Matthis Chiroux is the kind of young American US military recruiters love.
“I was from a poor, white family from the south, and I did badly in school,” the now 24-year-old said.
“I was ‘filet mignon’ for recruiters. They started phoning me when I was in 10th grade,” or around 16 years old, he said. Chiroux joined the army straight out of high school nearly six years ago, and worked his way up from private to sergeant.
He served in Afghanistan, Germany, Japan, and the Philippines before he was honorably discharged and placed in the reserves.
As a reservist, he was due to be deployed next month in Iraq.
On Thursday, he refused to go.
“I stand before you today with the strength and clarity and resolve to declare to the military, my government and the world that this soldier will not be deploying to Iraq,” Chiroux said in the sun-filled rotunda of a congressional building in Washington.
“My decision is based on my desire to no longer continue violating my core values to support an illegal and unconstitutional occupation ... I refuse to participate in the Iraq occupation,” he said, as a dozen veterans of the five-year-old Iraq war looked on.
Minutes earlier, Chiroux had cried openly as he listened to former comrades-in-arms testify before members of Congress about the failings of the Iraq war.
The testimonies were the first before Congress by Iraq veterans who have turned against the five-year-old war.
Former army sergeant Kristofer Goldsmith told the landmark hearing of “lawless murders, looting and the abuse of countless Iraqis.”
A group of veterans in the packed hearing room gazed blankly as their comrades’ testimonies shattered the official version that the US effort in Iraq is succeeding.
Almost to a man, the testifiers denounced serious flaws in the chain of command in Iraq. Luis Montalvan, a former army captain, accused high-ranking US officers of numerous failures in Iraq, including turning a blind eye to massive fraud on the part of US contractors.
Ex-Marine Jason Lemieux told how a senior officer had altered a report he had written because it slammed US troops for using excessive force in the face of a feeble attack — they took four rounds of enemy fire. Goldsmith accused US officials of censorship.
“Everyone who manages a blog, Facebook or Myspace out of Iraq has to register every video, picture, document of any event they do on mission,” Goldsmith said after the hearing. Officials take “hard facts and slice them into small pieces to make them presentable to the secretary of state or the president — and all with the intent of furthering the occupation of Iraq,” Goldsmith said.
Chiroux stood fast in his resolve to refuse to serve in Iraq.
“I cannot deploy to Iraq, carry a weapon and not be part of the problem,” he said.
In the hours following his announcement, Chiroux received some 300 emails of support, he said.
“I’ve been offered places to stay in all 50 states if I want to lie low. I’ve told them, ‘That’s very nice, but I’m not trying to hide.’ I want to stand up to the powers that be and send a message that there are still people in this country fighting for peace,” Chiroux said, steadfast in his resolve to not report for duty on June 15.