Jonathan Barriga--Conscientious Objector and His Fight with the Marine Corps
Jonathan Barriga--Conscientious Objector and His Fight with the Marine Corps
By: Jack Dalton
Jonathan was a young man in high school when the Marine recruiter approached him about joining the Marines “Delayed Entry” program. That’s where a young person under-age and still in school, with parents permission, can sign on the bottom line, supposedly receive an enlistment bonus, then once out of high school straight off to Boot Camp. That’s pretty much how it happened with Jonathan; who is now at the Marine Corps Base, Camp Geiger, N.C. This is the very same base Trent Helmkamp was at, and where he underwent an outrageous ten month ordeal after submitting paperwork as a Conscientious Objector. Not only is Jonathan at the very same base, but he is also in the very same Separation Barracks and under the very same command as was Trent.
After 8 months, the conscientious objector application Jonathan submitted according to all military law, rules and regulations, Jonathans command has not even begun to process his application. It would seem that today’s Army does not think its command structure has to follow its own laws, rules and regulations when it comes to those who stand as conscientious objectors. In fact just two weeks ago, Jonathan’s new Commanding Officer told Jonathan, “you might as well start training as your C.O. application is never going to be approved.”
The military is really slick, especially the Marine Corps (that’s the branch of military I was in) in how they not only approach these kids in school, but in who they have approach them and their parents. The “how and who” in Jonathan’s case really points out just how “slick” military recruiters are. Jonathan’s parents immigrated to this country from Ecuador. Jonathan’s mother does not speak English and his father speaks broken English. Jonathan is first generation born in this country.
When Jonathan’s parents answered the knock at their front door, there in the doorway stood a tall, smartly dressed Marine in full dress uniform—a most impressive sight. There was no language barrier as the Marine recruiter that was sent to convince Jonathan’s parents to give their permission for Jonathan to enlist in the Delayed Entry program also had immigrated to this country from Ecuador. Get the picture?
This fellow “countryman” the Marine Corps sent to hustle Jonathan and his parents did a really good job at it. After the recruiter made a lot of promises and guarantees that, to paraphrase, “I will be there to watch over him; those of us from Ecuador after all have to stick together.” This recruiter then went on to tell Jonathan and his parents, “as an electrician, you will not be going into combat or even be traing for combat.” Jonathan and his parents signed the Delayed Entry papers behind these statements of this recruiter.
Jonathan and his parents had just been conned and hustled by one of the Marine Corps so-called “finest.” At the same time this Marine Corps recruiter had just committed the Corps to a verbal contract in terms of what Jonathan would and would not be doing. And, yes, I know that verbal contracts don’t hold water with the military. Hell, today, written contracts don’t hold water in today’s military from what I have been seeing. But Jonathan and his parents didn’t know that. They believed what the recruiter told them, which under the circumstances is understandable.
Jonathan was now in the Marines Delayed Entry program. According to Jonathan, “I joined the Marines because of my recruiter’s good way of talking.” But then Jonathan told me, “Before leaving for Boot Camp I got this feeling like I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I told my recruiter I didn’t want to go no more, that I think it’s not for me.” Rather than take the chance of a bad fitness report that would prevent promotion, Jonathan’s recruiter told him, “…I can’t; it’s too late.” So off to Boot Camp went Jonathan.
When Jonathan arrived at Marine Boot Camp, things went from bad to worse for him. According to Jonathan, “…that’s when it hit me, I’ve been lied to.” Jonathan went on to say, “everything that was said to us recruits was ‘kill’…I remember plenty of times while getting disciplined, the drill instructor would be screaming we need to be ready and tougher; that we need to be able to kill a little kid…coming at you and have no physical or mental feeling towards it and carry on.”
For crying out loud, Jonathan is still a “kid” himself! Kids with guns killing other kids with guns; and that is called “spreading freedom and democracy” by the megalomaniacs in Washington, D.C.—the people I refer to as Bush & Co and that my friend Dr Steven Jonas at “The Political Junkies” calls the “Georgites.”
