Camilo Mejia, conscientious objector, sentenced to a year in prison

Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee
The Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310

Major General William G.  Webster, Jr. 
Commanding General, Fort Stewart 
42 Wayne Place, 
Ft Stewart GA 31314

22 June 2004

Re. Camilo Mejia, conscientious objector, sentenced to a year in prison for "desertion" on May 19.

We write again from Payday, an international, multiracial network of men working with the Global Women's Strike, in support of Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia of the Florida National Guard. We join with over 760 people around the world who have signed an international petition, as well as Amnesty International, in demanding that Mr. Mejia be immediately and unconditionally released, and that he be discharged as a conscientious objector, as is his right.  We are appalled that Mr. Mejia, who denounced the torture of Iraqi prisoners, was given the same sentence as the US soldier who commited that very same torture.

As you are aware, the judge in Mr. Mejia’s court-martial trial refused evidence of his principled opposition to war, based on what Mr. Mejia witnessed of US troops’ treatment of Iraqi children, women, and men. Also he denied the defense motion that Mr. Mejia, as a Costa Rican national who has served over eight years in the National Guard, has a legal right to discharge. The rush to find Mr. Mejia guilty of desertion above all other considerations only underscores the political nature of the trial, designed to prevent him and other soldiers from speaking about the atrocities they have witnessed in Iraq.

We join with his aunt and mother in demanding that you immediately expedite the transcript of Mr. Mejia’s trial, now a month past, without which he cannot pursue his appeal for clemency. It is outrageous that he was first denied a fair hearing and now must sit in prison waiting on a bureaucratic detail before he can even appeal his sentence.

Finally, we demand to know why the media is being prevented from speaking with Mr. Mejia at Fort Sill, and demand that this ban be lifted during the hearing on his conscientious objector application.

Born in Nicaragua and a father of a three year-old girl, Mr. Mejia, like many Latino and Black young people, was attracted to the military’s promise to give him college assistance, and like many immigrants, as a shortcut to getting US citizenship.

In April 2003 he was sent to the frontline in Iraq. This is not surprising, since Latino men and women account for almost 25% of frontline combatants in the Army – double their number in the general population.

He soon understood what he was recruited into. He was particularly upset when a young Iraqi boy was shot, and died after the US army refused the boy medical treatment. He was also angered when his unit was reprimanded by officers for celebrating their escape from an ambush. His commander told them their job was “to kill the enemy, not run away.”
He has said, “I have witnessed the suffering of a people whose country is in ruins and who are further humiliated by the raids, patrols, curfews of an occupying army. Going home on leave in October 2003 provided me with the opportunity to put my thoughts in order and to listen to what my conscience had to say, … putting my weapon down I chose to reassert myself as a human being.”

Mr. Mejia, speaking about his experiences of the military’s brutal murder and humiliation of the people of Iraq, has made it clear that the widespread torture of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad is no “exception” but the epitome of the daily disasters of occupation. In fact, in his application for discharge as a conscientious objector, Mr. Mejia provides details of the torture and abuse of detainees which he witnessed at Al Assad, a year ago, in May 2003. We urgently want to know why the Army isn’t investigating the abuses he has brought to light. Instead, Mr. Mejia is the one facing court-martial. Why should he be punished for refusing to be part of a military occupation that is putting Saddam Hussein’s torture chambers back in business?

We believe with Mr. Mejia that in refusing illegal orders, he is fulfilling his duty as a soldier, obeying a principle of the Uniform Code of Military Justice 809.ART.90 (20), 892.ART.92 (1), and 892.ART.92 (2). This principle, which came out of the Nuremberg Tribunals, has been part of the official policy of the US Department of Defense since 1953. Indeed it is the Bush administration which has acted illegally, violating many international laws, including the Nuremberg principles which define as a crime against peace the "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression … in violation of international treaties, agreements, or assurances."

Mr. Mejia has also spoken for the many thousands of soldiers now forced to stay in the military beyond their contracts and despite physical disability and ill-health, doing back-to-back tours of duty while being denied time off even for family emergencies, in order to keep up military operations that have now been exposed as including the murder, rape and other torture and brutality, including of non-combatants, even children.

 Mr. Mejia’s experience also confirms what the Iraqi Women’s League has told us: the war and occupation of Iraq have subjected women and children in particular to the most horrendous living conditions, including lack of protection against sexual and other violence. Food, water, medical care, electricity, phone service and other public services destroyed by the war and prior US sanctions, are still not accessible to the great majority of the people of Iraq.

Many millions of people, including in the United States, have demonstrated their total opposition to what they see as a war waged by the US government against not only the Iraqi people, but also against the rest of the world, including against most of us in the US who have to pay for the US military – half the world’s military budget – through cutbacks in welfare, schools, health and other community services. In a New York Times/CBS News Poll (24 May), the number of US people who now say the United States was right in taking military action against Iraq has dropped 29% since December (from 63% to 34%), a trend that can only continue in view of mounting US casualties and what is finally coming to light about the atrocities against Iraqi people.

Finally, it is important to note that Mr. Mejia surrendered to the military authority in March 2004 and claimed conscientious objection. In April 2003 US Marine Stephen Funk did the same and was also charged with desertion, but this charge was later rejected in court.


Eric Gjertsen

Ben Martin