[Ppnews] GI resister sentenced to 8 months

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Mar 6 19:37:51 EST 2007


Army deserter gets 8 months in military prison
By Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
2:20 PM PST, March 6, 2007


A Los Angeles man was sentenced to eight months in a military prison
after he was convicted today of desertion for refusing to deploy to
Iraq.

Army Spc. Agustin Aguayo, 35, whose court-martial was held in
Wurtzburg, Germany, fled his Army base in Germany last summer for
California. He had faced a maximum of seven years in prison.

Aguayo had been jailed for 161 days awaiting trial and his attorney,
David Court, said he did not expect him to serve more than about six
more weeks.

After fleeing Germany, Aguayon surfaced in California, then turned
himself in Sept. 26 at Fort 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."

"In the global war on terrorism, we need everybody rowing the boat,"
Maj. Robert Whittle, one of Aguayo's commanding officers, told the
Stars and Stripes newspaper last fall while the soldier was still
missing.

Aguayo, he said, "volunteered to serve in the military. We would
like him to fulfill the commitment he made and rejoin the team."

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.

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 Fort 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
Fort 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.' "

Agustin Aguayo is a U.S. citizen born in Mexico but raised largely
in Los Angeles. He met his wife, a child of Guatemalan immigrants
who grew up mostly in Palmdale, when both were in high school. They
have twin 11-year-old daughters.

Aguayo first applied for conscientious objector status in February
2004, just before his unit deployed to Iraq.

A combat medic with the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, he
served for one year at a base near Tikrit -- often refusing to load
his weapon while on guard duty -- while his application was being
considered.

The Army rejected his request, and after numerous appeal attempts
failed -- including an August 2006 rejection by the U.S. District
Court in Washington, D.C. -- Aguayo faced a second deployment to
Iraq last summer. By then, his refusal to return to Iraq was common
knowledge amid the tight-knit U.S. military community in
Schweinfurt, Germany.

"There are no secrets on a base," said his wife, who has become a
regular speaker at local antiwar rallies. "For the most part, we
were alienated. I got a lot of cold shoulders."

On Sept. 2, the Army sent two soldiers to Aguayo's on-base home to
forcibly escort him onto a plane to Iraq.

"They said that if they had to, they would carry him onto the
plane," his wife said.

With soldiers sitting in his living room with his wife, Aguayo
slipped out a back window and disappeared.

His wife won't go into details about how her husband made it back to
the U.S., saying only that he received assistance from German
antiwar groups.

The case has become a minor cause celebre among several German
activist groups, which have organized a series of rallies and vigils
this week.

ashraf.khalil at latimes.com

The Associated Press was used in preparing this report.

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