Jonathan’s conscientious objection crystallized even more when the time came to train with the M16. Jonathan says it best: “The force and power that the weapon contained was incredible. I held in my hands what can determine a human beings fate as well as mine. The severity of killing became more apparent when we were trained to shoot at targets in the shape of human beings. Although it was not made of flesh and blood, it made me feel depressed. I actually talked to my drill instructor on several occasions telling him, I couldn’t continue with further training. I didn’t fully express my objection to war or killing due to being intimidated by what would happen if I did. None the less, he [drill instructor] told me to “suck it up” and that I can’t [stop training] because I signed a piece of paper called a “contract.”
When Jonathan graduated from Boot Camp at Parris Island in Nov. 2004, he went home for leave. By the time he got home he was in a state of total depression and a lot of stress. It was while he was at home on leave that Jonathan filled out the military’s forms to file as a conscientious objector. When his leave was over he reported to his next duty station at Camp Geiger, N.C. which is right next door to Camp Lejeune, where AWOL’s and “suicides” are increasing in numbers. As soon as Jonathan got to Camp Geiger on Dec. 7. 2004, he filed his paperwork as a conscientious objector.
8 months later, Jonathan’s application is still sitting on some Colonels desk. Two of the people at Camp Geiger that held up Trent Helmkamp’s CO paperwork and gave him such a bad time were the same people that would be handling Jonathans application, Maj. Laws and 1st Sgt Watkins—it you remember it was 1st Sgt Watkins that called Trent a “F…..g faggot conscientious objector.”
No wonder Jonathan was so intimidated and did not fully express his objection to war—he was in the very same Separation Barracks as was Trent and Jonathan saw on a daily basis what the Marine Corps subjected Trent to after he made application as a C.O. 4 different young men in those barracks have attempted suicide in the past 4 or 5 months—something is seriously wrong at Camp Geiger and Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Over the months Jonathan has had three interviews and all three of those that interviewed Jonathan all have said the very same thing: “…all three have found me to be a conscientious objector within the military’s regulations and meaning.” However, Jonathan was told by Maj. Laws, “my investigating officer I appointed recommended you for a discharge but that doesn’t mean that I have to.” That was Jan. 2005. Since then Jonathan has heard nothing other than what his new commanding office told him two weeks ago, “you might as well start training as your application is never going to be approved.”
Someone I have gotten to know over the past year, and who is an active duty high-ranking officer with 26 years of service under his belt, wrote to me just today and relayed a conversation he had with a British officer. The conversation was about “conscientious objectors” how they are handled in this country and how they are handled in Briton. It is more than worth looking at and then taking note of: “While In England a few weeks ago, I was talking to fellow RN officers I know about Trent, and they were dumbfounded when I told them Trent could not get out on the basis of his beliefs. They told me Royal Marines who objected to killing would be released and without stigma.” Could our military “leaders” learn from that or what?
Here in this nation, as a direct result of the total top-down insanity unleashed by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, and the rest of that totalitarianistic mob of Mayberry Machiavellis’, people who apply as a conscientious objectors are turned into “criminals” and I use that loosely as the only criminals are the ones in charge of this Twilight Zone episode.
“Is this what we have allowed this nation to become? Lives that are not our own, but the states to do with as it will when it will? That’s not an all volunteer military, that’s called forced indenture—once it was called slavery.”
This nation set up the process by where those in uniform that refuse to participate in war as a matter of moral principle and conscience, may make application as a conscientious objector. The procedures and process are very well spelled out for the applicant and the military. The problem comes in due to the simple fact the military uses its own laws, rules and regulations to create a major obstacle and stumbling block for those that make application as a C.O. Let’s hear it for the “rule of law” which does not seem to exist in today’s politicized military.
