Wednesday, March 07, 2007
In the 161 days since he turned himself in to military authorities in California -- where he traveled after deserting his unit just as it was deploying to Iraq in early September last year -- Aguayo has also become something else. A symbol.
A court martial and a message
In closing arguments, an Army co-prosecutor made perfectly clear the court martial's message is for those increasing number of men and women in uniform who are dissatisfied with what they are being asked to do in Iraq: "It is not OK to abandon your brothers in arms."
But thrown in among the couple dozen journalists on hand for the trial were those for whom Aguayo symbolizes a much broader message. They were representatives of the anti-Iraq War movement in the US and in Europe. For them, Aguayo is something of a hero.
The above, noted by DK, is from Charles Hawley's "Aguayo Follows His Conscience to the Brig" (der Spiegel). As noted in yesterday's snapshot, Agustin Aguayo's court-martial in Germany began and ended yesterday with Aguayo pleading to AWOL but the judge saying it was desertion and sentencing him to eight months in prison -- the 161 days he's already been held may go towards that eight month sentence. Stars and Stripes is reporting it will: "Aguayo was credited with 161 days of pre-trial confinement and will serve 79 more days, according to Hilda Patton of the V Corps public affairs office." That's from an article by Mark St. Clair and we'll get back to that in a moment. First, George Frey's "Army medic from Cal guilty of desertion, gets 8 months in prison" (AP) details some of the events in the court room:
In a shaky voice, Aguayo told the court at the Army's Leighton Barracks near Wuerzburg that his convictions led him to flee his base rather than go back with his unit.
"I respect everyone's views and your decision, I understand that people don't understand me," he testified. "I tried my best, but I couldn't bear weapons and I could never point weapons at someone."
Aguayo added: "The words of Martin Luther come to mind, 'Here I stand, I can do no more.'"
Did the court really not get it? Of course they got it. This was about making an example of Agustin Aguayo and attempting to scare off others who are thinking of self-checking out. (Won't work.) Illustration's from "War resister Agustin Aguayo to be court-martialed Tuesday" (The Third Estate Sunday Review) before a visitor e-mails to ask. Yes, Aguayo did a tour of Iraq. (I understand why that's confusing -- it's not good for reporters not to know their facts. And we'll be kind and leave it at that.) Noting that reporter's error, Ericka steers us to this from Jurist (legal website):
After spending 2004 in Tikrit, Iraq as a combat medic. Aguayo applied for and was denied status as a conscientious objector [National Registry for Conscientious Objection backgrounder]. On September 2, Aguayo fled through a window in his German barracks rather then face another tour of duty in Iraq. About three weeks later, he surrendered at Fort Irwin in his home state of California. Because he has already been in custody for 161 days, Aguayo could be released sometime in the next few weeks. AP has more.
In addition to the prison time, he will receive a bad conduct discharge and also loss of pay. On The KPFA Evening News yesterday, Sandra Lupien covered this story and it was noted that due to the bad conduct discharge, an automatic appeal kicks into place.
Agustin Aguayo is part of a movement of resistance within the military. The movement exists (and you can check out Courage to Resist if you doubt it). On the issue of Aguayo's bravery being part of a movement, Gareth notes this from Tony Paterson's "US medic in Germany guilty of desertion" (Independent of London):
An increasing number of the US Army's 65,000 soldiers based in Germany are seeking to leave. Michael Sharp, the director of the Military Counselling Network (MCN), a non-governmental body based in Heidelberg, said there had been a surge in calls in January after President Bush announced plans to deploy a further 20,000 troops in Iraq. "We normally get about eight new calls a month, but in January alone we got 30," he said.
The Centre on Conscience and War, based in Washington, said last week that it was receiving an average of two calls a day inquiring about conscientious objection as opposed to two a week after the Iraq war started.
Tim Huber, who also works for the MCN, said higher ranks had begun to join ordinary soldiers in seeking information about how to gain recognition as conscientious objectors.
He said he had received several calls from sergeants and staff sergeants - men and women who had spent between five and seven years in the Army.
"The displeasure with the war and how that can affect your attitude to all wars is beginning to seep through some higher ranks," he added.
Mr Huber said that more than half of all applications for conscientious objector status failed because candidates had to prove their moral opposition to all wars. He said many recruits went absent without leave (Awol), took drugs or committed other offences in order to be discharged from the armed forces.
The US Defence Department has admitted that some 8,000 soldiers have gone Awol since the Iraq war began in March 2003.
