Army Spc. Agustin Aguayo, 35, whose court-martial is to begin in Wurtzburg, Germany, fled his Army base in Germany last summer just before his unit deployed to Iraq.
He resurfaced in California several weeks later, then turned himself in Sept. 26 at Ft. Irwin.
"It's the right thing to do," Aguayo told reporters before his surrender. "I'm not a deserter or a coward. I just felt that I needed to be unavailable for this [deployment] because I have come to believe that it is so wrong."
Aguayo is charged with desertion and missing a troop movement. He could face up to seven years in prison if convicted on both counts.
[. . .]
The case is being closely watched by American antiwar groups that have taken up Aguayo's cause and raised money for his defense.
He is part of a steady trickle of soldiers resisting Iraq duty, either as conscientious objectors to all forms of violence or as political dissenters who would serve in Afghanistan or other places, but not Iraq.
"There have been a couple dozen cases," said Jeff Paterson, an organizer with the Oakland-based group Courage to Resist, which works with dissenting U.S. soldiers.
He predicts that Aguayo will get up to a year in jail followed by a less than honorable or bad conduct discharge.
The number of conscientious objector applications Army-wide almost tripled in 2003, the year the Iraq war started, and the numbers have stayed high. The rejection rate also has risen.
According to Army figures published in Stars and Stripes, there were 23 applications in 2002, 17 of which were approved. In 2005, there were 61 applications -- only 23 of which were approved.
Perhaps the most high-profile Iraq dissenter, Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, 28, faces a second court-martial June 16 for refusing to deploy to Iraq and speaking out publicly against the war and the Bush administration. His original court-martial ended in a mistrial Feb. 7.
Paterson expects that Watada, who serves at Ft. Lewis, Wash., eventually will be handed a harsher sentence than Aguayo because of his public statements against the war.
Aguayo's trial is the culmination of a three-year quest to escape his military commitment following a change of heart that began shortly after he enlisted in November 2002.
His wife, Helga, said that while he was undergoing basic training at Ft. Benning, Ga., "He sent me a letter saying, 'My God, I'm actually training to kill people.' He came home pretty shook up and was like, 'My God, I can't do this.' "
The above is from Ashraf Khalil's "L.A. man faces trial for desertion" (Los Angeles Times). On the topic of the illegal war, as Elaine noted, KPFA's Flashpoints featured vets and active duty service members (as well as family members) in an Iraq speakout yesterday. (Paterson was among the people speaking out.) On Aguayo, Dominick notes "US medic faces Iraq desertion charge" (Reuters via Irish Times):
His attorney said his attempts to be recognised as an objector could make a difference in the sentencing, although he cannot use that as a defence in the trial, which is being held in the Bavarian city of Wuerzburg.
His case follows the high-profile trial in February of First Lieut Ehren Watada - the first known court martial of a US Army officer for publicly refusing to serve in Iraq. That court martial ended in a mistrial.
A deserter is defined by the US Department of Defence as a member of the armed forces who is absent from their unit or post without authorisation, quits their unit to avoid duty or enlists improperly in another service. It can also apply to people who are absent without leave for 30 straight days or more.
The Department of Defence recorded a total of 4494 deserters in 2005, according to official data.
Olive notes an AFP story (which thinks the verdict will be in by tomorrow) at Australia's NINEMSN:
His mother has lobbied the Mexican government to contribute to the costs of his legal defence, while human rights groups have rallied to his support and on Monday called on the German government to intervene.
Susana Aguayo said her son, who is married and the father of twin daughters, "is no coward."
According to his family, he joined the army in 2002 in order to get medical training but never imagined being sent to a conflict zone. He applied for conscientious objector status but was turned down.
The Iraq Veterans Against War, a group that tries to help dissenting soldiers, said on Monday that Aguayo was representative of the growing number of troops who object to the US military operation in Iraq.
The organisation's president, Kelly Dougherty, described Aguayo as a committed "pacifist who refused to put bullets in his gun during his service in Iraq because he does not believe in killing people."
And DK notes this from "US Soldier's Desertion Trial Opens in Germany" (Deutsche Welle):
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 [Tim] 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.
