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For immediate release: 10/9/09. CONTACT:
Executive Director, G.I. Voice
Staff member, Coffee Strong
James M. Branum
Civilian Defense Attorney for Travis Bishop & Leo Church
405-476-5620 or 866-933-2769
Attorney reports human rights abuses of G.I. resisters in Fort Lewis Brig;
Veterans’ groups call Tuesday, October 13 Press Conference in Seattle Marriott
Fort Lewis, Washington, October 9, 2009 – Veterans’ groups are reacting with alarm to reports that two Army soldiers imprisoned in the Fort Lewis Regional Correctional Facility (RCF) have been subjected to human rights abuses. Travis Bishop (recognized by Amnesty International as a “Prisoner of Conscience”) resisted deployment to Afghanistan, and Leo Church left his unit to prevent his family from going homeless. Their civilian defense attorney James M. Branum reports that they have been strip-searched while being possibly filmed. Bishop and Church have also been watched by female guards during strip searches, while using the restroom and in the showers. The prisoners were denied one in-person visit by counsel and all phone calls with their attorneys have been illegally monitored by guards. G.I. Voice and other veteran-led groups are holding a press conference with Branum and other spokespeople, on Tuesday at 10:00 am in the East Room of the Marriott Renaissance Hotel Seattle (515 Madison).
Seth Manzel, a Fort Lewis Stryker Brigade veteran and executive director of G.I. Voice, commented, “These techniques of sexual humiliation are far too similar to those practiced on foreign prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Bagram in Afghanistan. Is the Army at Fort Lewis using enhanced interrogation techniques to break down American soldiers here at home?”
James M. Branum, the civilian defense attorney for Bishop and Church, says “The Fort Lewis Brig is violating the constitutional rights of my clients, namely their protections under the Eighth Amendment (the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment) and the Sixth Amendment (the right to counsel). This mistreatment must end.”
Other attorneys and military veteran bloggers have long commented on reports of human rights abuses in the RCF, including the use of female guards to sexually humiliate prisoners. The reports include the 2005 case of Michael Levitt, who plugged up his cell toilet in response to reported sexual humiliation by guards, and was then chained to a “stress-chair” (with metal frames but not seat) for 109 hours. Other war resisters, such as Sgt. Kevin Benderman and Spc. Suzanne Swift, have been held at the Fort Lewis RCF.
Sgt. Travis Bishop arrived at Fort Lewis one month ago to serve a 12-month sentence in the RCF, and was recognized by Amnesty International as a “Prisoner of Conscience.” Bishop refused orders to deploy to Afghanistan based on religious reasons, and applied for Conscientious Objector (CO) status. He went AWOL (Absent Without Leave) from Fort Hood, Texas, on the day of his deployment to give himself “time to prepare for my application process.” He was away from his unit for about a week, during which he drafted his CO application and sought legal advice. He returned voluntarily, and on his return to the unit he submitted his application, but was court martialed even as the Army was still reviewing it.
Travis Bishop is also an accomplished country musician. He opened for Toby Keith while serving in Baghdad with the 3rd Signal Brigade in 2007, as well as country stars Keith Anderson and Chely Wright (see links below). G.I. Voice is calling on country musicians and fans to come to the support of Travis Bishop.
Leo Church, another Fort Hood soldier, is also imprisoned in the Fort Lewis RCF. Church went AWOL to prevent his wife and children from becoming homeless. He tried to get help from his unit, but was denied, and received 8 months prison time. Church was eventually forced by this ordeal to give his son up for adoption. According to Church, “With everything that was going on, from me leaving, even though it was to care for my family, because I could find no support from the Army, Amanda and I had to place our son, Austin in a loving home through adoption. We did not want him enduring the strife that we had endured and for him to end up being fatherless, because I would be living in prison.”
Andrew VanDenBergh, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War and G.I. Voice staff member, said of Leo Church, “He joined the Army, found out his family was homeless, wasn’t allowed to keep his children from living on the streets, went to take care of his family, had to give a child up for adoption and is now locked in prison and being abused. Being abused for what? For taking care of his children?”
Fort Lewis continues to be a center of controversy, with the recent revelation that a civilian security employee has been spying on groups opposing the shipment of Strykers through local ports. Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq, was recently discharged from service after the Army dropped remaining charges against him. One year ago, G.I. Voice opened the “Coffee Strong” as a G.I. coffeehouse for servicemembers and their families around Fort Lewis to gather and share information, as well as a resource for those facing problems with service.
Also on Tuesday, October 13, Marjorie Cohn, President of the National Lawyers’ Guild (and national advisory board member for G.I. Voice) will be speaking at Coffee Strong about her new book The Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent. She is a leading voice demanding that members of the Bush Administration be prosecuted for war crimes. She also condemns both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as illegal under international law, not as self-defense of the United States. She will speak at 7:00 – 8:30 pm at Coffee Strong, located off I-5 Exit 122 (Berkeley St.), at 15109 Union Ave. SW (next to Subway) in Lakewood, WA. The event is free and open to the public. For information call (253) 581-1565, or go to G.I. Voice at http://www.givoice.org
G.I. Voice / Coffee Strong
Coffee Strong: Listening to the G.I. Voice at Fort Lewis (Zoltan Grossman)
Army Prisoners Isolated, Denied Right to Legal Counsel (Dahr Jamail)
Free Leo Church (Legal Defense Fund)
Free Travis Bishop (Legal Defense Fund)
Amnesty International declaration on Travis Bishop
Sgt. Travis Bishop Says No to Afghanistan Occupation
New Country Star interview of Travis Bishop in Iraq
Travis Bishop Music
Veterans’ articles on human rights violations in Fort Lewis RCF
Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (Marjorie Cohn)
Letters from Fort Lewis Brig (Kevin Benderman)
Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent
(Marjorie Cohn and Katheleen Gilberd)