Increasing numbers of Americans say the U.S. government is involved in immoral and illegal wars around the world and are refusing to support this with their tax money. The invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the indiscriminate killing of civilians, for example, are outlawed by international law.
“Of every tax dollar paid, more than 50 cents goes to pay for past, present and future military expenses. The military budget for the Department of Defense alone for 2005 will be close to $500 billion. Our payment of federal taxes enables the government to carry on a continuing program of illegal military activities,” wrote Glen Milner, a member of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action in Poulsbo, Wash., in a recent opinion piece in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
“International laws and agreements support and encourage citizens to resist their government when it is engaged in illegal acts,” Milner added.
Under international laws, those who facilitate illegal wars and war crimes could actually be morally—if not legally—accountable, say proponents of resisting war taxes. Principle IV of the Nuremberg Principles states: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”
For example, a 1996 ruling by the International Court of Justice regarding the threat or use of nuclear weapons could be interpreted to mean that the United States’ deployment of depleted uranium weapons is illegal. The humanitarian measure prohibits the use of weapons or methods of warfare that are directed against civilians or cannot discriminate between military targets and civilians; cause unnecessary suffering to combatants; violate the territory of neutral states; cause long-term and widespread damage to the environment or use poisonous substances.
Most war tax resisters redirect their withheld federal tax funds to outfits such as the Conscience and Military Tax Campaign Escrow Account in Seattle. This way, the money is still on hand, if they should ever be forced to fork it over. Though getting a notice from the Internal Revenue Service is likely, jail is uncommon for war tax resisters. Still, there are no guarantees.
IRS public affairs officer Ken Vargas of the Austin, Texas, office of the IRS explains the collections office sends out “soft notices” first, followed by “harder notices” later. Vargas says the IRS doesn’t keep a handy record of war tax resisters. He insists “normal collection procedures” apply to all subjects, regardless of whether they write letters stating their war tax resistance. In fact, the tax reform act of 1998 makes it illegal for the IRS to designate tax protesters as a special class.
Susan Quinlan, a Bay Area organizer for the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, pegs the number of war tax resisters who have seriously faced jail time at less than 20 over the past 50 years. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your income tax that you use for protesting, either.
One of the first federal taxes to spark opposition was the federal phone tax. This tax has been in existence since 1914. Originally introduced as a “temporary” tax, after 76 years Congress made it permanent and set its level at 3 percent of your phone bill. Protesters simply include a note saying that they refuse to pay their federal excise tax for conscientious purposes and pay the rest.
Resistance to the telephone tax has a long and distinguished history, and most phone companies will put up no fight to customers who will not pay it. Perhaps they’re just as happy not to serve as unpaid tax collectors for the feds.
In any event, tax resister groups estimate that tens of thousands of Americans don’t pay their income taxes in order to protest U.S.-backed war efforts around the world. And, they say, that number is growing every year.