Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Another hopeful sign...

Soldier who refused to return to Iraq to surrender in North Miami
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press

NORTH MIAMI, Fla. (AP) Shaken by a gunfight in Iraq that killed innocent civilians, a 28-year-old U.S. soldier declared the invasion ''an oil-driven war'' and said he won't return to the Middle East and fight.

Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia, of Miami Beach, surrendered Monday at an air force base in Massachusetts, where he was ordered to report to his unit Tuesday at the North Miami Armory in suburban Miami.

His attorney, Louis Font, said he believes Mejia is the first soldier to turn himself in after refusing to return to Iraq. Mejia said he would seek conscientious objector status.

Mejia was in Iraq for about five months last year until October, when he returned home on leave. He did not return to duty.

''This is an oil-driven war, and I don't think any soldier signs up to fight for oil,'' Mejia said Monday after arriving at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Mejia said he was particularly upset over an incident in which he and others were ambushed and innocent civilians were hit in the ensuing gunfire.

''That's one of the things that tells me there's no such thing as a fair war, no such thing as a just war,'' he said.

He did not believe his refusal to return to service in Iraq affected morale among the troops, saying: ''I think the morale of the soldiers is already affected.''

...Mejia said he joined the military upon his arrival in the United States so he could work his way into American society. He could not say whether he might be deported because of his refusal to serve, but said ''whatever sacrifice I have to make, I have to go there.''

Tod Ensign, director of Citizen Soldier, a New York-based group that provides counsel and defense to military resisters and is organizing Mejia's defense, said Mejia could face up to one year in prison for being absent without leave and up to five years in prison if he is convicted of desertion.

''I am saying no to war; I have chosen peace,'' Mejia said Monday at an anti-war news conference. ''I went to Iraq and was an instrument of violence and now I have decided to become an instrument of peace.''

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