Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Dahr Jamail, was posted to Truthout, September 28, 2009.
Afghanistan war resister Travis Bishop has been held largely “incommunicado” in the Northwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Lewis, Washington.
Bishop, who is being held by the military as a “prisoner of conscience,” according to Amnesty International, was transported to Fort Lewis on September 9 to serve a 12-month sentence in the Regional Correctional Facility. He had refused orders to deploy to Afghanistan based on his religious beliefs, and had filed for Conscientious Objector (CO) status.
Bishop, who served a 13-month deployment to Iraq and was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, was court marshaled by the Army for his refusal to deploy to Afghanistan. Given that he had already filed for CO status, many local observers called his sentencing a “politically driven prosecution.”
By holding Bishop incommunicado, the military violated Bishop’s legal right to counsel, a violation of the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution, according to his civil defense attorney James Branum.
The Sixth Amendment is the part of the Bill of Rights that sets forth rights related to criminal prosecutions in federal courts, and reads, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”
Attorney LeGrande Jones, who practices in Olympia and was designated by Branum as the local counsel for Bishop, was also denied access to Bishop, on the grounds that Jones was on an unnamed and unobtainable “watch-list,” which constitutes deprivation of counsel.
Jones was denied entry to Fort Lewis and told he would never be allowed to enter the base. Fort Lewis authorities never gave him a reason for his being denied access to the base and his client. To this, Branum told Truthout, “Fort Lewis authorities have a duty to tell LeGrande the reasons why he is being barred from Fort Lewis, and therefore [barred] from communicating with his client in the Fort Lewis brig.”
Until September 18, Bishop’s condition was unclear due to his having been completely cut off from the public.
Branum, who is the legal adviser to the Oklahoma GI Rights Hotline and co-chair of the Military Law Task Force, also represents Leo Church, another war resister being held at Fort Lewis.
Church, who was also stationed at Fort Hood, went AWOL (Absent Without Leave) to prevent his wife and children from becoming homeless. The fact that he was unable to financially support his family off his military pay alone dictated that Church seek other means to support them. With his pleas to the military for assistance going unheeded, he opted to go AWOL in order to support his dependents.
According to Branum, “Church received eight months jail time because he put the safety and welfare of his children over his obligation to the Army. Leo tried to get help from his unit, but was denied.”
Branum told Truthout that Church had been able to contact him while at Fort Lewis, but the call was monitored by a guard, violating his attorney-client privilege.
Gerry Condon, with Project Safe Haven (an advocacy group for GI resisters in Canada), and a veteran himself as a member of the Greater Seattle Veterans for Peace, told Truthout he believes Bishop and Church are being held in a way that is both “intolerable and unconstitutional.”
Condon, who is working to try to support both Bishop and Church, told Truthout, “They are denied all visitors, except for immediate family, clergy and legal counsel [legal counsel is limited at this time]. No friends or fiancés. This is not the normal practice at other brigs.”
Branum told Truthout he feels that how Bishop and Church are being treated at Fort Lewis is “part of a broader pattern the military has of just throwing people in jail and not letting them talk to their attorneys, not let visitors come, and this is outrageous. In the civilian world even murderers get visits from their friends.”
Speaking further of the conditions in which the military is holding Bishop and Church, Condon added, “Fort Lewis authorities have made it virtually impossible for Bishop and Church to make phone calls. They must first get money on their calling account. This must be done by money order and according to several other similarly prohibitive procedures. And the money may not be credited to the account until a month after it is received. Plus, officials at the Fort Lewis brig must approve the names of people that can be called.”
Condon told Truthout, “Travis Bishop is a leader in what has become an international GI resistance movement that is attempting to bring troops home from both occupations by following their consciences and international law. They deserve all the support we can give them, especially while they are in prison - they are owed their constitutional liberties.”
Branum told Truthout that as far as he knows, he may well be the only person on Bishop’s call list.
Both Bishop and Church have been prevented from adding any names to their respective “authorized contacts” lists (even for family members), which effectively cuts them off from almost all contact with the outside world. According to Branum, mail and commissary funds sent by friends and supporters will likely be “returned to sender” due to what he feels is “a cruel and inhumane policy.”
In addition, there are no work programs at the Fort Lewis brig, nor any classes available for soldiers to take while they are incarcerated. Generally, work programs and/or classes are available for incarcerated soldiers.
