BERKELEY, CALIF.: Calls for unconditional amnesty for military resisters
Apr 9, 2010
In the first action of its type during the current U.S. wars in Iraq,
Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Berkeley, Calif., City Council on March 9 passed
a resolution entitled, “Universal and Unconditional Amnesty for Iraq,
Afghanistan, and Pakistan War Military Resisters and Veterans Who Acted In
Opposition to the War for Matters of Conscience,” according to a report
from Courage to Resist.
“Amnesty” means that any charges or remaining punishment are
officially “forgotten.” “Unconditional” means no
strings attached. “Universal” means it would apply to all
convictions or pending charges related to resistance to or refusal to serve in
the current U.S. wars, as well as going absent without leave.
This amnesty would include all veterans with less than honorable discharges
for such resistance. The call adds that such veterans should have their
discharges automatically upgraded to honorable, and that they should be
entitled to all benefits.
Bob Meola, Berkeley peace and justice commissioner who wrote the original
draft of the resolution, stated, “I hope this resolution will serve as a
model and inspire cities and towns across the United States to pass similar
resolutions and ignite a movement which will result in Universal and
Unconditional Amnesty for Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan war resisters and
“The troops who have had the courage to resist have been traumatized
enough. They have followed their consciences and deserve healing and support
and appreciation from people everywhere. The GI Resistance movement is growing.
Its members are heroes and sheroes and should be treated as such when they are
welcomed back into civilian society.”
The new resolution deepens the city’s anti-war commitment, which in
2007 made Berkeley a “sanctuary city” for military
resisters and draft registration resisters.
First demanded during war on Vietnam
To end punishment of U.S. resisters to the Vietnam war, the newsletter of
U.S. war resisters in Canada at that time, AMEX/Canada, in 1973 was first to
formulate the demand for universal unconditional amnesty. The demand became the
focus of a broad campaign based on an alliance of exiled war resisters,
anti-war veterans and active-duty GIs, with strong support from pacifist, civil
liberties and religious groups.
The campaign featured bold defiance of government efforts to punish
resisters, who would “surface” at anti-war conferences, political
conventions and congressional hearings — most often unannounced —
demonstrating widespread support for resistance and amnesty.
This campaign induced President Jimmy Carter to grant unconditional amnesty
to resisters following the U.S. War in Vietnam, in January 1977. Carter felt
the pressure after one exiled resister, Fritz Efaw, surfaced at the 1976
National Democratic Convention as part of the “Democrats Abroad”
delegation, and was nominated for vice president by Gold Star mother Louise
Ransom (whose son was killed in Vietnam combat). Disabled Vietnam veteran Ron
Kovic, author of “Born on the Fourth of July,” seconded the
nomination, and stunned the delegates into total silence followed by a standing
Amnesty for all!
In the wake of last month’s gigantic demonstration in Washington,
D.C., by immigrants and their supporters calling for full and complete
legalization for all people in this country without official documentation, the
new call for amnesty for war resisters should simply extend to include both
The same is true for sanctuary — a type of solidarity that has been
extended for decades to both groups by churches, unions, cities and
individuals. The concept of sanctuary actually emerged in the Middle Ages, when
churches often had parallel power with civil authorities. A person or group
could seek protection in a church from oppressive authorities and thus avoid
capture and punishment.
Today, just as in the past, the fight for amnesty and sanctuary is a battle
for the right to resist unjust governmental power. And it is a way for
progressive people to exercise their own power and force an end to militarism
For regular updates on the GI resistance, see
Dee Knight was an editor of AMEX/Canada from 1968 to 1974 and served as
a coordinator of the National Council for Universal Unconditional Amnesty from
1974 to 1975.