A US Army medic who had refused to serve a second tour in Iraq citing moral objections to war was found guilty of desertion on Tuesday and handed an eight-month prison term by a US military court in Germany, well short of the maximum seven-year sentence.
Anti-war activists, who had followed the case closely, said the mild sentence was a positive signal to the rapidly increasing number of Germany-based US military personnel who are seeking to avoid serving in Iraq.
“This is good news for Augustin, his wife and his children,” said Michael Sharp, head of the Military Counselling Network, a non-governmental organisation based in Heidelberg.
Augustin Aguayo, a US citizen born in Mexico who enlisted in 2002, had twice failed to obtain an honourable discharge as a conscientious objector and refused to load his weapon while on his first tour to Iraq.
In order to avoid a second tour, he jumped out of a window and fled from Germany to the US, where he surrendered to the military. His unauthorised absence was considered particularly serious since he had already received his deployment order.
Detained at a US military prison in Mannheim for 161 days, Mr Agauyo, who was also demoted from the rank of specialist to private and given a dishonourable discharge, was not expected to spend more than another six weeks in prison, his lawyer said.
Germany is home to 65,000 US troops, making it the largest US permanent presence overseas, and serves as the main logistical base for the war in Iraq. Mr Sharp said there had been a fourfold increase in calls to his organisation by recruits seeking advice on leaving the military last month alone.