“By participating in work programs and school classes, soldiers being held in brigs can get time cut off their sentences,” Branum explained to Truthout, “But these don’t exist at Fort Lewis, so that means Travis and Leo can’t get time taken off their sentences. Travis will do a minimum of 10 months, and could have theoretically worked an additional month off his sentence if Fort Lewis had these programs.”
Branum, who is the lead attorney for both Bishop and Church, told Truthout the actions of officials at Fort Lewis violate his clients’ constitutional rights.
“Bishop and Church’s defense team and supporters are in the process of negotiating with Fort Lewis officials to ensure transparency and that Bishop and Church’s legal rights are being met,” Branum stated in a press release on the matter that was published on September 17. “The unusual circumstances of isolation of these soldiers is unquestionably illegal. If Fort Lewis doesn’t change its ways, we will be forced to go to court and demand justice.”
On September 18, officials at Fort Lewis finally allowed Branum to speak with Bishop on the telephone, but not privately.
Bishop was accompanied by two guards, who monitored his conversation with Branum. In addition, Fort Lewis authorities claimed that the recently rebuilt/remodeled brig does not yet have proper facilities to facilitate a private telephone conversation.
Speaking further about the conversation he was finally allowed to have with Bishop, Branum added, “In the phone call we did get to do, they still refused to let Travis talk to me privately. He actually had two guards in the room with him the entire time, which obviously negates any compliance with attorney-client privilege. And presumably the phone call was taped (all of the other brigs have special rooms for attorney calls, that have phone lines to the outside that are not taped) which is completely unconstitutional. The brig of course will say, “well we won’t listen to that tape” but that is bullshit, and it is illegal.”
“The only reason they [Fort Lewis authorities] let me talk to Travis on Friday [September 18] was that he was finally “medically cleared,” Branum told Truthout, “This took 10 days in this case, and it looks like this is their standard operating procedure, which is completely wrong.”
When Truthout questioned the public affairs office at Fort Lewis about Bishop’s situation, we were told all matters were being handled “legally, and according to standard operating procedure,” and “any wrongdoing would be investigated.”
Branum added, “They are giving the excuse that “we don’t have the secure room for attorney phone calls set up yet,” but can’t tell me when they are going to have the room set up.”
Branum and Jones are planning to file a lawsuit against Fort Lewis in the near future, specifically targeting the denial of attorney-client privilege.
Both soldiers are being supported by two GI resistance cafes: Under the Hood cafe (in Killeen, Texas, near Fort Hood) and Coffee Strong (in Tacoma, Washington, near Fort Lewis).
By Courage to Resist. September 4, 2009 (updated regularly)
Consolidated and up-to-date list of easy action items
We have a lot of information about GI resistance and how to help objectors spread out over hundreds of pages on couragetoresist.org. However, sometimes folks just want to know what needs to be done and how to do it, including:
Cliff Cornell in currently jailed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Expected release: March 2010
Cliff traveled to Canada in 2005 to resist Iraq deployment. “I don’t want to be killing innocent people,” he explained at the time. He was deported from Canada in February 2009 and was convicted of desertion at Ft. Steward, Georgia in May. More information about Cliff.
Anthony Michael Anderson, PO Box 305, Fort Sill OK 73503-5305
Tony Anderson is currently jailed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Expected release: November 2009
Tony was sentenced to 14 months in the stockade for resisting Iraq deployment. “I know in my heart that it is wrong to willfully hurt or kill another human being. I simply cannot do it. I don’t regret following my conscience,” he said at his trial. More information about Tony.
Travis Bishop, Address TBA, Fort Lewis WA
Travis is currently jailed near Fort Hood TX awaiting transfer to Fort Lewis WA.
Note that Travis is still in need of donations to cover his defense costs. Please see info below.
Expected release: July 2010
Travis, with the Army's 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, was sentenced to 12 months in the stockade for resisting deployment to Afghanistan. Travis explained that he had serious doubts about his views on war for a long time, but was unaware of his right to file for a conscience objector discharge until just before he was scheduled to deploy. Amnesty International has declared him to be a “prisoner of conscience”. More information about Travis. Also: freetravisbishop.wordpress.com
Leo Church, Address TBA, Fort Lewis WA
Leo Church is currently jailed at Fort Lewis WA.
He is not a exactly a "war resister", but is deserving of support.
Expected release: May 2010
Leo is currently serving eight months for going AWOL in order to help his three young children who became homeless with their mother while he had been at basic and advanced initial training. More information about Leo. Also: freeleochurch.wordpress.com
Dustin Stevens is not currently in jail, but on restriction at Fort Bragg NC.
