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May 19, 2004

Hmmmm - Not Sure What To Make of This One

Soldier, Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia, facing court-martial for being AWOL from the Army National Guard says he left because he would not abuse prisoners (though not at Abu Ghraib.)

On one hand, it seems convenient that this excuse rises now. On the other, it would be pretty easy to kick his story down.

Also going for him is that he is being represented by the US attorney general under Pres. Johnson, Ramsey Clark. Clark probably knows from whence he speaks. Most of the story here:
May 19, 6:14 PM (ET) :: By RUSS BYNUM

FORT STEWART, Ga. (AP) - A U.S. soldier charged with deserting his unit in Iraq walked away from the war partly to avoid orders to abuse Iraqi prisoners, his attorneys argued Wednesday. Attorneys for Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia, an infantrymen with the Florida National Guard, spent the first day of Mejia's court-martial arguing for a military judge to dismiss the desertion charge.

Ramsey Clark, one of Mejia's lawyers, said his client was disgusted after his unit was ordered to use sleep-deprivation tactics with blindfolded Iraqi detainees. In at least one instance, Clark said, a pistol was cocked next to detainees' heads.

Clark, U.S. attorney general under President Johnson and an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war, said Mejia was protected by international law in avoiding duties that would have constituted war crimes. He compared Mejia's claims of prisoner mistreatment to the abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

"The United States is seeking to court-martial soldiers in (Iraq) for outrageous abuses at the same time it prosecutes a soldier halfway around the world because he did what he had a duty to do under international law," Clark said.

Mejia, 28, is charged with desertion after failing to return to his unit in Iraq after a two-week furlough in October. He turned himself in to the Army in March after being gone five months, saying he did not want to fight in an "oil-driven war."

Mejia faces a year in prison and a bad-conduct discharge if convicted of desertion, which military law defines as leaving the military with no intention to return or to "avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service."

Capt. A.J. Balbo, the lead prosecutor, argued that even if Mejia saw prisoners abused in Iraq that would not justify fleeing the Army for five months.