Afghan War Refusers Gets Just One Month In Jail

07 August 2009

Fort Hood, Texas - A Fort Hood soldier was sentenced Wednesday to a month in jail for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan over his beliefs that the war violates international law.

Spc. Victor Agosto, 24, of Miami, pleaded guilty to disobeying lawful orders and was sentenced at the central Texas Army post. The judge also reduced his rank to the Army's lowest level, a private, which also was part of the maximum penalty he faced in his plea agreement with the military.

Also, Agosto cannot be discharged at a level lower than other-than-honorable conditions, an administrative discharge.
A discharge was not mentioned in the hearing, but Agosto is expected to be released from the Army after completing his jail term.

Spc. Victor Agosto

Before he was sentenced during the hour long military hearing, he told the judge he should not be jailed because he posed no threat to anyone.

He said he had remained on post and went to work every day since refusing to deploy after learning a few months ago that the Army was   keeping him beyond his enlistment date. He said he did not use drugs or go absent without leave, as other soldiers have done to   avoid deployment.

He said he did not apply for conscientious objector status because that requires opposition to all wars, and he does not believe that all war    is wrong.

"I really had no Army way of being consistent with my conscience," Agosto said. "The courts haven't recognized soldiers' rights to refuse   an order they believe to be illegal.... I believe future courts will find that the Afghanistan war is illegal because it violates international law."

His attorney, James M. Branum, said he plans to appeal for a lesser sentence on the grounds of legal errors. Agosto gave an  unsworn statement, which  means cross-examination is not allowed.

But after Agosto spoke, Capt. Theresa Santos, acting as the judge in the hearing, asked him several questions, including his opinions about the war before he joined the military.

Agosto said that when he enlisted in 2005, he felt invading Iraq was wrong but that troops had a mission to complete. He said he began to oppose the wars in  Iraq and Afghanistan after he served a 13-month tour in Iraq, which ended in late 2007.

Wednesday's proceeding was a summary court martial, in which a soldier's guilty finding will not show up as a felony conviction if an attorney does not represent him during the hearing. Branum said he was there to advise Agosto and did not speak on the record or object to anything.

Earlier, Agosto called one witness to testify on his behalf. Cynthia Thomas, who said she's been an Army wife for 17 years, said Agosto made a hard decision to follow his conscience although he would lose his military benefits and be ostracized by his peers.

"I have not met a soldier with more integrity than Victor Agosto," she said. "He has served this country in a time of war with honor."