The correspondence limitations described below do not yet apply.
He has been charged with desertion and is facing possible court martial.
We recently helped expose the outrageous treatment of dozens of soldiers at Fort Bragg, NC with “Echo Platoon - Warehousing soldiers in the homeland” by Courage to Resist's Sarah Lazare and Dahr Jamail, Tom Dispatch. August 10, 2009. Now the most outspoken of the "Ft. Bragg 50" needs our support!
About directly corresponding with and supporting jailed military objectors
Know that your correspondence will be read and reviewed by the military; however, general political content is not usually a basis for censorship.
Do not send stamps, photos, magazines, newspapers, etc. Photocopied articles and photocopied photos, when accompanied by a personal letter, are usually OK.
You may send a money order (payable to the jailed resister). This money will be deposited into their “safe keeping” fund administered by the stockade. From this fund, they may purchase postage stamps (to write you back) and phone cards (to call family and friends).
You may send a book; however, you must order books from amazon.com (or bn.com) and have them shipped directly to the resister. Consider asking the jailed resister if they have any specific title requests, or general categories of interest (mystery, political history, sci-fi, etc.) prior to ordering.
2: Donate to resister defense funds
Courage to Resist has hosted many individual resister defense funds since 2006, including Army objectors Agustin Aguayo, Cliff Cornell, Robin Long, Ryan Jackson, Tony Anderson, and Victor Agosto. These funds have ensured that those courageous soldiers had civilian legal counsel and support while in jail.
The following individual resister efforts are in need of your support:
"To Commanding General - Free Army conscientious objector Dustin Stevens and end the illegal pre-trial punishment of Dustin Stevens and the Fort Bragg 50! ...These soldiers are subjected to many months of unjust and illegal punishment prior to their day in court. We respectfully request that the Army improve living conditions, reassign sadistic supervisors, end all informal punishments, and expedite resolution for these soldiers..."
"To Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada - I am writing from the U.S. to ask that you abide by the House of Commons resolution to create a program to allow war objectors, including U.S. resisters, to apply for permanent resident status in Canada and to cease all deportation and removal proceedings against them..."
"To the German Government - AWOL U.S. soldier André Shepherd applied for asylum in Germany. His tour of duty as a U.S. soldier in Iraq made him convinced that he could no longer participate in a war which breaks international law... we appeal to you, grant André Shepherd asylum..."
This announcement was posted to the Free Travis Bishop blog, August 24, 2009
Travis Bishop, a sergeant in the United States army, is serving a one-year prison sentence for refusing to serve with the army in Afghanistan because of his religious beliefs. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned for his conscientious objection to participating in war.
Travis Bishop’s sentence was imposed by a court-martial on 14 August, even though the US army was still considering his application for conscientious objector status. In a statement made at the court-martial, Travis Bishop explained that he discovered he could apply for this status only days before his scheduled deployment to Afghanistan. He went absent without leave on the day of his deployment to give himself “time to prepare for my [conscientious objector] application process”. He was away from his unit for about a week, during which he drafted his application and sought legal advice. He returned voluntarily, and on his return to the unit he submitted his application.
Travis Bishop has served in the US army since 2004. He was deployed to Iraq from August 2006 to October 2007. According to his lawyer, he had doubts about taking part in military action since then, but it was only in February 2009, when his unit was ordered to deploy to Afghanistan, that he considered refusing to go. In the period before he was due to be deployed, Travis Bishop’s religious convictions became stronger, and led him to conclude that he could no longer participate in any war.
At the court martial, Travis Bishop was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for going absent without leave, suspension of two-thirds of his salary and a bad conduct discharge. He is imprisoned in Bell County Jail in Texas. His lawyer has pledged to appeal against the conviction. BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Amnesty International has recognized as prisoners of conscience a number of US soldiers refusing to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan because of their conscientious objection. They included Camilo Mejia (see http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/092/2004/en), who was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for his objection to the armed conflict in Iraq in 2004, and Abdullah Webster (see http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/137/2004/en), who refused to participate in the same war due to his religious beliefs and was sentenced the same year to 14 months’ imprisonment. Another, Kevin Benderman (see
http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/123/2005/en), was sentenced in 2005 to 15 months’ imprisonment after he refused to re-deploy to Iraq because of abuses he allegedly witnessed there. Agustin Aguayo (see
http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/041/2007/en) was sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment for his refusal to participate in the armed conflict in Iraq. All four have since been released.
