Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Army medic Agustin Aguayo was found guilty at a military trial in Germany yesterday on the charge of desertion. Agustín was sentenced to eight months in the brig for following his conscience and refusing to participate in war. Since he had been imprisoned pending trial since September, he should be free within a few weeks!

His attorneys Peter Goldberger, James Klimaski, and J.E. McNeil have written:

A medic in the U.S. Army, Aguayo was decorated for his service under combat conditions during his first tour in Iraq. In February 2004 he applied for an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector. In early 2006, despite favorable recommendations by the officer who investigated his case and other officers who know him best, Aguayo's conscientious objector application was turned down by the Secretary of the Army.

Agustin, a 34-year-old U.S. citizen who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, himself has explained that he was not anti-war when he enlisted in 2002. But his military experiences changed him.

"I never intended to cause any disruption," Aguayo told the military judge hearing his case. "I always tried to do the best I could. I sincerely believe I am a conscientious objector. My life reflects that and it's what I have become at the very core of myself."

A statement released yesterday in New York by Amnesty International read:

Agustín Aguayo is a legitimate conscientious objector who should not be imprisoned for his beliefs, Amnesty International said today after Aguayo, a U.S. Army medic, was sentenced by U.S. court martial to eight months in prison for his refusal to participate in the war in Iraq. The organization considers Aguayo to be a "prisoner of conscience" and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

"Refusing military service for reasons of conscience isn't a luxury -- it's a right protected under international human rights law," said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "Agustín Aguayo wasn't just complaining about his assignment -- he clearly made the case that he objects to war itself. He should be released."

It is evident from the statements made by Aguayo and members of his family that he is a legitimate conscientious objector whose opposition to war developed over the course of time and evolved further in response to his experiences in Iraq. Amnesty International believes that he took reasonable steps to secure release from the army through applying for conscientious objector status.

The following story comes from Deutsche Welle.

US Soldier Found Guilty Of Desertion At Trial in Germany

Soldiers need to prove an absolute objection to war to receive conscientious objector status

As an American is convicted of desertion on Tuesday for his attempts to leave the army, organizations in Germany that counsel soldiers on how they can avoid being sent to war said they've been flooded with inquires.

A US military judge has found an army medic who refused to return to Iraq with his unit guilty of desertion. He was sentenced on Tuesday to eight months in jail.

A US military court also ruled that Mexican-born combat medic Agustin Aguayo, who has already spent 161 days behind bars, should forfeit paid allowances and be given a bad conduct discharge. His rank would also be reduced to the lowest grade.

35-year-old Aguayo had pleaded guilty to going absent without leave and missing his deployment, but denied charges of full desertion. Colonel Peter Masterton, the military judge at the court-marital in Würzburg, Germany, sided with prosecutors, though, in finding him guilty of the more severe charge of desertion.

Aguayo lost an appeal for a military discharge as a conscientious objector after returning from a one-year tour in Iraq in 2004. Aguayo, stationed in the German city of Schweinfurt, proceeded to sneak out a bathroom window in September to avoid being sent back to Iraq for a second deployment.

He was absent without leave for 24 days before he turned himself in at an army training center in California. He was then sent back to Würzburg to await trial.

Increase in conscientious objection inquires

While it was Aguayo in the dock on Tuesday, many more of the 65,000 US soldiers in Germany are also looking for ways to leave the military, especially in the wake of US President George W. Bush's January call for an increase in troop strength in Iraq, according to Tim Huber of the Military Counseling Network, which is based near a concentration of US bases in Germany.

"Usually we average one call with interest in the conscientious objection discharge per month," Huber said. "After Bush's speech in January we experienced a surge of about five times that number."

The calls are also coming from a wider range of troops than usual, he said, adding that while inquires mainly originated from low-ranking soldiers, the organization was beginning to hear from soldiers who tend to have spent between five and seven years in the military.

"The displeasure with the war and how that can affect your look at all war and transform a solider into someone who no longer want to be a part of that is beginning to seep through some higher ranks," said Huber, adding that he had been contacted by sergeants and staff sergeants. "We are obviously pleased with that and we are going to do everything we can to help those people."

Others ways out of military

But because the trials occur on US bases, and thus American territory, there is little actual help the German-based groups can give soldiers once courts-martial begin. Huber added that receiving conscientious objection status by proving opposition to all wars is difficult but not the only way to leave the military.

In addition to finding grounds for a medical discharge -- often because of post-traumatic stress disorder -- troops can also be discharged for being caught taking drugs, driving drunk, committing assault or claiming to be homosexual.

"There is also the AWOL option, going absent without leave," Huber said, adding that while his organization does not encourage this behavior, it does tell soldiers what could happen if they leave without official permission.

Drop in AWOL cases

While it does not keep central statistics on desertion, a US Department of Defense spokesperson told reporters some 8,000 soldiers have been on unauthorized leave since the Iraq war began in March 2003. About 3,500 of the cases occurred in 2005; there were about 8,000 cases of desertion in 2001.

Aguayo enlisted in 2002 -- after the US had begun military action in Afghanistan but before the Iraq war -- to save money for his education. He approached the Military Counseling Network in 2004, just after he applied for conscientious objection status.

Aguayo's appeal rejected

In the months leading up to his first deployment to Iraq, Aguayo came to view himself as a conscientious objector, his wife told Stars and Stripes, an American military newspaper. He applied for conscientious objector status in early 2004 and served with his unit in Iraq -- though he refused to load his weapons -- while waiting for his request to be processed.

Aguayo knew there were other ways to be leave the army, said Huber, adding that Aguayo's objection to war was sincere and that he only decided to go AWOL when his appeal was turned down and he was threatened with being forcibly returned to Iraq for his second tour.

"He had been trying so hard to follow the system, filing all these appeals, filing for conscientious objection discharge -- just always doing everything and just being ignored," Huber said.

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