At one time in this nation individuals had the right to choose how to live their own lives; what they would do; where they would work; what kind of work they would do; at least until now. If, when after starting a “job” the individual decided, nope, this is not for me, they could quit and move on from there. Now we are in a situation where a person that goes into the military full of John Wayne movies (what can I say, I’m old), highly trained military recruiters who know how to get inside a kids head and computer generated war games gets confronted with the reality of the military and its mission says, “nope, I cannot do this,” and then is criminalized for not wanting to kill or even learn how to kill.
For decades we have been told that “serving in the military is the highest form of national duty and service.” And for decades people have enlisted in great numbers to stand against all the so-called “enemies” our government has told us wanted our national downfall. In fact that was what motivated me to enlist in the Marine Corps behind the Cuban missile “crisis” in Oct of 1962—gotta stop our “enemies.”
Some of us, once we got to boot camp, understood that there were some people who just did not belong in uniform. Some were not physically able and no amount of training or “motivation platoons” would change that. Others were not mentally or emotionally fit for military service. That in no way is meant to impugn those not mentally or emotionally fit to be in the military—it’s just a statement of fact. And young Jonathan Berriga definitely does not belong in the Marine Corps. So why won’t those in command and control at Camp Geiger just do what the investigating officers recommended and discharge Jonathan?
The following from an active duty Naval Captain may have more than just a little to do with why not: “…ill-equipped to make a determination with respect to an individual's desire for status as a Conscientious Objector. Military Officers are not trained to make these kinds of assessments. More importantly, line officers are compromised from the start and should not be placed in this position because a positive endorsement on their part is currently culturally unacceptable in the officer corps generally and could impugn the credibility and professionalism of the Investigating Officer specifically - especially in the Marine Corps where the "warrior ethos" is strongly espoused at commissioning and reinforced daily thereafter. Officers will deny this bias and publicly, firmly deny that they are to act as expected. Yet we cannot deny that competition for promotion is keen and an officer's decision to be supportive of a Conscientious Objector while on the cusp of further promotion is an extraordinarily difficult prospect just prior to his 20th year of service when vested in retirement.
These are especially difficult decisions when many must ensure they will be retained at mid-career and have a retirement for the benefit of their family - generally, no blemish on an officer's service record is sustainable.
I am not suggesting that comments on an officer supporting an applicant for Conscientious Objector status would appear in detail on his annual Fitness Report, but his judgment might well be questioned and marks that are less than superior in any category will cause promotion board members to reject an officer when most competitive officers present perfect records. Grade inflation has been and remains a well documented problem within the services and has caused several "course corrections" to be made to governing instructions for officer fitness reports and enlisted evaluations. With a very limited number of promotion spots available, it is difficult to blame an officer for not wanting to "stand-out" from his peers for any reason other than superior performance in an "acceptable" realm - such as combat.”
“Since most all records presented before promotion boards are those of superior performers, board members must hunt for any fault, weakness or some data-point that is "less-than-perfect" to distinguish between those eligible for promotion. Of course, as you know, not everyone can be promoted as officer corps manning is limited (by rank) by Congress so even small discrepancies in an officer's record can make the difference between being promoted or not. Some might consider the process cut-throat, or Darwinian or just simply unfair; but whatever you call it, it's the process we have, like it or not. Nevertheless, we can not blame the Investigating Officers for the environment they are subjected to, but we must understand the impact the system might have on an officer's decision process and eventually, his clear-minded willingness to render a recommendation for approval.”
“Additionally, it would not surprise me if the officers would prefer that Conscientious Objector applicants simply go on Unauthorized Absence and eventually become Deserters rather than having to deal with the staff work associated with preparing and investigating the application for the desired status.”
”Separations for reasons of misconduct are, after all, a "face-saving" alternative to admitting that our recruiting process does not properly disclose, in sufficient detail, the ugliness of combat to young enlistees. Perhaps instead of handing out decals, tee-shirts, and other do-dads to potential recruits, the services should provide some kind of realistic portrayal of the Services' combat performance expectations by MOS before the contract is signed. I simply do not believe proper, full-disclosure is provided our recruits. Certainly no "amnesty program" exists at Boot Camp to excuse recruits who begin to understand better what is expected of them personally after they are placed in training and then decide they can not live with some aspects of these requirements burdening their conscious for the rest of their lives. The value and right to a free conscious, after all, is what this is all about.”
