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Soldiers Refuse to Engage in Abuse and Occupation: One Appeals Bad Conduct Discharge, Another Court-Martialed

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CONTACT: press@ccrjustice.org

August 6, 2009, Washington, DC – The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel Font & Glazer, Citizen Soldier, and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces yesterday seeking to vacate the “bad conduct” discharge of a former soldier who was sentenced to a year in military prison for refusing to return to fight in Iraq. Today, Veterans for Peace (VFP) and CCR held a press conference in support of Camilo Mejia-Castillo, the first soldier to publicly condemn the war in Iraq and refuse to return, and SPC Victor Agosto, who was court-martialed yesterday in Texas for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan.

“Increasingly I found that I could no longer tolerate my complicity in what I considered immoral occupation,” said Mr. Mejia-Castillo. “I could not go back to an environment where torture and abuse were destroying the lives of the Iraqis and the soldiers who were ordered to engage in such acts. I knew that if I returned I would have been required to do things that violate the Geneva Conventions.”
 
Mr. Mejia-Castillo is the recipient of a good conduct medal, an Army Commendation and an Army Achievement medal.  

In 2003, when he was deployed as a staff sergeant to ar-Ramadi in southern Iraq as a part of the Florida National Guard, his unit took over a military detention facility where they were instructed by interrogators to “soften up” detainees by yelling at them, keeping them awake as long as possible, making them sit and stand in various stress positions for long periods of time, and performing mock executions with 9mm pistols.

Said CCR Attorney Anjana Samant, “Soldiers are not obligated to commit war crimes and should not be punished for refusing to do so. Camilo acted on his conscience and under the authority of international law, which is the very definition of good conduct.”

On furlough in Florida, Mr. Mejia-Castillo refused to return to Iraq and chose to speak out about his decision. Charged with desertion and the intent to “avoid hazardous duty,” he was court-martialed, sentenced to 12 months in a military jail, reduced in rank from staff sergeant to private, and given a bad conduct discharge. He is seeking a reversal of his bad conduct discharge, the restoration of rank, and back pay.

Mr. Mejia-Castillo, chair of Iraq Veterans Against the War and author of the book, The Road from Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia, is not alone in his attempts to challenge the military.

Said SPC Victor Agosto, a victim of the unpopular stop-loss policy who refused to deploy to Afghanistan, “I don't want to contribute to the death and suffering of the people of Afghanistan so I can't in good conscience participate in the occupation.”  Mr. Agosto was court-martialed yesterday in Texas at Fort Hood for his refusal, sentenced to 30 days and demoted to the rank of private

Mr. Agosto told the military judge he believes the war violates international law and addressed soldiers' rights to refuse an order they believe is illegal.

Said Veterans for Peace President Mike Ferner, “We support Camilo and Victor and every other soldier out there bravely refusing to fight in illegal and immoral wars. The refusers and the vets who stand up for peace are heroes.”

Veterans For Peace, Inc. (VFP) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) educational and humanitarian organization dedicated to the abolishment of war. Visit www.veteransforpeace.org.

Citizen Soldier is a non profit GI and veterans rights advocacy organization that was founded during the Vietnam war in 1969.  It has been involved in a wide range of legal and political issues where the rights of servicemembers and veterans are affected or threatened.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.