INTERVIEW WITH “WAR RESISTER IN SANCTUARY”
Photograph of Rodney Watson Jr from Ian Azariah
Q Can you introduce yourself and tell me where you come from originally?
My name is Rodney Watson Jr and I am from Kansas City
Q How old were you when you first signed up for the army and what motivated you to enlist?
I was about 24 years old when I signed up in 2003 and joined the Army. My reasons for joining were honorable and even though there was no draft like the past Vietnam War, I was caught up in a personal economic draft due to the fact I could not find a job shortly after 9/11.
After I lost my job of seven years in Kansas City, a long-time childhood friend offered to get me started in the illegal drug trade and even fronted me some free work, but this was against everything I believed in. Selling death to my own community was not the destiny I wanted for myself so while driving back home I got on the highway and prayed for a better way to make money. I threw the drugs out of my car window went home and prayed again and fell asleep with a now clear conscience.
The very next morning, I got a phone call just minutes after I opened my eyes. It was the older brother of my friend who fronted me the drugs I had thrown away and in a sad voice he told me to turn on the news; his brother had been shot that morning and was dead. I attended his funeral and shortly afterward I flew to New York to visit my cousin to clear my mind because it felt like some sort of tragic sign from above.
Out of work and living off money I had saved up that was running out fast, I needed a job urgently. While I was in New York, I saw where the Twin Towers had fallen. Tears fell from my eyes and the pain was great. I saw U.S. Navy sailors during Fleet Week that same day and I felt something I had never felt before – a feeling of it being my duty to serve my country like others in my family had done during WW2. I later ended up staying with a friend of my cousins in Stamford Connecticut and tried applying for some jobs one last time before making my decision to see an Army recruiter.
Q Tell me about your basic training before you saw combat
I made the decision to join up and serve my country as an Army cook to help out and to support our brave troops even if it wasn’t infantry. I wanted to serve in some way and possibly open up my own diner after my service was completed. My basic training was at Fort Jackson and I was proud to complete it because many others could not. I thought I was doing the right thing at the time and I was proud of myself.
I was sent to Fort Hood Texas after boot camp only to find myself in the field training for a deployment to Iraq in the near future. I understood that I was a soldier first and that I might even die over there but I had already seen much violence and death back in Kansas City and I was not afraid of losing my life for what I thought at the time was a noble cause.
Q What was your role in the army after basic training?
My role in the Army was to become a cook and eventually use what I learned and experienced in a high speed dining facility and mess hall with my G.I. Bill to try and open my own little Diner back home in Kansas city. But the Army had other plans for me and I was in the field training for a deployment to Iraq so I had really no real time in the kitchen at Fort Hood Texas where I was stationed.
I ended up searching thousands of Iraqi civilian vehicles for contraband and explosives. It felt like I was playing Russian Roulette with my life, but I performed my many duties without fear. At first I felt lied to for not being given the job I signed up for, but I just followed orders from my chain of command and I did my job very well.
Q How long did you serve in Iraq, please tell readers about that experience
I served a one year deployment to Mosul, Iraq. A Sergeant from another unit passed me an eye opening DVD that he let me borrow with his personal little DVD player. It opened up my eyes to the lies of no weapons of mass destruction and to the fact that many were back home still suffering from hurricane Katrina while billions were being wasted as well as many lives in Iraq for something other than justifiable reasons. I was very upset and I started to view the whole Iraq war in a very different perspective. As my deployment continued, my unit came under military C.I.D investigation for drug trafficking due to an undercover agent who bought some drugs from a black guy in my unit late at night and couldn’t fully make out his identity. The next day, our First Sgt. called a formation for just the black soldiers in my unit to wait in the hot sun to be fingerprinted and photographed, in order to find the soldier who was in violation.
After feeling racially profiled for the exact same thing I refused to take part in back home – selling drugs – here I was being treated like I was a potential criminal by white men in the military C.I.D. It was one thing after another during my deployment. I had to watch racist white soldiers and civilian contractors beat and call unarmed Iraqi men sand niggers and hear them tell me that they mean no disrespect to my people, that we are all brothers in the same fight. I couldn’t report anything due to the fact I would be labelled a snitch so I had to keep my mouth shut even though I saw different racist cops back home do the same thing to my black peers, calling us niggers.
