SAN FRANCISCO, California, Oct 4 (IPS) – A U.S. soldier who went AWOL — absent without leave — over his opposition to the war in Iraq was incarcerated at the U.S. military’s Mannheim prison in Germany Tuesday, pending an appeal in Washington this November..
Augustin Aguayo’s imprisonment comes less than a week after he turned himself in at Fort Irwin in California’s Mojave Desert. Aguayo, 34, had been in hiding since early September.
He first applied for discharge as a conscientious objector in February 2004, about a year after his Army service commenced and as he was beginning his first deployment in Iraq. His application was denied by the Pentagon in 2005 and he appealed that decision to federal courts in Washington, which have jurisdiction over cases brought by U.S. military personnel stationed overseas.
“They said they might allow him to call me [from Germany] and if he does that would be great, but I don’t see that happening,” his wife Helga Aguayo told IPS. “I was told at Fort Irwin that he would call and I was told that I would be able to call him but none of that happened. I would assume they’re going to try to isolate him as much as possible.”
Aguayo was stationed in Germany when he escaped through a window in base housing and fled rather than face a second tour in Iraq. He maintains military commanders told him they would send him to Iraq in handcuffs, if necessary.
“Going to Kuwait or Iraq can’t be ruled out yet. It doesn’t seem like it will happen, but it could still. No one has given me a definite ‘no’ that it won’t,” Helga Aguayo said. “So I still have some fear in my heart that that might happen.”
U.S. military records show that between 8,000 and 10,000 soldiers are currently unaccounted for. It is not known how many are AWOL for political reasons (during the Vietnam War, for example, George W. Bush left his unit of the Texas Air National Guard without permission to work on a Senate campaign in Alabama).
Hundreds of anti-war soldiers are believed to be AWOL in Canada, however. A few have publicly petitioned for asylum, and on Tuesday the first U.S. soldier who escaped to Canada turned himself in at Fort Knox.
Specialist Darrell Anderson, who won a Purple Heart for taking shrapnel to protect the rest of his unit from a roadside bomb, said he deserted the Army last year because he could no longer fight in what he believes is an illegal war.
“I feel that by resisting I made up for the things I did in Iraq,” Anderson said during a press briefing shortly before turning himself in. “I feel I made up for the sins I committed in this war.”
In April of 2004, Anderson says, he was ordered to open fire on a car full of innocent civilians. The car had sped through a U.S. military checkpoint and his commander said it was Army procedure to fire on any vehicle than ran through a traffic stop. Anderson refused the order.
“Events like that just kept occurring, until one day I saw a couple of my fellow soldiers get hit,” he told Pacifica’s Democracy Now! programme, “and I pulled my trigger while pointing it at an innocent child. But my weapon was on safe, and then I realised what I was doing, and I just realised that no matter how good you believe you are, when you’re there, that you’re eventually — you know, the evil in this is going to take over, and you’re going to kill people.”
Anderson returned from Iraq emotionally damaged, with a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder. When his unit arrived home, he ran away to Canada rather than return to Iraq. He stayed there until this weekend, when his mother Anita Dennis picked him up in Toronto and drove him back to Kentucky. She said it was a difficult drive.
“In Iraq, he rode around in Humvees and tanks having people take shots at him all day long,” she told IPS. “So he doesn’t do well in vehicles and he definitely doesn’t sleep in them. Soldiers can’t go to sleep when they’re out patrolling the city looking for land-mines and IEDs [improvised explosive devices].”
Anita Dennis told IPS she agrees with her son that the Iraq war is morally wrong.
“I believe everything my son told me,” she said. “Darrell said the people he fought were killing American soldiers because they don’t know who we are. All they know is that we’re going through their cities with tanks. Our soldiers are imprisoning them. When we take people off to Abu Ghraib we don’t tell their families. Darrell said they took boys and fathers off and the wives and sisters never knew what happened for weeks at a time. We’d be outraged if that happened in the U.S.”
Because he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, Darrell Anderson received a different treatment from Augustin Aguayo when he turned himself in. Under an agreement reached with Anderson’s attorneys, authorities will not court-marshal the army specialist but will instead give him treatment for his trauma and allow him to live with his family in Kentucky.
Helga Aguayo, meantime, is trying to raise enough money to fly to Germany to testify at her husband’s trial. While she works, she and their twin 10-year-old daughters are living with her parents in Los Angeles.
“We’re not a rich family,” she said. “All our relatives are hard-working. There’s a defence fund and also a fund to help my family with expenses and I’m hoping that I can travel to see my husband and testify. I’ve been told that’s crucial.”
“You know this guy is standing up for conscience,” she added. “If his family doesn’t stand there and back him, that is a huge blow to his whole defence.” (END/2006)