Some of these conscientious objectors have been court-martialed and sentenced despite pending applications for conscientious objector status, others were imprisoned after their applications were turned down on the basis that they were objecting to particular wars rather than to war in general.
Amnesty International believes the right to refuse to perform military service for reasons of conscience is part of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as recognized in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the USA has ratified.
Amnesty International considers a conscientious objector to be any person who, for reasons of conscience or profound conviction, either refuses to perform any form of service in the armed forces or applies for non-combatant status. This can include refusal to participate in a particular war because one disagrees with its aims or the manner in which it was being waged, even if one does not oppose taking part in all wars.
Wherever such a person is detained or imprisoned solely for these beliefs, Amnesty International considers that person to be a prisoner of conscience. Amnesty International also considers conscientious objectors to be prisoners of conscience if they are imprisoned for leaving the armed forces without authorization for reasons of conscience, if they have first taken reasonable steps to secure release from military obligations. RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible:
Stating that Amnesty International considers Travis Bishop to be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for his conscientious objection to participate in war;
Explaining that, although Travis Bishop went absent without leave, he did so to complete an application for conscientious objector status and seek legal advice, thereafter returning to his unit to submit the application;
Urging that Travis Bishop be released immediately and unconditionally.
Commanding Officer of Travis Bishop’s Unit
Lieutenant General Rick Lynch
III Corps HQ
1001 761st Tank Battalion Ave.
Bldg. 1001, Room W105
Fort Hood, TX 76544-5005
Salutation: Dear Commanding General
Colonel James H. Jenkins III
Headquarters, 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade
Building 10053, Battalion Avenue
Fort Hood, TX 76544-5068
Salutation: Dear Commander
Travis Bishop’s lawyer
James M. Branum
Attorney at Law
3334 W. Main St., PMB #412
Norman, OK 73072
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY.
Check with the AIUSA Urgent Action office if sending appeals after 5 October 2009.
This article, by Alice Embree, was published in the Rag Blog, August 16, 2009
Protesters gathered Saturday, August 15th, in support of two Afghanistan war resisters held in the Bell County Correctional Unit. Under a blazing Texas sun, protesters held signs and chanted.
Victor Agosto is incarcerated at the Bell County facility after being court martialed August 5th for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan. Agosto was sentenced to one month. Travis Bishop will be held in Bell County for about two weeks before his transfer to a military prison. Bishop was court martialed August 14th and received a sentence of one year.
Supporters plan to be present every Saturday while the resisters are in jail at this facility. For more information, go to the Under the Hood Cafe website.
This article, by Alice Embree, was published in the Rag Blog, August 16, 2009
In the second court martial in two weeks, another Fort Hood soldier was sentenced on August 14th for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan.
Sgt. Travis Bishop was brought before special court martial proceedings, found guilty and sentenced to one year in prison. His rank and pay were reduced. He is expected to be held in the Bell County Correctional Unit before serving his sentence in a military jail. His discharge status will be determined later. Because Sgt. Bishop has a prior honorable discharge, his GI benefits may not be reduced.
Sgt. Bishop faced four charges: willful disobedience of a Non-Commissioned Officer, absence without leave and two counts of missing movement. The charges were more serious than those faced by Spc. Victor Agosto on August 5th. Agosto's case was resolved in a summary court martial and he is serving a one month sentence in the Bell County Correctional Unit.
The courtroom resembled a civil courtroom with the judge in black robes. An Army defense attorney was seated with Bishop and his civilian defense attorney, James Branum. The panel, however, was hardly a peer panel. The jury seats were filled by eight Colonels, Lieutenant Colonels and Majors who had to be warned once not to fall asleep while the Judge read instructions.
A Fort Hood Public Affairs representative told Bishop supporters during a recess that Bishop was being tried in the same courtroom where Army Staff Sgt. Shane Werst had faced a court martial for shooting an unarmed Iraqi citizen. "Five privates turned a dime on him," he said. Despite testimony that soldiers were ordered to plant a gun on the Iraqi citizen to make the death appear to be self defense, Werst was acquitted May 26, 2005. Bishop's sentence for not deploying is a sobering contrast.
Bishop's court martial began on Thursday and Bishop's defense attorney and supporters had expected the arraignment, designation of a jury panel and testimony of one witness to be brief. Instead, the trial began in earnest and lasted five hours. At one point on Thursday, supporter Cynthia Thomas was asked by a Killeen police officer and an Army MP to leave the courtroom and explain her relationship with the defendant. Thomas asked if she were being detained and to speak to her attorney. She was not stopped from returning to the courtroom.
