The first day he was deployed in Iraq, in November 2004, Sgt. Ricky Clousing found himself standing guard at the rear of an Army convoy after it stopped on a Baghdad street. His job was to turn back any vehicles that approached. So when a car turned toward them from a side street, he raised his weapon in warning and the car began to turn around. Clousing could see the driver's eyes clearly—just a scared and unthreatening young man. Then, from somewhere in the convoy, Clousing heard a "pop, pop, pop." Another soldier had fired at the car, killing him.
Clousing told that story and more about his appalling Iraq experience in a speech at Guilford College a few weeks before his court martial for desertion from the Army was scheduled to begin at Fort Bragg. That was in October. The trial ended with a plea agreement: Clousing was found guilty of being AWOL and was sentenced to serve three months in a military prison before receiving a bad-conduct discharge from the Army.
With good conduct, Clousing will be released this Friday or Saturday morning, and he'll head for Raleigh at midday Saturday to be greeted by human rights supporters at the Raleigh Friends Meeting House, 625 Tower St. (the street behind the Cameron Village Post Office). His reception is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., before he catches a flight from RDU back to his hometown of Seattle, Wash.
"Any friends of peace and G.I. resistance are welcome to share in the spirit of this courageous voice against injustice," says Chuck Fager, the director of Quaker House in Fayetteville and one of the event's chief organizers.
Quaker House provided a videotape of Clousing's talk at Guilford to the Independent. What he experienced is almost a parable of what the country's gone through since 9/11. Clousing, now 24, joined the Army in 2002 out of a combination of youthful idealism and a then still-forming spiritual faith. He thought America would be doing good fighting Al Qaeda. Instead, he ended up part of a military wrecking crew in Iraq that saw itself bound—in his view—by no rules of conduct, morality or even good sense.
The disconnect between Clousing enlisting to do good and his Iraq deployment was all the greater because after he was tested and found to have a facility for foreign languages, his training was extended over a period of 18 months, including a stint at the Army Language School in Monterey, Calif. Soldiers in training are kept away from the news, so when he learned that President Bush was invading Iraq as part of the war on terror, it was "weird" to him, but he didn't second-guess it, because what did he know?
But then he did know, because he was assigned in Iraq to be a front-line interrogator, not in a prison, but as part of an Army tactical human intelligence team—the guys who kick in the doors and arrest the terrorists. Except, as Clousing quickly discovered, the units had no idea who the terrorists were, so when bombs went off, they broke through whatever doors were close at hand.
Most disturbing to him—and I could see his eyes clearly on tape—was the reaction of his commanding officers when he tried to report the atrocities he saw.
The occupants of a house arrested without a shred of evidence then held incommunicado for months because the Army didn't know what to do with them? Soldiers getting their jollies sideswiping Iraqis' cars with a Humvee? A farmer's livestock shot and killed for sport? It didn't matter, Clousing found: "The command just swept [his reports] away like they really weren't a problem, which was really a testament to me of like, wow, nobody really cares."
And, of course, the unwarranted killing of the driver. The Army's attitude about such things, Clousing says, wasn't "That was somebody's son we killed." Instead, soldiers are taught to depersonalize things, and say "That sucks, just somebody in the wrong place at the wrong time."
But Clousing, by his own admission, just couldn't get with the desensitization process. And after wrestling with his conscience about whether he could truthfully claim to be a conscience objector and deciding that no, there were wars he would fight for his country, he simply up and left Fort Bragg in mid-2005 after he returned from his first Iraq tour and was awaiting assignment to his second.
He went home to Seattle and discovered that the Army's lack of accountability when it came to other soldiers' misconduct also applied to his. He wanted to turn himself in, be found AWOL, and be discharged. But until he forced the issue, speaking out at a Veterans for Peace rally in Seattle, neither his command at Bragg nor the ones his lawyer called at Fort Lewis in Seattle seemed to want anything to do with him.
The story of what it took for him to finally get arrested at Bragg is almost comical—his calls to Lewis were bucked to Bragg and vice versa; he was told his records were lost, but suddenly were found after he spoke out publicly against the war; and even then, he had to find his own way back to Bragg and knock on a bunch of different doors before a soldier finally did him the service of detaining him.
Fager, who counseled Clousing after he called the G.I. Hotline at Quaker House (not knowing his name at first), says what finally pushed Clousing out of the service was a promotion that had him training other soldiers at Bragg to be interrogators once they were sent to Iraq.
Now, it wasn't just a question of violating his own conscience, which was bad enough. Clousing was going to be a cog in a military operation that, far from doing good in—and for—Iraq, was making more and more Iraqis hate Americans every day. "The stupid self-destruction of it finally got to be too much for him," Fager says.
For more information about Quaker House in Fayetteville, see www.quakerhouse.org. For information about Saturday's reception in Raleigh, contact John Booth at Raleigh Friends Meeting, 516-3574, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com.