-18, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry from September 2006 to late February, 2007. When James returned to Germany for R&R from Iraq he was diagnosed with PTSD by military psychologist, Major Bacon. James was prescribed a variety of drugs which affected his ability to focus, eye-hand coordination and judgment. Major Bacon suspected James may have had a traumatic brain injury. Maj. Bacon did not recommend James for redeployment to Iraq but the Commander of the Rear Detachment and James' First Sergeant pressured and intimidated James and ordered him to Iraq immediately. He was ordered to tell Maj. Bacon, the Psychologist, that he was fine and was ready for redeployment in spite of his PTSD and medicated state.
On May 4, 2007 James left Germany and boarded a plane to Toronto, Canada where he lived until March 1, 2007. While in Canada James suffered from seizures, numbness, nosebleeds and was diagnosed with PTSD. He also made a moral decision to bring an end to the Bait and Kill (B&K) tactics the Army was using to lure and kill innocent Iraqi citizens. James spoke out to Courage to Resist and other news agencies to help end the tactics. In February the US government deemed Bait and Kill as illegal and immoral so James prepared to turn himself in at Ft. Knox since his goal to end the immoral tactics was accomplished.
On March 4, 2008 James voluntarily turned himself into Ft. Knox army base in Kentucky after being AWOL for 10 months. He wrote to his Congressman Peter DeFazio (Eugene, Oregon) to request assistance and treatment for his PTSD.
On June 3, 2008 the Army read the charges to James: Desertion, Bad Conduct Discharge and a Special Court Martial with up to 5 years in prison time. James had a civilian attorney, James Branum, but later switched to a Judge Advocate General (JAG) attorney.
CNN had just had a story about how Canada was closing its doors to US war resisters. Now the Army will think that it can really put the squeeze on and pressure any other troops who may get the idea to follow in James's footsteps.
The Defense stated that on R&R from Baghdad James had time to consider his part in the B&K tactics used to lure and kill innocent Iraqis. He went AWOL to Canada and applied for refugee status. He stated that when James realized that he was successful in helping to stop the use of B&K tactics that James turned himself in to the authorities at Ft. Knox. He said he could have refused orders, but the chain of command in Baghdad told him to keep quiet about the B&K tactics. James decided not to go through the chain of command because he knew it would go nowhere. He decided to leave his unit in order to get the word out. He heard about Vietnam War resisters who got the word out and decided to follow their example.
James agreed that he was absent 4 May 07 from his unit-118 Infantry W. Co. and he left that day. He said nothing forced him to be absent and that he agreed that he was wrong. James pled guilty to get a limited sentence.
The trial counselor said that maximum punishment is generally given: reduction from PFC to E1, reduction of pay, Bad Discharge, 12 months in jail and a possible fine. The judge stated to James that he knowingly waived his rights against self incrimination.
James' Defense stated that in James' first 21 days in PCF (Personnel Confinement Facility). There were no doors in the rooms, the facility was monitored with video cameras, liberty was restricted and they were only allowed to leave with an escort.
He will probably serve a total of four months having 21 days deducted for time already served and also 5 days off each month for good behavior. His rank will be reduced from PFC to E-1, his pay will be reduced by 2/3 (I don't know how. They hadn't been paying him much to begin with) and he will receive a bad conduct discharge that will follow him the rest of his life-unless there is a way to overturn it. That should be our next step of action.
James stood up for his beliefs that life is sacred and the killing of innocent people is immoral. James is a hero to many of us! He can walk with his head held high. It is the government and the prosecution that should be ashamed for choosing careers over conscience.
How to write supportive letters to Burmeister
• James can receive as much mail as is sent. He does not have to pre-approve senders.
• Letters must not have any stickers on them or they will be returned.
• Letters can contain photos as long as they are decent photos with no graphic content.
• Letters must be addressed as follows:
Building 7741 PMB
1158 Gold Vault Rd
Fort Knox, KY 40121-5184
• He can only receive packages if he has requested an approval (something called a 5-10). Once he has inititated that process from inside, packages can be sent. They must contain only what it has been pre-approved to contain. James must present the permission at post office once they call him to pick up his package.
• No pens or paper or anything can be sent. He has to order those through the prison.
Carol Rawert Trainer is a Vietnam-era vet (USAF, A1C, 1965–68) and a member of VVAW.
Kentuckiana VVAW in support of PFC James Burmeister