WASHINGTON (RNS) On the eve of Veterans Day, religious leaders and veterans called for a reconsideration of conscientious objection to war, saying military members should have the right to object to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for moral reasons.
In a report issued Wednesday (Nov. 10), the Truth Commission on Conscience in War called on the military to revise its rules to include "selective conscientious objection," and urged religious leaders to address issues of conscience during wartime.
"Training has made it so that our soldiers are much more reflexive than they are reflective about things that happen on the battlefield," said the Rev. Herman Keizer, a retired Army chaplain who once oversaw chaplains in the European Command.
"And when they do get an opportunity to reflect, that's when the moral issues really begin to roll."
Jake Diliberto, an evangelical Christian who co-founded the group Veterans for Rethinking Afghanistan, believes the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have become protracted and violate just war criteria.
"Today what started as Operation Enduring Freedom has turned into Operation Enduring Obligation," said Diliberto, who served with the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I still remember my friends who got killed. I still remember their faces and I remember the Iraqis who got killed."
The report states that current rules about conscientious objection requires an objection to "war in any form," creating a conflict for those who may have specific moral objections to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It denies freedom of religious practice and the exercise of moral conscience to those serving in the military who object to a particular war based on the moral criteria of just war, which the military itself teaches and upholds as important," the report reads.
The report notes that military rules dating to the time of the Vietnam draft leave no legal basis for objection for someone who believes "participation implicates them in an immoral war or in war crimes."
Coalition members said Wednesday their calls for review of conscientious objection reflect a specific opposition to the use of torture.
In recent days, other religious leaders have criticized former President George W. Bush's defiant comments in a new memoir that he permitted waterboarding of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
"Former President Bush should be ashamed of his decision to torture detainees," said the Rev. Richard L. Killmer, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. "His decision to allow the use of torture was both illegal and immoral."
The Truth Commission on Conscience in War is sponsored by Faith Voices for the Common Good, a California-based progressive organization that focuses on war and peace; and Luna Productions, a company that produced a PBS documentary on issues of conscience in war.
Co-sponsoring organizations include the National Council of Churches, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Unitarian Universalist Association and peace fellowships of Baptists, Buddhists and Jews.
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