Now to the Stars and Stripes article and, again, it says that Agustin Aguayo will serve 79 days. From Mark St. Clair's "Army medic Aguayo sentenced to eight months for desertion" (Stars and Stripes):
Speaking with Aguayo at a post-trial press conference, lead defense attorney David Court said, "We're both very grateful that the judge gave a relatively light sentence. As you know, he could have sentenced him to seven years based on the findings."
Court said he expected that Aguayo would not spend "much more than six weeks in confinement."
After waiving his right to trial by military panel and opting to face only a judge, Aguayo stoically explained his actions to Judge (Col.) R. Peter Masterton, beginning with his decision to disregard orders to form up with his fellow soldiers on Sept. 1, 2006, in order to move to Ramstein Air Base and on to Kuwait later in the evening.
Aguayo told Masterton that after showing up in his battalion area the next morning, he was escorted back to his living area by a noncommissioned officer in order to pick up personal items. At that point, he jumped out his bedroom window in Askren Manor Housing Area in Schweinfurt and eventually made his way back to his hometown near Los Angeles.
Sitting just in front of his parents, wife Helga, two daughters and numerous other family members and friends, Aguayo recounted how he eventually surrendered to military authorities on Sept. 26, and was escorted back to Germany by members of his unit.
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Aguayo applied for conscientious objector status two days before leaving for his first deployment in 2004. While in Tikrit, Iraq, from 2004-05, Aguayo, who joined the Army on Jan. 14, 2003, refused to load his weapon at any time, even pretending to load ammunition at points, he told the judge. During training rotations before the deployment that he missed, he refused to even pick up a weapon and received multiple disciplinary actions.
This point is also made in Courage to Resist's " Agustin Aguayo - Iraq veteran, prisoner of conscience to be released within weeks." There you can find out background, history and more -- on Aguayo and other war resisters.
Repeating (it's in yesterday's snapshot) Amnesty International's statement, "Amnesty International Declares Convicted War Objector Agustín Aguayo to be a 'Prisoner of Conscience':"
Agustin 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 conscince" 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. "Agustin 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.
He's also the father of two young daughters, a husband and a son. And to those people and many more he matters and what he did matters. To those that don't think Aguayo matters -- we're talking the supposed 'left' -- well, don't they always have an election to sell. They offer fluff and they offer hype. They don't seem to realize that the illegal war continues and that it effects everyone. It certainly effects Aguayo and his family. But they're kidding themselves if they think it's not effecting this country -- even while they try to pretend the illegal war isn't about to hit the four year mark. They make themselves useless -- by choice. Aguayo didn't. He used his voice and he owned his power. Marcia notes this (from Democracy Now!):
War Resister Agustin Aguayo Sentenced to 8 Months in Prison
A US Army medic who refused to fight in Iraq has been sentenced to eight months in prison. Agustin Aguayo went AWOL last year just before he was to return to Iraq for a second deployment. He had made several unsuccessful requests for conscientious objector status.
Aguayo's attorney David Court: "We are both very grateful that the military judge gave a relatively light sentence. As you all know, he could have done seven years based upon the findings. I believe that based upon his sentence of only eight months he accepts that Aguayo believes that he is a conscientous objector."
David Court expects Aguayo to serve six more weeks of his sentence because he's already been jailed for one-hundred sixty-one days. The military hearing was held in Germany where Aguayo's unit is based. Kelly Dougherty of Iraq Veterans Against the War was there to support Aguayo.
Kelly Dougherty: "While Agustin is first and foremost a man who is sincerely and morally opposed to war in all forms, he is also a proud example to other soldiers who are also questioning the war in Iraq and who feel like they might want to refuse or they might want to apply for conscientious objector or in some way object and resist this war in Iraq."
In a statement, Amnesty International said Aguayo is a legitimate conscientious objector who should not be imprisoned for his beliefs. Democracy Now! interviewed Aguayo and his wife Helga the day before he turned himself in to a California base last September.
Agustin Aguayo: "It's not my job to decide who's going to live or who's going to die. That's something that I’ve had to deal with morally and that I’m convinced of. Nothing is more clear in my mind that war is wrong. And I won't be a tool of war anymore. And the end result of war is the destruction of human life, and governments use that to solve problems. And I think it's a great tragedy of our lifetime, with so much technology, that we still feel that that solves problems."
It must be nice to be an American pretending the war doesn't matter. It must be nice not to know anyone serving, not to give a damn. It's not reality and, of course, they won't escape the war because it has infected our entire culture, but it must be nice for them to live in the superficial lives for a little longer. Helga or Agustin might wish they could return to a time like that -- if it ever existed for them. It's effecting people, it's effecting families and it's effecting the entire country. And we're not talking about Iraq here -- which is clearly,tragically and illegally, a war zone -- we're talking about the United States.
