PFC Ryan Jackson held in pre-trial confinement to mute criticism of war; supporters mount campaign protesting June 3rd court-martial

Courage to Resist
April 20, 2008

“Since I joined up with Courage to Resist and Iraq Veterans Against the War, my life has changed. I plan to write a book about all of this, and to make positive change in my community when I get out,” said AWOL PFC Ryan Jackson, before turning himself in at Fort Sill, Oklahoma on April 4. He had been absent without leave since December when a local commander vetoed his pending discharged from the 35th Signal Brigade at Fort Gordon, Georgia.

25-year old PFC Jackson joined the Army in 2005, and aspired to join the Special Forces. While stationed in Korea, inspired by the writings of Vietnam and Iraq war objectors, Jackson began to rethink his involvement in the Army.

“I feel ashamed every day,” Jackson wrote in his recent conscientious objector (CO) application. “I feel ashamed for taking part in the killing of others, and for allowing my comrades to be killed themselves. By putting on a uniform, I am showing my support. … I can no longer be a part of the Armed Forces or any organization of a violent nature.”

After two and a half years of honorable service, Ryan says he could no longer ignore his conscience. “Once my beliefs started to evolve and change, I became a different person,” he explains. “It starts to take a hold of you, giving you hope that you can make a difference, that you can change what you are doing, and that it is not too late!”

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Ryan Jackson outside of Ft. Sill OK 4/4/08

After surrendering to the military at Fort Sill, he was ordered to return to his unit at Fort Gordon, Georgia—which he did without escort. Once he arrived at Fort Gordon, however, he was placed under arrest. Ryan has been held in the brig under pre-trial confinement for the last week.

Army’s conscientious objection process “wrong”

When Ryan realized he was a conscientious objector, he knew he was obligated to take action. “I started to build an administrative packet,” Ryan explained. “I would come into work late, go home early, things of that nature. I explained my beliefs to my chain of command and advised them this would continue until I could be administratively discharged.”

James Branum is Ryan’s Oklahoma-based civilian attorney. “PFC Jackson decided to do whatever it took to be released from his obligation to an organization he could no longer be a part of,” he said. “PFC Jackson wrongly believed that there would be no point in filing for CO status, so he instead did his best to accumulate as many negative counseling statements as possible for minor issues, such as not coming in the morning or missing PT.”

Ryan’s attempts to have himself thrown out of the Army were nearly successful. His out-processing paperwork was half way completed when a local commander arbitrarily stopped his pending discharge last December.

Ryan also concluded that the military’s CO application process was “immoral, unethical, and wrong.” How could career officers sit in judgment of his beliefs he questioned. In the CO application he submitted on April 4, Ryan explained, “I’ve come to realize that my beliefs are not valid or sincere based on what any person that reads this says or thinks. My beliefs are valid because I say they are and because they are my beliefs and they compel me to be a better person.”

Pre-trial confinement

It is nearly unheard of for soldiers to be incarcerated prior to conviction of a non-violent offence. However, Ryan has been in pre-trial confinement since reporting to Fort Gordon last week.

On April 16, Military Magistrate Captain Eric Allen upheld Ryan’s ongoing pre-trial confinement during a Fort Gordon hearing. Capt. Allen acknowledged that Ryan returned to the Army at Fort Sill, Oklahoma on his own accord, and later reported as ordered to Fort Gordon, Georgia without supervision. Capt. Allen also noted that Ryan’s “motivation for the AWOL as frustration with the chapter discharge and Conscientious Objector processes,” and acknowledged “PFC Jackson’s current resolve to work things out through the appropriate channels.”

It’s likely that the military did not appreciate Ryan’s views of the war, his solidarity with GI resisters, or his willingness to share these views.

We heard from Ryan during a rush phone call that he was being transferred from Georgia to a navy base in South Carolina for the remainder of this pre-trial confinement.

Courage to Resist interview


Courage to Resist 23 min. audio interview with Ryan Jackson, April 2008.

Prior to surrendering at Fort Sill, Ryan shared a few thoughts about what might happen to him next.

“I really don’t just worry about it, because there are so many great people that have inspired me in the past that have faced so much worse than me.

“I looked at people in history – Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, who faced real persecution for their beliefs – and came to the conclusion that these people did this before me, to fight for civil rights and fight for peace and nonviolence. I said, ‘Well, who am I in this day and age when we supposedly have this freedom?’ The worst they’re going to do to me is possibly imprison me for a little bit, but I’ll still live to tell about it another day.

“I would guess that the percentage is very high of people who have a lot of problems with the Army, a lot of problems with the way they treat people….They have a way of trying to make you feel like you’re worthless.”

Support GI resisters—Free Ryan Jackson!

“It is in the Army’s best interest to discharge PFC Jackson,” says attorney James Branum. “He will never be able to function in the military again due to his issues of conscience.”

Ryan Jackson

Ryan meets with supporters near Lawton OK

Courage to Resist, Iraq Veterans Against the War and other organizations have launched a public action campaign to support this courageous resister. The military has gone out of their way to prosecute Ryan for his association with anti-war groups, his open disdain for all war—and specifically the Iraq War, and his determination to support other GI resisters when his case is resolved.

“No matter what the Army decides to do with me, if I just take it and turn it into a positive experience and use my story and what I have to say to people to hopefully inspire other people and maybe save one person from going to kill other people and possibly being killed, then the sacrifice I made, I feel, is worth it,” declares Ryan.