Iraq vet arrested at protest of military recruiters – “We won’t let students be vulnerable”

Iraq vet arrested at protest of military recruiters
“We won’t let students be vulnerable”

By Nicole Colson | November 4, 2005 | Page 12 – Socialist Worker Online

“I CAME to Kent State because I figured that Kent is the total opposite of what the military is like.” But Kent State University student, former Marine and antiwar activist Dave Airhart was in for a shock when his involvement in a protest against military recruiters on campus last month left him with fines and facing possible disciplinary action at school.

On October 19, Airhart, a member of the Kent State Anti-War Committee (KSAWC), took part in a protest against the recruiters, who had set up a rock-climbing wall on campus to help entice students to talk to them. The recruiters weren’t prepared when Airhart–who served in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo Bay before leaving the military in 2004–scaled the wall and hung a banner reading “Kent, Ohio for Peace.”

“They sent an Army recruiter up to get me, so I climbed down the back of the wall and I also had to take off my harness to do that,” explained Airhart. “Those two things are what they said ‘endangered me.’ They also said that I endangered others, because they claim that I could have made the wall fall over.”

When police showed up 10 minutes later, Airhart was briefly detained, and then given a $105 ticket for disorderly conduct. “I’m also in trouble with the university,” he explained. “I might get expelled or suspended for a couple of semesters.”

But while Airhart faces a November 16 disciplinary hearing, Kent State administrators stayed silent about the fact that one of the recruiters assaulted him–grabbing his shirt and trying to yank him off the wall as he was climbing down. Additionally, says Airhart, Kent’s own anti-discrimination policy prohibits the military from setting foot onto campus.

“I guess I didn’t realize how much Kent State values the military recruiters,” said Airhart. “It’s sad because they’re putting an entire campus in danger, and they’re allowing Kent State to be used as a supplier of bodies to be sent over to Iraq.”

Airhart knows firsthand what students who are recruited may face in the military. Against the war from the beginning, he explained that during his time in Iraq, “not all, but most of the casualties I saw were civilian casualties. Children, women, elderly. Mostly civilians… Also, I’d say 90 percent of the casualties inflicted on my unit were from friendly fire–mostly close air support, bombing raids that would end up killing more of us and more civilians than it would kill insurgents.”

When he served in Guantánamo, Airhart said that part of his job included transporting prisoners from the airport to the prison camp. “There was a school bus that we had taken the seats out of,” he said. “We’d put them on the school bus, and drive them back to Camp X-Ray…

“We were encouraged by our officers to be extremely brutal and violent with [the prisoners]. Even if they made the slightest movement, like maybe they moved their finger or took too deep of a breath, we were told to kick them in different sensitive areas, like their ribs. A lot of times they were just beaten for entertainment purposes.”

Now, Airhart is one of a growing chorus of voices on campuses across the country speaking out to say that not one more person should be sent to kill and be killed for oil and empire.

Prominent activists, including Howard Zinn and war resisters Pablo Paredes and Camilo Mejía have risen to Airhart’s defense. “Surely, the memory of that shameful episode at Kent State in 1970 would be enough to make the university administration sensitive to unjust wars and the right of protest,” Zinn wrote in a recent letter to Kent State President Carol Cartwright. “A university should not be subservient to government, or the military, especially where an immoral war is taking the lives of so many people here and abroad. And a university should protect its students, not punish them, for engaging in that honored American tradition of protest against injustice.”

As Paredes said in a statement, “Dave Airhart did not climb a playful climbing wall, he climbed an unwelcome mountain of military exploitation of our youth, and upon conquering it, rightfully and courageously reclaimed his campus, placing his flag of dissent atop a symbol of deceit.”

Airhart says that the administration is mistaken if it thinks it can silence him–or other antiwar voices on campus. “If Kent thinks that KSAWC are going to back off–if they’re going to try and make me an example–they’re wrong,” said Airhart. “We’re trying to make Kent a better place. We’re trying to make the students safer by not allowing them to be vulnerable to be recruited and sent over to Iraq.”

Defend Dave Airhart–call Kent State University President Carol Cartwright at 330-672-2210 or e-mail Carol.cartwright@kent.edu.

Read statements in support of Dave on the Web at www.traprockpeace.org/kent_state_students/

Republished with permission from Socialist Worker
http://www.socialistworker.org/2005-2/564/564_12_Kent.shtml

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