Right now there's a number of gasps of "HOW COULD WE!" regarding Walter Reed as though the illegal war's ever included any plans to provide for anyone -- it hasn't. Not Iraqis, not Americans. Walter Reed doesn't just expose inept planning, it exposes the degredation that our country has gone through and is going through. For a family directly effected by the illegal war,
Vic notes Rebecca Craigie's "US Army Deserter's Quest For Asylum Continues" (The Tyee.ca, Canada) which addresses US war resister Joshua Key and his book The Deserter's Tale :
"All we want is to find a home so our kids can grow up in a stable environment and go to school and make friends," Brandi Key says as she towels off her six-month-old baby in the front seat of the Dodge Caravan which has recently become the family's temporary home. Brandi is the wife of Joshua Key, a 27-year-old former soldier who deserted the U.S. Army. The pair, in Nelson last week, are driving across Canada with their four kids in search of a home, and Canadian refugee status.
The Keys are living in a van because of Joshua Key's opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. While many opponents of the Iraq war base their opposition on media reports, Key's opinion is based on what he witnessed when he fought for eight months in Iraq's Sunni Triangle.
Key never thought he'd end up in Iraq in the first place. When he first enlisted, he signed up to be a bridge builder in a non-deployable unit. Despite this, the army trained him in explosives and landmines, and sent him to Iraq in April of 2003.
[. . .]
The Keys' cross-Canada tour eventually ended in northern Saskatchewan, where the children are experiencing their first Canadian winter and going to school full time. "They enjoy the snow so much -- they get to go sledding all the time," Key told me over the phone last week. While the kids go to school and play, Joshua and Brandi try to make ends meet. With a temporary Social Insurance Number and a work permit, Joshua finds labour on farms, butchering animals, while Brandi works in a butcher shop. Employment is patchy, though, so the Keys' income is unstable.
"My wife and I joke that we left the army to get out of poverty, but we're still living that way now," said Key. The family lives in a trailer far away from any towns or cities. Keys would like to make long-term plans and start thinking about improving conditions for his family, but after his application for refugee status was turned down last March, he is unsure how long he'll be able to stay.
Soon, though, Key will embark on his second cross-country tour, this time to promote his book. "I don't care if people agree or disagree with me," he said. "I just want people to read the book to see where I am coming from. My story is one of thousands. This is not an isolated event."
From Key's book, written with Lawrence Hill, The Deserter's Tale (pp. 6-7):
I still get blackouts. I still wake up screaming in the middle of the night. I take pills to keep the nightmares at bay. The dreams are like sleeping dogs, and sometimes they haunt me during the day. Recently, I was driving on a rural road and saw a cardboard box on the shoulder. Only I didn't think cardboard box. I thought it was bomb, planted just for me, set there like all the explosives I set off in Iraq or that had been placed for me and my fellow soldiers. I swerved wildly onto the grass by the side of the road to get out of its kill zone, to escape shrapnel. When I came to I was sweating and shaking behind the steering wheel.
I have never hit my wife or my children or anyone else in my blackouts, but I have been known to throw things and to rip light fixtures from ceilings. I have been known to shout words of mayhem and war, but I never remember these thins when I finally come to in Brandi's arms.
The doctors call it post-traumatic stress disorder. They say I'll have it for life, and that I just have to learn to deal with it. I can only imagine what would have happened if I had not deserted the Army in Iraq. I guess it's not that hard to tell. There are only a few options. If I had gone back to war I could have been taken out by a bullet, or mortars, or a rocket-propelled grenade. I could have been forced to kill an innocent person, or more than one.
I can say with relief and gratitude that I have never killed anybody, Iraqi or American. I have enough troubles as it is living with my own demons, and I'm not sure how I would have kept on going with innocent blood on my hands. But I know there is a chance that if I had killed someone else, I would have gone on later to kill myself.
If I had returned after a two-week leave with my family, I would have had to go on raiding, arresting, and intimidating people who were like me in the most surprising ways; poor, with almost no way to escape their miserable situations. They were hungry, but they were amazingly resourceful, too. I'll never forget the image of an Iraqi man driving up to a traffic checkpoint where I stood with my weapon at the ready. The gas line in his car had been ruptured. Outside his window he was holding up a gallon of gas so that it could flow down through a rubber hose to the engine as he inched forward in the car. He was an ordinary man, using all of his ingenuity to survive in extraordinary circumstances.
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