About half way through my deployment another soldier from another unit awakened my mind to the real reasons and lies why we were there. It angered me that I was risking my life for lies and potentially having to take another human life for those lives. I’m thankful I did not because I don’t know how I could live with myself knowing that I had killed for a LIE. I lost a friend I made over there a civilian contractor who worked with KBR (global engineering, construction and services company). He was shot down in a Chopper that was supposed to be taking him home because his tour was over but he was shot down right when he took off from our base of operation along with others by an RPG. I think of how his life was taken and so many others, American and Iraqi lives all for lies and it angers me greatly that the ones responsible walk this earth free while the whistle blowers and awakened soldiers of conscience who resisted continuing taking part in that war are being punished and treated like the criminals while the real criminals go free.
Q You decided not to return to Iraq… what made you take that decision?
After my one-year deployment was finished, my unit received orders to return to Iraq within four to six months. I had seen a couple of guys in my unit become victims of Stop Loss, (the involuntary extension of a service member’s active duty service) forcing them to be deployed well beyond their contract agreement. After my experience in that unjust war based on lies, I knew I did not want to be another one of former president George W. Bush’s cannon fodder or casualty. I just thank God I didn’t spill any blood over there because that would have really weighed heavy on my mind after discovering the truth. There is a time and a season for everything, but Iraq was neither the time nor the season for us to go to war in my new personal opinion.
What made me make the decision I made was because that war was based on lies and it made no sense to kill or die for those lies after my eyes were opened. I was a good soldier but I saw how others before I deployed tried to get out based on conscience just like that crazy Fort Hood shooter did. I just saw how the Army drags their feet and redeploys soldiers or Stop Loss them while they wait for their paper work through the right channels to go through. I knew I didn’t want that and I knew I didn’t want the Army to Stop Loss me like others were in my unit. They also were trying to send us right back over there within 3 to 4 months but I didn’t see a reason to go back other than a contract I signed that I would have honored if that war wasn’t a lie but it was a big lie.
Q What did you do to avoid being sent back?
Instead of returning to Fort Hood Texas after my two-week leave, I left for Canada thinking it would be better than risking my life again or killing for unjust reasons. My family had a few calls from the Army but they had no idea of what I did because I did not want them to have to lie for me or make any excuses for me. I’m not that far away so I knew they could just come up to Canada to visit me. The Canadian people were very kind and I fell in love and had a beautiful child with a Canadian citizen.
Q What has happened to you in Canada?
I had a job and then after living free with a clearer conscience for three years, I received a letter of deportation from the Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper when my son was only months old. The date of my deportation, when I was to leave Canada and my new Canadian family, was September 11, 2009. That date felt like a giant slap to my face and it fuelled a fire within me to fight like crazy for my Canadian wife and son due to the fact my wife begged and cried for me to stay. I did the unthinkable and requested sanctuary at a local Vancouver church to give my lawyer time to help me remain with my wife and son. Canada made me very proud when I heard of the massive protest against the Iraq war and that it took no part in that war, but these actions taken against me and other Iraq war resisters felt like a slap in the face.
Q What happens if you leave your sanctuary?
I am not allowed to leave the building but I know if I turn myself in, I will never be able to cross the border again when I should be granted freedom for refusing a war that even Canada said no to. Former president George W. Bush cannot even travel to certain countries without being arrested for war crimes and even Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly called the Iraq war an absolute error. While President Obama campaigned to become President, he called the Iraq war a dumb war but I am still dealing with this situation in a country known for its good values and conscience and traditions and it makes no sense.
Q What reaction have you had from family and friends?
My family and friends are still talking to me and I’m fortunate because other Iraq war resisters families have disowned them. I’m sure some of my family and friends say things behind my back but it wouldn’t even phase me at all because this is my fight along with others who were lied to while we risked our lives not them.
Q How would you respond to those who say you are betraying your country?
I would respond to anyone face to face who dare trying to tell me that I betrayed my country to take that nonsense somewhere else because it was Bush and company who are responsible for betraying and leading the American people into a war based on lies even though George W. Bush said that God told him to go into Iraq and that’s just another lie and I know God isn’t mad at me for not killing over lies and God’s opinion of me matters a whole lot more than any human being on this planet.
