FIVE months after failing to report back for active duty with the U.S. military, Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejía Castillo, a 28-year-old Nicaraguan-born soldier who served in Iraq last September with his Florida National Guard unit, on Monday turned himself over to U.S. military authorities at Massachusetts’ Hanscom Air Force Base to seek conscientious objector status.
Mejía, a U.S. citizen, said he felt he has not committed a crime by refusing to fight and does not want to live the rest of his life on the run, even if it means facing a courtmartial.
He is reportedly the first soldier to turn himself in after failing to report for duty in Iraq.
“I am afraid, but I also have faith,” Mejía told the Nicaraguan daily El Nuevo Diario, during a phone interview last week from an undisclosed location in New York. “I believe in my reasons to not continue over there [in Iraq] in this criminal war.”
In Nicaragua, Mejía is being celebrated as a hero by human rights activists and the Catholic Church.
“Conscience is like the voice of God in each of us,” Managua’s Archbishop Jorge Solórzano told El Nuevo Diario. “[Mejía] listened to the Supreme Voice and is free of condemnation.”
FOR five months, Mejía had been sleeping in different locations in New York City and at the Peace Abbey, an anti-war activist center in Sherborn, Massachusetts.
He met with other anti-war activists and eventually learned about the tradition of conscientious objector, according to Lewis Randa, founding director of the Peace Abbey.
“Once he learned about the tradition of conscientious objector, he learned it described his true self,” Randa told The Tico Times this week during a phone interview from the Peace Abbey.
After praying at the Abbey, Mejía decided to put his conscientious objector sentiments in writing and turn himself in. Before doing so, he met with his lawyer, his mother Maritza Castillo, and his father, famous revolutionary singer/ songwriter Carlos Godoy Mejía, best know for writing the popular Nicaraguan folk song “Nicaragua, Nicaraguita.”
A group of 100 peace activists accompanied Mejía to Hanscom Air Force Base and cheered him on at the gate as the guards led him away. Randa gave Mejía a medallion made out of a piece of the bloody alter cloth from the day Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down March 24, 1980 while saying mass in San Salvador.
The young soldier activist wore the medallion – a symbol of social disobedience and justice, according to Randa – as he was escorted away.
Mejía was transported back to his military unit in Miami, where his unit commander will decide if the soldier will face charges, according to a military spokesman at Hanscom Air Force Base, as quoted by AP.
Randa describes Mejía as “a wonderfully courageous young man” who he believes will remain strong during his upcoming ordeal.