Including utilzing the civilian courts (which failed him). Turning to the New York Times, Edward Wong and Wissam A. Habeeb's "Baghdad Car Bomb Kills 20 on Booksellers’ Row:"
The book market along Mutanabi Street was a throwback to the Baghdad of old, the days of students browsing for texts, turbaned clerics hunting down religious tomes and cafe intellectuals debating politics over backgammon.
Somehow it survived the war, until Monday, when a powerful suicide car bomb hit the market, slicing through the heart of the capital’s intellectual scene. It killed at least 20 people and wounded more than 65.
Someone help the New York Times count, they really need help. The number had risen to over 20 dead by this time yesterday. By yesterday afternoon, it rose to 30 dead. Before Monday was over, Brian Murphy (AP) reported:
Bloodstained pages that escaped the fire were carried away in a wind-whipped pillar of black smoke.
Firefighters had to spray huge arches of water from blocks away because their trucks were took large for the warren of lanes in old Baghdad. At least 38 people died and 105 were injured, said Raad Jabar, a Health Ministry official.But the final casualty count may not be clear until Tuesday. Fire crews still battled the blazes more than 12 hours after the attack, said civil defense Maj. Gen. Abdul Rasoul al-Zaidi.
So someone send some Sesame St. DVDs to the Green Zone to assist the Times with learning how to count.
We'll close with Jonathan Tasini's "The Candidate Labor Should Support For President:"
To end the suspense right away, I am not going to say which candidate I think labor should support. I have a favorite candidate who I think would be the strongest pro-labor candidate--and would remember labor once elected. But, here, I simply want to suggest what the criteria might be for labor to choose a candidate and how labor should use the presidential contest to advance the interest of workers.And I'd like to hear what your suggestions might be for additional criteria.
This week, the AFL-CIO Executive Council will be meeting, and one thing on the agenda is its presidential endorsement procedure. My suspicion is that no single candidate will be able to garner the votes to secure the AFL-CIO's endorsement in the primaries. I doubt the Federation will be able to convince individual unions to sit out the primaries so a number of them might choose to leap into the race. The Change To Win federation has already been engaging with presidential candidates and many of the candidates have been making appearances before labor's leadership bodies or labor-sponsored events. Obviously, labor support means a lot, particularly in states like Iowa where getting people out to caucus on a cold winter night requires strong precinct operations, or California and New York where unions are strong and can spend money mobilizing their troops on behalf of one candidate or another.
As I've watched the labor movement function in presidential campaigns over the last 25 years, I've noticed that we often get into the same pundit-framed, decision-making process that consumes our country, preferring to embrace who might win, who has the most money and where the candidate is polling. For example, in the 2004 race, one international union president, whose name I won't mention here, switched three times during the primaries, driven solely by how this union president's choices were faring in the polls.
In my humble opinion, in past years, organized labor has not looked at the presidential race as a way of gaining strategic advantage in the party and, more important, in the debate in the country over the question of unions and workers. If we were to think strategically, it might make sense, for example, to support a candidate who might not be the favorite in the polls or have the most money because s/he can actually talk about unions in a convincing way and deliver a message that resonates with voters--and inject those issues into the race and force the party nominee, should s/he actually win, to carry labor's agenda. Instead, we get candidates who, once chosen and elected, ally themselves as quickly as they can with the business interests that fund the party.
That said, here are a few thoughts about what labor should be looking at in a candidate:
Can the Candidate actually talk about unions? I don't mean can the candidate give a pep rally speech when pitching a union crowd for an endorsement or a check. I've been at countless meetings where political candidates, in full pander mode, talk about how important unions are for our society--and, then, don't even mention them much on the campaign trail and forget unions even exist when they get elected.
I think unions should look for a candidate who can weave into their vision of the economy the key role unions play in bringing real prosperity to working people. Which candidate, we should ask, understands and will say, repeatedly, that the gap between rich and poor, the disappearing of real pensions, the lack of health care for 48 million people and the obscenity of corporate pay--all of those trends coincide precisely with the decline in union power (which, I can barely stand to write, is at 7.4 percent in the private sector)?
Can the Candidate break from the false worship of the twins gods of the so-called "free market" and so-called "free trade"? Is there a candidate who can say that "free market" and "free trade" are both marketing phrases? There is no such thing as a "free market" because every corporation in America profits thanks to subsidized public goods like education, roads, the electric power grid, and (albeit, too permissive) regulatory management of the stock market, which imposes stability and deters dishonest behavior. So-called "free trade" is a mirage--nothing is "free trade" about a global trading regime that has iron-clad protection for capital investment and corporate intellectual property, and thrives on controlling and suppressing wages of workers, particularly in China.
