US soldier convicted of deserting unit in Iraq

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The Independent Online

A military jury convicted a US soldier of desertion yesterday for leaving his combat unit in Iraq in protest at what he described as an "oil-driven" war.

A military jury convicted a US soldier of desertion yesterday for leaving his combat unit in Iraq in protest at what he described as an "oil-driven" war.

Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia of the Florida National Guard was found guilty by a jury of four officers and four enlisted soldiers. He faces up to a year in jail and a bad conduct discharge.

Mejia, 28, failed to return after a leave of absence in October and was missing from the army for five months before turning himself in in March.

The soldier who has called the conflict an "oil-driven war," testified that he disobeyed orders to return to his unit because his war experiences prompted him to seek status as a conscientious objector. He said he became upset after seeing civilians hit by gunfire and that he saw Iraqi prisoners treated cruelly when he was put in charge of processing detainees last May at al-Assad, an air base occupied by US forces.

His lawyers argued Mejia walked away from the war partly to avoid orders to abuse Iraqi prisoners, such as using sleep-deprivation tactics with blindfolded detainees. But the judge, Colonel Gary Smith, ruled that evidence on the "legality and morality" of prisoner treatment in Iraq was irrelevant to the desertion charge. Mejia's application to be deemed a conscientious objector is being considered separately from his court martial. (AP)

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