Q What support have you had since living in Canada?
The Canadian Parliament voted twice in favour of letting us Iraq War Resisters stay but PM Stephen Harper and gang ignored the will of the people. I have excellent support from many good Canadians and I’m still here and I thank God for putting decent people in my life that support me. The War Resister Support Campaign has played a huge role and the First United Church is a great place that fights for social justice and they have allowed me to still be a part of my Canadian wife and son’s life while I go through this long legal process that I hope and pray ends soon.
Q How do you see your role as resister and peace activist?
I try my best to honor the role of a now peace activist by keep speaking my truth and meeting with others and even leading a spiritual focus group that is open to all faiths and beliefs here at the church. I have a page on Facebook called War Resister in Sanctuary where I post truth and my poems as well as interact with supporters. I’m no Dr. King but I feel honored to at least try and continue his legacy of being against unjust wars and for social justice for me and others. I am willing to die for my Canadian family just like I was willing to risk my life for Bush’s lies and it just makes more sense for me to risk it again for the love of my family. I have sacrificed four years of my freedom when the only crime is saying NO to returning to a war based off deception and false information from a guy code named “curve ball.”
Q What advice would you give to others that are thinking of joining the armed services?
I would tell anyone thinking of joining only my own experience because I’m not saying that we don’t need a military. I just think that we should only fight those who are trying to invade our borders and not for false flag nonsense and corporate greed and for foreign control that has nothing to do with the working class poor while the rich get wealthier off OUR blood sweat and tears.
Q How do you feel about the actions of former soldier, whistle blower Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning?
I feel that president Obama should pardon Chelsea Manning and all Iraq War Resisters, that to me would be a huge step for him in honoring his Nobel Peace Prize and everything he promised about hope and change. I would love to be able to cross the border freely with my family because I’m not the real criminal and neither is Private Manning.
Q What is your opinion on the way whistle blowers are treated by US government?
I feel that president Obama should pardon Chelsea Manning and all Iraq War Resisters, that to me would be a huge step for him in honouring his Nobel Peace Prize and everything he promised about hope and change. I would love to be able to cross the border freely with my family because I’m not the real criminal and neither is Private Manning.
Q What are your thoughts on US use of armed drones?
At first I thought it was a good idea to use drones until I heard about all the “collateral damage” and there isn’t any excuse at all to take innocent life no matter what in my book as well as in God’s book of law. I’m a man of great faith and I have more faith than a mustard seed that God will smile on me when it’s my time to meet him. Drone strikes are like a evil video game but the mistakes can’t be respawned or brought back to life when the damage is innocent collateral damage. We must evolve and learn how to handle conflict better because this world is just going to get worse and will end up in a tragic World War 3 that will be worse than Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
Q How do you feel about the Iraq war now?
It was bad enough after my eyes were opened to the lies for why we were over there in Iraq risking our lives but then to come home and be debriefed and to be informed that we all were exposed to depleted uranium and to be told not to make any children for at least a couple of months to allow the contamination to flush it’s self out our system. I don’t expect anyone to understand my anger but I’m still pissed! I have days when I cannot sleep no matter what I do sometimes and it makes me wonder if it has anything to do with being exposed to depleted uranium dust or just my experience over there and I pray that I don’t have any problems later in life because of that war based on LIES. So when critics try to say something about the stand I have taken I just shake my head and laugh because obviously they have NO CLUE!
Wikileaks “Collateral Murder” video exposing reality of Iraq war and whistle blower Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning sentenced to 35 years in prison
Many moral obscenities have taken place
But the elite cherry pick tragedies to grace
Many starve every day with flies on their face
The youth in Chicago are killing at a high pace
Lies about Iraq left many dead on their Army base
Lies about Iraq left many dead on their Army base
Hatred is still killing innocent people over their race
War criminals got away with murder without a trace
Of justice for their evil deception, now it’s a closed case
I feel sorry for Syria but these endless wars are a disgrace
The LAST thing this world needs now is a WW3 to embrace
~Rodney Watson Jr
Thank-you for your time and sharing your experience…
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”.