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Jail or war? Soldier chooses jail
By FinalCall.com News
Updated May 31, 2004 - 1:59:00 AM

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(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 Army.

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 Massachusetts.

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 citizenship.

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 absence.

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.”


 


FCN is a distributor (and not a publisher) of content supplied by third parties. Original content supplied by FCN and FinalCall.com News is Copyright 2009 FCN Publishing, FinalCall.com. Content supplied by third parties are the property of their respective owners.

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