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Jail or war? Soldier chooses jail

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    Jail or war? Soldier chooses jail By FinalCall.com News May 31, 2004 http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/article_1445.shtml Pending Draft Legislation
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 4, 2004
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      Jail or war? Soldier chooses jail
      By FinalCall.com News
      May 31, 2004

      Pending Draft Legislation Targeted for Spring 2005 (Congress.org)
      Draft dilemma (UK Guardian, 05-31-2004)

      (FinalCall.com) - For Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia, a nine-year military
      veteran, the choice between going back to Iraq to fight or facing a
      court martial and jail seemed easy. He chose the court martial. He
      was found guilty of desertion in a May 21 military trial held at Fort
      Stewart, Ga.

      He told the jurors, before they considered his sentence, "I have no
      regrets. Not one," reported Associated Press. "It would be sad to go
      to jail… But I will take it, because I will go there with my honor,
      knowing I have done the right thing."

      Sergeant Mejia joins the other 1,076 soldiers who deserted their
      units in Iraq between October 2003 and March 2004, according to the

      This started last October when Sgt. Mejia returned to the U.S. from
      Iraq on a two-week furlough. Instead of returning to his Florida
      National Guard Unit, he went into hiding.

      In March, he held a press conference, where he criticized his
      commanding officers and accused them of putting soldiers at
      unnecessary risk, according to The Washington Post. Sgt. Mejia then
      turned himself in to authorities at Hanscom Air Force Base in

      His experience in Iraq—which included a bloody ambush where civilians
      were caught in the crossfire and confusion led to the death of an
      Iraqi child—changed his mind about all wars. He was reported as
      saying that the war in Iraq was "oil driven."

      Sergeant Mejia joins the other 1,076 soldiers who deserted their
      units in Iraq between October 2003 and March 2004, according to the
      Army. This number, they also report, is fewer than those who deserted
      their units during the same period last year.

      The rigors of war became unsettling for Sgt. Mejia. His lawyer, Louis
      Font, a specialist in military law, told The Washington Post that
      Sgt. Mejia had been ordered to deprive Iraqi prisoners at a detention
      facility of sleep.

      Mr. Font plans to raise this issue when he appeals Sgt. Mejia's
      conviction to the U.S. Army Court of Appeals. Another point of
      contention for Mr. Font, a West Point graduate and Vietnam
      conscientious objector, is that Sgt. Mejia should have been
      discharged a year ago because he is a non-citizen.

      There is a National Guard regulation that limits the amount of time
      those without citizenship can serve to eight years. Sgt. Mejia was
      born in Nicaragua and has permanent U.S. resident status, but not

      He was a dad attending the University of Miami, ready to graduate
      when his unit was called to duty in Iraq.

      At the trial, the prosecution painted a picture, with Sgt. Mejia's
      commanding officers, of an inferior soldier that put his unit, the
      1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, at risk because of his

      In his closing statement, the lead prosecutor, Capt. Balbo said, "The
      defense says (Mejia) accomplished all of his missions, except the
      most important one—showing up," reported The Washington Post.

      The article continues that Mr. Font told the juror that his client
      believed that, "because he had become a conscientious objector, he
      would not be required to serve in Iraq anymore."

      That application is being processed separately from this trial.

      Sgt. Mejia was sentenced to one year in prison, a bad conduct charge
      and a reduction in rank.

      Speaking for the Florida National Guard, Lt. Col. Ron E. Tittle told
      reporters, "We have faith in the justice system and think the outcome
      was fair."


      'GOOKS' TO 'HAJIS'
      Bob Herbert, New York Times, 5/21/04

      The hapless Jeremy Sivits got the headlines yesterday. A mechanic
      whose job was to service gasoline-powered generators, Specialist
      Sivits was sentenced to a year in prison and thrown out of the Army
      for accepting an invitation to take part in the sadistic treatment of
      Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison.

      But there's another soldier in serious trouble to whom we should be
      paying even closer attention. His case doesn't just call into
      question the treatment of prisoners by U.S. forces. It calls into
      question this entire abominable war.

      Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia is a 28-year-old member of the Florida
      National Guard who served six harrowing months in Iraq, went home to
      Miami on a furlough last October, and then refused to return to his
      unit when the furlough ended.

      Sergeant Mejia has been charged with desertion. His court-martial at
      Fort Stewart, Ga., began Wednesday, the same day that Specialist
      Sivits pleaded guilty to the charges against him. If Sergeant Mejia
      is convicted, he will face a similar punishment, a year in prison and
      a bad-conduct discharge.

      Sergeant Mejia told me in a long telephone interview this week that
      he had qualms about the war from the beginning but he followed his
      orders and went to Iraq in April 2003. He led an infantry squad and
      saw plenty of action. But the more he thought about the war -
      including the slaughter of Iraqi civilians, the mistreatment of
      prisoners (which he personally witnessed), the killing of children,
      the cruel deaths of American G.I.'s (some of whom are the targets of
      bounty hunters in search of a reported $2,000 per head), the
      ineptitude of inexperienced, glory-hunting military officers who at
      times are needlessly putting U.S. troops in even greater danger, and
      the growing rage among coalition troops against all Iraqis (known
      derisively as "hajis," the way the Vietnamese were known as "gooks") -
      the more he thought about these things, the more he felt that this
      war could not be justified, and that he could no longer be part of



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