The contract Jonathan signed as far as I am concerned is null and void. Bush & Co along with the military voided that contract by this war of choice, this war of aggression, this war against the peace in Iraq. As such, Jonathan has all the right in the world to be let out of the Marine Corps.
“Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace” is exactly what this nation is being led into by a relatively small group of hard core neo-cons with an army of pundits, religious zealots, corporate greed merchants and “Mayberry Machiavelli’s” comprised of: the Project for a New American Century; the Carlyle Group; the Heritage Foundation; the American Enterprise Institute; the Club for Growth; and the Federalist Society. All of whom are at the head of the BushCo parade attempting to redefine this nation.
This is by no means all that comprise the menagerie of megalomaniacs pulling the strings of “government.” But these “groups” are pretty much at the top of the heap of those that “help” formulate what the foreign and domestic policies emanating from the Bush administration and Congress will be. And have led this nation to where it is now today and it is due to the Bush & Co policies that have put Jonathan in the position he is in; it is those same policies that has caused the imprisonment of Kevin Benderman for doing nothing more that declaring himself a conscientious objector.
Butler Shaffer sums things up rather nicely in his essay, The Exploitation of Soldiers:
“Politically-structured societies wallow in lies and, in so doing, tear apart the fabric of decent social behavior. War, by its very nature, is sociopathic, as are those who plan for and execute the systematic slaughter of millions of persons. The idea of a "just" or "moral" war is so palpably absurd as to make even its suggestion a basis for questioning the sanity of its advocates. War makes "heroic" and "honorable" that which, if done privately, would render one a despicable criminal. We rightly condemn the serial killer who murders ten or twelve victims, while rewarding those who plot the political murders of hundreds of thousands with high political office or the Nobel Peace Prize!
It has been encouraging to observe, in recent months, the emergence of an apparent awareness among many American soldiers of the insanity of the war system, particularly as it has been playing out in Iraq. Soldiers have refused to obey orders that would send them on life-threatening missions; others have spoken out about the lack of adequate armor and protective equipment; still others have questioned the national purpose and/or morality of their participation in the killing of innocent people, particularly children. A number of soldiers have brought a lawsuit challenging the continuation of their service beyond the original commitment. Not surprising, National Guard officials announced that enlistments have fallen well below anticipated levels.”
Thru all of this I am absolutely certain of this: recruiters have absolutely no business hustling kids to join the military while they are in school. And the situation Jonathan is now faced with clearly points that out. On top of that, the “war” these kids are being trained to go fight is by all standards of international law, illegal on face value!
So why do we sit back and continue to allow young men like Jonathan, Trent among many others to be brutalized in the manner they are; why do we continue to sit by as men like Kevin Benderman are sent to prison only because they believe in the immorality of war and especially one like this in Iraq which was initiated on nothing but lies, manipulation and disinformation; and one that has absolutely nothing to do with defending or protecting this nation. If anything this Bush & Co war of choice has made this nation one great big target. Let those that started this mess as well as those that support it send their kids to go fight it and leave everyone else the hell alone! Especially the nation’s young people in school.
Free Kevin Benderman—Free Jonathan Barriga!
As Recruiting Suffers, Military Reigns in Abuses at Boot Camp
Military Recruiters Teaching High School Classes
Center on Conscience and War
Military Families Speak Out
Gold Star Families For Peace
Traprock Peace Center
Leave My Child Alone
Child Victims of War
Jack Dalton is a disabled Vietnam veteran an anti-war independent writer that lives in Portland, Or. and is published widely on the internet. His blog is “Jack’s Staright-Speak” and his email address is email@example.com