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WASHINGTON (AFP) — 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 told AFP.
"I was 'filet mignon' for recruiters. They started phoning me when I was in 10th grade," or around 16 years old, he added.
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."
He spoke of the psychologically fragile men and women who return from Iraq to find little help or treatment offered from official circles.
Goldsmith said he had "self-medicated" for several months to treat the wounds of the war.
Another soldier told AFP he had to boost his medication to treat anxiety and social agoraphobia -- two of many lingering mental wounds he carries since his deployments in Iraq -- before testifying.
Some 300,000 of the 1.6 million US soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or both, an independent study showed last month.
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 told AFP 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 added.
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.
One of thousands of US soldiers who have deserted since the Iraq war began in 2003, the young reservist vowed to stay in the United States to fight "whatever charges the army levels at me."
Many deserters -- defined by the army as someone who has been absent without leave for 30 days -- seek refuge in Canada .
In the hours following his announcement, Chiroux received some 300 emails of support, he told AFP.
"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.
Copyright © 2008 AFP. All rights reserved.
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs