|Mejia, centre, served a year in jail for refusing to serve in Iraq [GALLO/Getty]|
Camilo Mejia is a former staff sergeant in an infantry unit for the Florida national guard who served in Iraq but later refused to return to combat and applied for conscientious objector status. He was convicted of desertion in May 2004 and served a year in an army prison. He is now a prominent member of the Iraqi Veterans Against the War (IVAW) organisation.
“When I first arrived in Iraq, in the beginning we were all really sceptical and didn’t know what to expect, but pretty soon it became clear that we were there to stay.
[During the invasion] we began to be attacked and obviously we responded with overwhelming force. [There was] an escalation of the battle because of the way that we were conducting ourselves, not only with total disregard for the lives and wellbeing of people but with disregard for our own tactics as soldiers.
We were instigating firefights and provoking the population of Iraq, leading to the injury of many of our soldiers and also the killing of many unarmed Iraq civilians.
The first mission that we had was running an Iraqi prisoner of war camp.
In the camp we used mental techniques such as performing mock executions with a pistol to the head of a detainee, depriving them of light by putting bags on their heads, keeping them surrounded by concertina wire so they couldn’t really move without injuring themselves and sleep deprivation and light deprivation.
All of these things in order to break them down emotionally and physically in order to, quote unquote “soften them up for interrogation”.
Voices from the Iraq war
Click on the names above to read their stories
I arrived back home [from Iraq] in Oct 2003 when I was given a two week furlough.
While I was in Iraq it was really difficult for me to make decisions based on my morality or my conscience as the environment was so intense, the number one priority was to keep alive.
But when I came home I had peace of mind to go back to these questions that were haunting me from the very beginning of the occupation.
I had to choose between being a good soldier and a good human being – I chose to follow my conscience and to not go back.
After I denounced the war in March 2004 there were no known public resisters to the Iraq war, much less veterans who has been there and were speaking about their own experiences and how Iraqis were being brutalised by the occupation.
The case became very public and very politicized and two months after my public surrender to the military I was tried by court martial but it was a very biased trial – you could tell from the beginning that the military weren’t going to play nice.
Most of our arguments were denied by the military judge who did not allow the jury to hear anything of the sleep deprivation and the conditions.
I was found guilty of desertion and given a 12-month sentence in a military facility. I was also demoted to private, had forfeiture of pay and a discharge from the army.
Ending the war
Now, I think that Iraq is not something we can view from a hopeless perspective.
I think it’s our duty to end the occupation and I believe the military has the power to end it because without the military muscle they cannot … wage endless immoral and pre-emptive war against the Iraq people.
I advocate the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all occupying forces.
The Iraqis are a wonderful people, I have had the privilege of befriending Iraqis over there and they love their country and each other very much and they are determined to kick out the occupation and rebuild their country.
So I do believe there is hope for them, but I also believe that it is in their own hands to rebuild their country on their own terms.