Soldier court-martialed for refusing to fight in 'oil-driven war'

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The Independent US

Lawyers for a US soldier being court-martialed because he refused to fight in an "oil driven war" yesterday asked a military judge to dismiss the case against him.

Louis Font, the attorney for Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia, said a 19th-century treaty with Costa Rica - of which the soldier is a citizen - means his client should not have been forced to do "compulsory military service". There are many Hispanics who sign up for the US military, often to further their applications for citizenship.

Sgt Mejia, 28, a member of the Florida National Guard, is charged with desertion after failing to return to his unit in Iraq after a two-week break last October. He surrendered in to the army in March, saying he did not want to fight in what he considered a war driven by oil.

Sgt 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". But at the hearing at Fort Stewart, Georgia, Mr Font said the military had illegally extended Sgt Mejia's service when it ordered his unit to stay in Iraq beyond the March 2003 deadline his client's had agreed to serve .

"It is really clear-cut," he told the military judge, Colonel Gary Smith. "My client was wrongfully subjected to the [extension] under the Costa Rican treaty. In respect to this case, the court lacks jurisdiction." The army's lead prosecutor, Captain A J Balbo, said Sgt Mejia had never requested an exemption before his court-martial and voluntarily went to fight in Iraq, where he accepted a promotion.

"We're talking conscription, impressment, draft," he said. "This is not what we have here, someone who enlisted twice, served eight years and enjoyed the benefits." He said that because Sgt Mejia joined voluntarily his service did not count as "compulsory".

Sgt Mejia has said his experiences in Iraq had made him a conscientious objector and he had been upset by seeing civilians shot during an ambush on his unit. The case continues.