Dear Secretary Hagel,
Congratulations on your confirmation to the office of Secretary of Defense. As you take the reins of this new position, Veterans For Peace would like to express to you some ideas about what we would like to see from this office. Veterans For Peace (VFP) has been around since 1985 and was formed by a Viet Nam veteran with the intention of creating a bridge between the peace movement and veterans. VFP members believe that our collective experience as veterans allows us to speak about the true costs and consequences of war and militarism with a voice of credibility and true standing. We feel a responsibility to speak out against war and militarism, particularly when it is manifested in illegal and immoral wars of choice and aggression. We appreciate very much that President Obama has chosen you–someone who has seen first-hand the horrors of combat–to fill the position of Secretary of Defense. Like the members of VFP, your voice will carry an extraordinary credibility, because you understand war in a way that a civilian cannot. It will not be easy to dismiss your words when you caution against military force, or speak in favor of abiding by the Geneva Conventions. We hope that you will become a force for reshaping the Department of Defense, by consideration of the following:
1. Refuse to put troops into harm’s way as part of an illegal, immoral war of aggression. The 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), signed as a knee-jerk reaction to 9/11 has been used, first by the Bush administration, and now by the Obama administration, as a blank check for perpetual war. As the Secretary of Defense, you should refuse to deploy any combat troops until Congress provides a legally binding authorization to do so. As a combat veteran, you truly understand that no one should be asked to kill or be killed for a war of choice, particularly one that has not even been legally authorized. Demand adherence to the War Powers Act.
2. Take responsibility for the deaths, damage and harm done by the U.S. The “Collateral Murder” video leaked to Wikileaks showed the world just one instance of war crimes conducted by U.S. forces. For the United States to have any moral credibility whatsoever, we must take responsibility for our actions.
3. State unequivocally that the U.S. will abide by the Geneva Conventions and will not torture, or participate in the extraordinary rendition of prisoners.
4. Stop the illegal use of combat drones that are responsible the extrajudicial assassinations of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
5. Call for the closure of all U.S. military bases in foreign countries. The U.S. currently has military troops stationed in more than 150 countries around the world. Bringing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan and around the world back to the U.S. will send a strong message to the international community that the U.S. is not interested in hegemony, or in being the world’s policeman.
6. Call for the dismantlement of all nuclear weapons, and immediately take nuclear weapons off of naval vessels. There can never be a justified use of a nuclear weapon and if the U.S. is going to demand that other countries refrain from obtaining nuclear weapons capabilities, then it needs to lead the way in disarmament.
7. Stop the use of Depleted Uranium weapons. “DU” weapons violate the Geneva Conventions. Once exploded, DU particulates enter ground water, travel on air currents, and are inhaled by innocent civilians. DU weapons are responsible for a huge spike in deformities, birth defects and other ailments in Iraq where they were widely used.
8. End foreign military sales to countries who violate international laws and basic human rights, and who have child soldiers.
9. Push to become a signatory to the Land Mine treaty. The international community recognizes land mines and cluster bombs as weapons that kill a high number of civilians, often long after the “official” conflict is over.
10. Slash the Pentagon budget. The U.S. spends more on the military and war than the rest of the world combined.
Bring our war dollars home.
In summary, we hope that you will use your unique qualifications and experience to push this administration into adherence with international law. We urge you, as fellow veterans, to use your voice, your influence, and your power to guide and inform this administration towards a new type of Department of “Defense…” one that uses military force only for its actual defense.