Thu, Mar 08, 2007 - Page 7 News List

US Army medic deserter given eight months

AVOIDING IRAQ A one-day court martial found Specialist Agustin Aguayo guilty of desertion; the judge also ordered him dishonorably discharged

AP , WUERZBURG, GERMANY

A US Army medic who refused to return to Iraq because he believes war is morally wrong received an eight-month sentence on Tuesday that could see him freed within a few weeks.

Specialist Agustin Aguayo, 35, and his attorneys turned to each other and smiled after the judge, Colonel Peter Masterton, read out the sentence.

Aguayo could have been given up to seven years for desertion, the most serious charge against him at his one-day court martial at the Army's Leighton Barracks near Wuerzburg.

Aguayo, a US citizen born in Guadalajara, Mexico, had been jailed for 161 days awaiting trial and his attorney, David Court, said he did not expect him to serve more than about six more weeks.

"We're grateful that the military judge gave a light sentence," Court said, adding that Aguayo had convinced the judge that he was sincere and that "the judge is concerned with justice."

Aguayo himself only nodded in response to a reporter's question as he left the courtroom.

The judge also ordered that Aguayo be reduced in rank to private, forfeit his pay, and receive a bad conduct discharge.

Earlier, Aguayo pleaded guilty to the lesser charges of being absent without leave and missing a troop movement, but was unsuccessful in contesting the more serious desertion charge.

In a shaky voice, Aguayo told the court during the trial how his convictions led him to jump out a window and flee his unit's base in Germany rather than be forced to go back to Iraq.

"I respect everyone's views and your decision, I understand that people don't understand me," he testified before the judge. "I tried my best, but I couldn't bear weapons and I could never point weapons at someone."

Aguayo then quoted the 16th-Century German religious reformer Martin Luther: "Here I stand, I can do no more."

The judge found him guilty of desertion after Captain Derrick Grace, the lead prosecutor, told the court being absent without leave was by itself grounds for a desertion conviction.

The one-day trial was observed by representatives of Amnesty International and American Voices Abroad, an anti-war group that has assisted Aguayo.

Aguayo has said he enlisted in 2002 to earn money for his education. Though military operations in Afghanistan were under way and discussions about Iraq were ongoing, he said he never considered that he would have to fight.

Aguayo, who was with the 1st Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, served a year as a combat medic in Tikrit in 2004 after the military turned down his request to be considered a conscientious objector.

He challenged the Army's decision in US federal courts but lost.

Military lawyers pointed out he applied for objector status only after receiving orders to go to Iraq. Aguayo said his beliefs evolved based on his upbringing and his experiences in the military.

After fleeing home to California, he turned himself in to the military at California's Fort Irwin about three weeks later.

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