US army medic guilty of desertion

War objector sentenced to 8 months in jail, pay forfeit and a bad conduct discharge.

    Aguayo pleaded guilty to going absent without leave but denied charges of full desertion [EPA]
    Colonel Peter Masterton, the military judge at the court-martial in southern Germany, said the court had found Aguayo, who is married with two children, guilty as charged.
    The case comes at a time of waning support for the Iraq war in the United States and follows the high-profile trial in February of First Lieutenant Ehren Watada - the first known court-martial of a US Army officer for publicly refusing to serve in Iraq.
    Watada's court-martial ended in a mistrial.

    Conscientious objector


    Aguayo has been fighting for three years to be recognised as a conscientious objector.


    He served one term as a medic in Iraq in 2004, during which he said he refused to load his gun while on guard duty.


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    The army medic escaped through a window and left his base in Schweinfurt, Germany, in September 2006, shortly after missing his unit's redeployment, and went missing for several weeks before turning himself over to the authorities in California.


    Aguayo, dressed in military uniform at the trial, said: "I missed the movement. Yes, I deliberately stayed away from the battalion area."


    Captain Derrick Grace, a lawyer representing the prosecution, said: "The accused was supposed to deploy with his unit to face hazardous duty in Iraq. His service was going to be important as a medic regardless of whether he was carrying a weapon or not."


    "But instead the accused decided to jump out of his window and run away."


    Thousands desert


    A deserter is defined by the US department of defence as a member of the armed forces who is absent from their unit or post without authorisation, quits their unit to avoid duty or enlists improperly in another service.


    It can also apply to people who are absent without leave for 30 straight days or more.


    The US defence department recorded a total of 4,494 deserters in 2005, according to official data.


    In addition to Aguayo and Watada, there have been several similar cases, including that of Malcolm Kendall-Smith, a British air force doctor who was sentenced to eight months in jail last April for refusing to go to Iraq.


    Amnesty International said it had sent a delegate to observe the court martial proceedings to assess whether Aguayo would be a prisoner of conscience if convicted and imprisoned.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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