Labor needs a candidate who understands that the twin false marketing phrases have made Democrats quiver, tremble and crumble in the face of policies that have been devastating to our country and the world for the past several decades. It has made the Democratic Party incapable of advancing ideas and proposals that people so desperately need. Can a candidate stand up and clearly say that the real choice is not over politically empty slogans or accusations of 'protectionism' but over what rules we want to govern how the economy operates for the benefit of our families and communities? Can the candidate say that, first and foremost, we need rules that support people and their communities, not powerful, global corporations?
Which Candidate actually has walked a picket line or spent quality time on a union organizing campaign? You may think it's a small point. But, a candidate who can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with people who are in a fight with their employers (either on strike or when they are battling to win the right to have a union) is a person who isn't likely to play the neutrality game once in office a la "I can't side with either workers or the employer"--or worse. And which candidate has done that throughout their life, not just when they needed a convenient photo-op to show they care about workers?
Which Candidate can show a real record of fighting for good laws, or at least a real plan for the future? I'm not in favor of making a checklist for every vote. And it isn't always the actual vote we should look at: we should also judge a candidate based on how hard s/he fought to pass a piece of legislation or fight against some really awful legislation. It doesn't cut any ice with me if someone was there for a vote, whose outcome is known by all, but did very little along the hard road to victory. Right now, of the declared or likely Democratic candidates, all but two serve in office: Sens. Biden, Clinton, Dodd, and Obama , Rep. Kucinich and Gov. Richardson; former Sens. Edwards and Gravel (that would be Mike Gravel from Alaska who may get less coverage this year than Kucinich) are the out-of-office candidates. Here are several things I would submit bear watching in the coming weeks and months and should be key barometers:
Fast Track: I do not know how any union can endorse a candidate who doesn't vote against "fast track." Actually, the bar should be set higher: each of the candidates needs to put their heart and soul into defeating the extension of this law. The short version: "fast track" gives the power to the president to present trade deals to the Congress for an up or down vote, with no possibility of amendment. It's better thought of as "ram-this-down-your-throat" authority. This should be a bi-partisan issue: when many union leaders/activists (including yours truly) were fighting the Clinton Administration's bid in the 1990s to impose "fast track," we pointed out that, regardless of party, "fast track" hands over too much power to the executive branch and undercuts the ability of the people to have their say, via their members of Congress, on how the rules are set to govern economic relationships with other countries.
Employee Free Choice Act: this is a no-brainer. Every Democratic candidate holding a federal office will vote for this bill, which, as the astute readers here know, would make the process of union organizing a lot fairer. The real question, though, is will those candidates take a leadership role in fighting for the bill? Now that the bill has passed the House, that's a bigger question for the Senators in the crowd because the Senate is where the bill will likely die, absent a miracle. There simply aren't the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster--and I don't see where we reach 60 votes anytime soon, even after the 2008 elections. But, what we should look for is some spine: which Senator will lay down a real marker by proclaiming that those who oppose the bill are protecting the rich and the powerful over the rights of the average worker and which candidate will make it clear that the passage of the bill must be a priority for the Democratic Party?
Health Care: I personally believe that single-payer health care is the only economically viable and socially responsible solution to the crisis in health care. But, at the very least, a labor-backed candidate has to be pushing a plan that takes away the power from the insurance industry and drug companies to exploit tens of millions of Americans by shaking every nickel from their pockets and saddling them with inadequate health care coverage--not to mention the damage down to companies groaning under the weight of health care costs.
The Iraq War: I stuck to the economic issues in this post; that isn't to say that unions shouldn't consider candidates positions on non-economic issues. That said, the war is a huge economic issue--it could cost the country up to $2 trillion. Who pays that bill? The workers. Even if they have no idea the bill is coming, it will happen either in the form of higher taxes, and/or higher interest rates and/or cuts in government services that we all depend on. So, unions should take a careful look at the candidates' position on the war and current occupation.
This is intentionally not an exhaustive list because I'm interested in hearing what others have to offer. What are your ideas?
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