The prosecution brought Captain Chrisopher Hall in to testify that the absence of Travis Bishop from his unit had caused hardship to his unit. The defense presented four witnesses who testified to Travis Bishop's sincerity of beliefs. Bishop filed a request for Conscientious Objector status in late May and the request is still pending.
Charles Luther, a defense witness with a background as a lay Baptist minister, spoke of Bishop's religious beliefs. The defense attorney established that psychiatrist, Lt. Col. Adams, to whom Bishop had been referred, approved Bishop's Conscientious Objector claim and that it was one of only two claims in his ten years that Adams had approved.
In a surprise moment at the end of testimony, the Prosecution decided to call Lt. Colonel Ronald Leininger to the stand. Leininger was the Brigade Chaplain to whom Bishop was referred for pastoral counseling. Bishop has described his deep disappointment in speaking to someone he thought would be attentive to his religious beliefs. Bishop said the Chaplain reduced his interview time and interrupted the interview repeatedly by receiving phone calls.
In the statement issued by the Chaplain after his visit with Bishop, he focused almost no attention on Bishop's religious beliefs. Instead, he wrote that Bishop had been coached by Iraq Veterans Against the War and other antiwar activists. He went further to say that the affiliation that best described Bishop's religious heritage was "Conservative Evangelicals" who the Captain said are "generally pro-military service with no pacifist tendencies in doctrine or practice. In fact, they make good soldiers."\
Bishop has received letters of support from a number of pastors who cite their church's doctrine and practice supporting conscientious objection to war.
The court was recessed as the panel considered the verdict for about one hour. They found Sgt. Bishop guilty. In the sentencing phase, the civilian defense attorney, James Branum, asked for a three months sentence in light of Sgt. Bishop's sincerity and previous good conduct, including a fourteen month deployment in Iraq. In particular, Branum focused on the fact that soldiers are never given information about their rights to Conscientious Objection. Branum said that a soldier who changes his or her belief about war doesn't understand that there are options.
Maj. Matthew McDonald, who served as the judge, discounted the relevancy of whether Bishop was notified about his right to file for CO status. McDonald was quoted in the Killeen Daily Herald (8/14/09) as saying: "If every soldier in the Army who disobeyed an order could claim it was because they weren't notified of conscientious objector status, we probably wouldn't have a military any more."
Prior to sentencing, Bishop's testimony was forceful and moving. He cited several articles that protect a soldiers rights and noted that soldiers often are not informed of their rights, but that doesn't relieve the Army of its responsibility to honor those rights. Bishop said that the right to pursue a claim of Conscientious Objection requires protection. He said that he was unaware that he could pursue a claim of Conscientious Objection until right before his deployment.
"The truth is, as soon as I discovered this process [C.O.] existed, I acted upon it. I left because I did not feel that I would have a sympathetic, understanding command structure to fully take my problems to, and also to give myself time to prepare for my C.O. application process, and the legal battle I'm currently fighting. These are not excuses. These are explanations. My hope is that you truly treat them as such during your sentencing deliberations."
After being sentenced to the maximum jail term allowable under a Special Court Martial, Bishop had time to handwrite a note:
"To everyone who still cares: I can not say that a year in prison doesn't scare me. I am terrified... But still, though I am terrified, it would be scarier still to know that my fellow soldiers who feel as we feel would never find out what we are trying to accomplish... Everyone who hears or reads this should know that I love you all, and my life is forever changed because of you. Victor and myself are starting something and it is now up to all of you to continue on. With all my heart. Travis."
As Bishop was escorted from the Justice Center to a waiting van, supporters who were active duty soldiers or veterans stood at attention and saluted. Hands cuffed together, Bishop flashed a peace sign in return.
This letter was written a few minutes before Afghan war resister Travis Bishop was shackeled and taken away after his court-martial at Fort Hood.
To everyone who still cares:
I can not say that a year in prison doesn’t scare me: I am terrified. I just cried in the bathroom so no one could see.
But still, though I am terrified, it would be scarier still to know that my fellow soldiers who feel as we feel would never find out what we are trying to accomplish had I not gone to prison.
Everyone who hears or reads this should know that I love you all, and my life is forever changed because of you.
Victor and myself are starting something big . . . and it is now up to all of you to continue on.
With all of my heart,
This article, by Travis Bishop, was posted go the Free Travis Bishop, Fort Hood War Resister Blog, August 20, 2009
First off, hello to all those who still support me! Your support, kind words, and well-wishings have truly kept me going through this difficult time.
