Evaders of draft registration gain support
Boston — A movement is gearing up to protest US legal action against young men who have failed to register for the draft.
Questions are being raised as to how involved antinuclear activists will be in that movement. But for the moment, a revived network of anti-Vietnam-war activists is the backbone of the drive.
Demonstrations are planned in some 100 cities across the country this weekend to show support for Benjamin Sasway, the Vista, Calif., college student indicted June 30 for failing to register for the draft. If convicted, Mr. Sasway faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The federal grand jury indictment is the first since draft registration was reinstated in July 1980. Antidraft group leaders say they expect only a token few to be prosecuted out of 160 names turned over to the Justice Department by the Selective Service System. Although an estimated 527,000 young men out of more than 8 million have failed to register, Justice Department officials say they hope the first few prosecutions will spur the rest to comply with the law.
More than just local protests and demonstrations are being planned by antidraft groups. The Lawyer's Guild and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are gearing up teams of lawyers and information centers for attorneys who could be defending those who have refused to register. A center in Los Angeles and in Washington, D.C., will open soon, says David Landau of the ACLU. Much of the legal research done then will be kept available.
''We're trying to activate the network of thousands of lawyers that did work during the Vietnam war,'' says Mr. Landau. Committee against Registration and the Draft (CARD) spokesman Gerry Condon says the antidraft movement is ''people like myself that were involved in protesting the Vietnam war. It's a rerun for us.''
There also are a number of parents of draft-age children. He says students haven't really been feeling the heat of the possible draft yet, so up until now it's been mostly older people who lived through the Vietnam era.
Mr. Sasway and antidraft leaders say the indictment may have been timed to coincide with the end of school: College students have scattered from campuses for the summer, making less likely the possiblity of campus demonstrations against the draft and the military buildup. And the Reagan ''grace period,'' which allowed young men to register without being penalized for late registration, ended in February, after Mr. Reagan decided to retain draft registration. During his campaign, Mr. Reagan had said he opposed registration during peacetime.
''It's a safe bet they picked me (to prosecute) in San Diego because it's a conservative area, and they don't expect a big support group for me,'' says Mr. Sasway.
In a transcript, leaked to the press, of a high-level meeting in April, military officials said that they wanted to steer away from prosecuting young men in large cities, where there would more likely be public outcry. Assistant Secretary of the Navy John Herrington was quoted as suggesting prosecution move ahead in a politically safe part of the country - in ''the right jurisdiction so you don't end up in New York or Chicago, and end up in Omaha or somewhere like that for your first few trials.''
At the meeting, which included White House counselor Edwin Meese III, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman David Jones, and Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, Mr. Herrington apparently also was concerned that the prosecutions could become a new rallying point for the antinuclear weapons movement.
Indeed, the National Mobilization for Survival (NMS), key organizers of the June 12 antinuclear rally in New York, is alerting its network about the antidraft demonstrations via newsletter and telephone. For groups such as NMS, all of the issues of militarism are involved. But Nora Leyland of the Boston chapter of CARD says there is disagreement in the antinuclear movement about the draft. Some see it as a way to beef up conventional forces in hopes of avoiding nuclear war.
Others feel that any war is likely to lead to a nuclear conflict, so they say it's crucial to head off any moves toward war - including the return of the draft.
Ms. Leyland says there was more support for the antidraft movement from antinuclear groups two years ago, when the focus was on nuclear power instead of weapons. Now, she says, the antinuclear movement is more broadly based, so it has crept towards the middle ground from its starting point on the'political left.
Pat Simon of the Council for a Nuclear Weapons Freeze, says her group has no policy on the antidraft groups. While she personally supports both movements, she says the freeze movement must carefully keep its support by not splitting over support of antidraft groups.
Melinda Fine of the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies in Brookline, Mass., says the freeze movement is working with one specific aim - to put a freeze on the proliferation of nuclear weapons. While individuals may work for both movements, she says, the freeze movement hasn't made draft registration a priority.