- A Florida National Guard soldier from Miami who served
six months in Iraq refuses to return and seeks conscientious objector status.
- SHERBORN, Mass. - A Miami
soldier who served six months in Iraq and then refused to return after
a leave said Monday "I can no longer be an instrument of violence,"
and turned himself in to military authorities.
- Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia, a National Guard infantryman
for five years after three years of active Army duty, explained his decision
to seek conscientious objector status at an event organized by peace activists.
- "I am not against the military. The military has
been my family," said Mejia, 28. "My commanders are not evil
but this war is evil. I did not sign up for the military to go halfway
around the world to be an instrument of oppression."
- Then, joined by family, supporters and his lawyers, he
walked to the gates of Hanscom Air Force Base outside Boston. Activists
cheered him as heavily armed soldiers took Mejia inside.
- Although he surrendered in Massachusetts, "the military
honored my integrity," Mejia said, allowing him to return to his unit.
- Mejia arrived at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International
Airport just after 10 p.m. Monday and was immediately surrounded by several
reporters and photojournalists.
- Asked about his decision not to return to Iraq, Mejia
responded "I don't think we're fighting terror in Iraq. I think we're
fighting for oil."
- Flanked by his mother and aunt, Mejia said he would turn
himself in to his unit in North Miami, Charlie Company of the 124th Battalion,
at 10 a.m. today.
- Monday night, his plans were simple: "I'm just going
to take a hot shower, get some dinner."
- A spokesman for the Florida National Guard, Lt. Co. Ron
Tittle, said late Monday no decision had been made yet whether to charge
- "We're glad he turned himself in," Tittle said,
adding that Army officials at Fort Stewart, Ga., and the Pentagon would
decide how to handle the case.
- Mejia, who grew up in Nicaragua, moved to Miami as a
teenager with his mother, Maritza Castillo, and became a permanent resident.
- He was studying psychology at the University of Miami.
- Both parents strongly oppose the Iraq war. His father,
Carlos Mejia Godoy, is a prominent songwriter, performer and activist in
Managua. He was a cultural ambassador for the Sandinista government who
denounced U.S. intervention in Nicaragua.
- "I did not want him to go to Iraq," Castillo
said. "But this is his decision today, his conscience."
- The soldier's lawyers, Louis Font and Tod Ensign, said
Mejia could be a "test case" of Iraqi war policy, because they
know of no other resisters who served in Iraq, refused to return and then
turned themselves in. Font will seek an administrative discharge for Mejia,
based on his applying for conscientious objector status.
- Font said he was relieved the Army decided against pre-trial
confinement for Mejia while officials study the case.
- Mejia said his decision was "a very personal one,"
after experiencing six months of guerrilla warfare in the Sunni triangle
of Iraq, where resistance to U.S. occupation has been the most fierce.
- He recalled several ambushes in which other soldiers
were wounded, the "bad guys" got away and "innocent Iraqis"
were killed in crossfires.
- "At the time, you are doing your job and you go
with the flow," Mejia said. "But you see people dying every day.
I can't tell you there was one day I woke up and said I am against the
- "I don't think it is a moral war," he added
- During a two-week leave in October, Mejia decided not
to return to Iraq.
- In the next few months he spent most of his time in New
York, "living like a criminal," wondering if military police
would come for him.
- Surrounded by peace activists, Mejia explained how he
reached his decision after serving eight years in the military:
- "I signed up because I wanted to be part of this
nation, and the military was at the very heart of the United States. I
was very young (19), and was just starting to form my identity, values
- Mejia also criticized the Iraq invasion as "a war
for oil, based on lies -- lies about weapons of mass destruction, and connections
between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda."
- This week marks the first anniversary of the start of
the war, and Mejia's news conference was one of several events clearly
designed for political impact.
- Mejia was joined by Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
of Detroit, who said the soldier's "courageous stand" was in
the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi.
- A group called Military Families Speak Out, which opposes
the war and claims 1,300 participants, helped organize the event and staged
vigils Monday outside the White House and Walter Reed Army Medical Center,
where hundreds of those wounded in Iraq have been treated.
- Herald staff writers Phil Long, Elaine de Valle and Hannah
Sampson and researcher Elisabeth Donovan contributed to this report. -------
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- © : t r u t h o u t 2004