When Sojourners reported on conscientious objectors during the Persian Gulf war (see "On the Front Lines of Resistance," April 1991), we heard story after story of CO applicants who were forced -- some in manacles and chains -- to deploy to Saudi Arabia. Once in the Gulf, their CO applications were to be processed -- or so they were told.
However, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) recently stated that it knew of no successful CO claim filed while serving in the Gulf; and AFSC and other agencies offering military counseling say only a handful of CO claims submitted since the beginning of Operation Desert Shield last August have been granted.
Hundreds of CO hopefuls saw the handwriting on the wall, and went AWOL rather than be put in the position of killing on command against their conscience or religious convictions. And now, as the American GIs continue to come home to a hero's welcome, many who refused to participate in Operation Desert Storm are paying a high cost for their crime of conscience.
At military bases around the country, COs are now viewed by their peers and officers as "cowards" and "commies." In fact, many say they have suffered harassment and humiliation at the hands of the U.S. military.
Some COs have been placed in solitary confinement, received death threats, been subjected to routine sleep deprivation, and been encouraged to inform on other COs in exchange for more lenient treatment. Standard CO hearings have turned into drawn-out, abusive interrogations by military officers.
"I suddenly realized what it can mean to be a dissident in this country," Sgt. Linda Loteczka of Hartford, Connecticut, told the National Catholic Reporter, describing a four-hour interrogation by an investigating officer.