Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Soldier on Trial

From the Miami Herald (registration required):

Camilo Mejia’s family and supporters see him as a once-confused teenager who joined the Army so he could go to college, then showed courage in leaving it when he became morally appalled at the ”war for oil” and the treatment of prisoners.

But the military and many fellow soldiers see someone else in Mejia, now 28, who left Iraq on a 15-day leave and never returned: a coward who abandoned his fellow troops in a time of war; an opportunist who joined the armed forces for the paid tuition, but then didn’t have the gumption to follow through when called into combat.

A deserter.

That word makes him shiver as he sits in his room at Fort Stewart, Ga., explaining how he came to the decision not to return to the war, as a conscientious objector.

“This was not easy for me,” he told The Herald in a telephone interview. “I was an infantryman for nine years. I was a trained killer. This was never my intention.”

Mejia will be defending his actions today when he goes on trial for desertion. He may be the first combat veteran from Operation Iraqi Freedom to be court-martialed in the United States on such charges. The staff sergeant has pleaded not guilty.

If convicted, he could get a year of hard labor, two-thirds reduction in monthly pay, demotion in rank to the lowest enlisted level and a bad-conduct discharge.

Back when this story broke last winter, I made light of his claim that he was a C.O., saying it was a little late to find this out. I now see that he may have had a greater insight to what it was like in the military. I wish him the best in his effort to prove that you do not abandon your moral convictions – no matter how or when they emerge – when you put on the uniform.

(PS: Is it an unfortunate coincidence that the Herald chose to place a Bush/Cheney ad on the same webpage as this story? Let’s hope so.)