I want to assure everyone, well-wishers and nay-sayers, that I am still 100% confident that my decision was a smart one. Though I suffer a harsh personal loss, the gain for this movement is incredible. Already I have heard of others who have been influenced by mine and Victor’s decisions and actions, and it warms my heart.
Ultimately, the goal is to end these wars. And keeping that in mind, remember that my decisions are mine and mine alone. My hope is that others learn from mine and Victor’s sacrifices. They are small when compared to the ultimate gain.
To my supporters, Thank You and write me right now while I’m in Bell County even!
To those who think I was coerced, influenced or made to do this, please write me to. I would love to personally explain how I feel.
You can write Travis at: Travis Bishop, Bell County Jail, 113 W. Central Ave., Belton, TX 76513
This statement was published by Amnesty International USA, August 6, 2009.
Amnesty International today reiterated its view that US soldiers who refuse on genuine grounds of conscience to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan should be recognized as conscientious objectors under US law and should not face imprisonment.
One such case appears to be that of Victor Agosto, who yesterday received a 30-day prison sentence for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan. Victor Agosto joined the army in 2005 and served a 13-month tour of duty in Iraq; according to reports, his experience there and what he describes as "self education" about US foreign policy and international law convinced him that "the occupation [in Afghanistan] is immoral and unjust".
In the past few years, the organization has appealed for the release of a number of US soldiers who have been court-martialled and imprisoned for refusing to join their units in Iraq or Afghanistan after developing moral objections to US military operations there.
Victor Agosto received a relatively light sentence after accepting a plea agreement. However, others have been dealt with more harshly, receiving sentences of up to 15 months' imprisonment. The maximum penalty could amount to several years.
Amnesty International recognizes that the military authorities need to have strict procedures when allowing serving military personnel to be relieved of duties. However, the organization believes that the right to refuse to perform military service for reasons of conscience is inherent in the notion of freedom of thought, conscience and religion as recognized under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Adequate provision should be made to respect such rights, even for serving soldiers.
US law recognizes the right to conscientious objection only on grounds of opposition to all war in any form. Thus, soldiers who object to serving in a particular war currently have no way of legally registering for exemption on this ground. Some have their applications for conscientious objection refused; others, knowing such applications to be futile, go "absent without leave".
Currently there are other soldiers who face imprisonment for their beliefs. For example, Travis Bishop is scheduled to be court--martialled at Fort Hood, Texas, on 14 August, for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan. If imprisoned, Amnesty International would consider him to be a prisoner of conscience.
Amnesty International has recognised as prisoners of conscience a number of US soldiers refusing to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan because of their conscientious objection to the armed conflict. They included Camilo Mejía, who was sentenced to one year's imprisonment for his objection to the armed conflict in Iraq in 2004, and Abdullah Webster, who refused to participate in the same war due to his religious beliefs and was sentenced the same year to 14 months' imprisonment. Another, Kevin Benderman, was sentenced in 2005 to 15 months' imprisonment after he refused to re-deploy to Iraq because of abuses he allegedly witnessed there.Agustin Aguayo was sentenced to eight months' imprisonment for his refusal to participate in the armed conflict in Iraq. All four have since been released.
Some of these conscientious objectors have been court-martialled and sentenced despite pending applications for conscientious objector status, others were imprisoned after their applications were turned down on the basis that they were objecting to particular wars rather than to war in general.
In addition, Amnesty International has appealed to the Canadian authorities not to deport US soldiers claiming conscientious objection to serving in the US military. Around 200 soldiers are reported to have fled to Canada, where some have sought refugee protection.
Amnesty International believes the right to refuse to perform military service for reasons of conscience is part of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as recognised in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the USA has ratified.
Amnesty International considers a conscientious objector to be any person who, for reasons of conscience or profound conviction, either refuses to perform any form of service in the armed forces or applies for non-combatant status. This can include refusal to participate in a war because one disagrees with its aims or the manner in which it was being waged, even if one does not oppose taking part in all wars.
Wherever such a person is detained or imprisoned solely for these beliefs, Amnesty International considers that person to be a prisoner of conscience. Amnesty International also considers conscientious objectors to be prisoners of conscience if they are imprisoned for leaving the armed forces without authorization for reasons of conscience, if they have first taken reasonable steps to secure release from military obligations.
Amnesty International opposes the forcible return of any person to any country where he or she would face a substantial risk of becoming a prisoner of conscience.