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Nica-Tico Soldier Ordered to Year in Prison

May 28, 2004

GRANADA, Nicaragua – Empoweredby the example of peace set by U.S.Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejía, family and friendsof the recently convicted Nicaraguan-bornsoldier this week pledged to continue fightingfor an end to the conflict in Iraq.“I will fight for Camilo until my lastday, and I will continue to denounce thisimmoral war in Iraq until all the U.S. soldiersreturn home,” said Maritza Castillo,Mejía’s Costa Rican mother.“What happened pains me, but it doesnot surprise me,” she told The Tico Timesthis week during a phone interview fromoutside Fort Stewart, Georgia.“My son did what he had to do; he isfollowing the voice of his conscience,”she added.A U.S. military court-martial at FortStewart last Friday found Mejía guilty ofdesertion and sentenced the 28-year-oldNicaraguan-Costa Rican citizen to one yearin a military prison. Mejía also was dischargedfor bad conduct from the FloridaNational Guard, where he had served formore than eight years.The court-martial came two monthsafter Mejía turned himself over to U.S. militaryauthorities for failing to report backfor active duty in Iraq after a two-week furloughlast October. Mejía decried the waras “illegal,” “immoral” and oil-driven.He applied for conscientious objectorstatus after hiding out for several months atthe Massachusetts Peace Abbey and learningabout the pacifist tradition (TT, March 19.)ACCORDING to family memberspresent at the trial, Mejía accepted his sentencecalmly and used his closing statementsto tell the judge and jury that his consciencewill set him free.“He told the judge: ‘You have the powerto put me behind bars, but I am a free manbecause I followed my conscience’,”remembered Mejía’s aunt, Norma Castillo.“He told the court that the entire UnitedStates is on trial for this war, and that thewhole world is watching.”Mejía, the son of famed Nicaraguanrevolutionary singer and songwriter CarlosGodoy Mejía, decided he could not returnto fight after his experiences during his firsttour of duty in Iraq in 2003.IN Mejía’s statement of conscientiousobjector, he detailed the abuse he witnessedof Iraqi prisoners at an Air Force base outsideBaghdad (different from the graphicpictures recently published in theWashington Post), and made specific mentionof an ambush on his unit that resultedin an Iraqi civilian decapitated by U.S.machine-gun fire.Mejía reportedly got himself in troublefor questioning military command inIraq after his unit was ordered to patrolthe same area several nights in a row atthe same time and in the same formation.According to his aunt, Mejía complainedto the higher-ups that his unit was beingset up for an ambush, which eventuallyoccurred.The staff sergeant’s questioning of militarycommand did not endear him to hissuperiors, but reportedly earned Mejía therespect of many in his unit, three of whomtestified in his defense during the court martial.Former U.S. Attorney General RamseyClark, a leading critic of the war in Iraq (TT,May 21), also testified on Mejía’s behalf.MEJIA’S civilian lawyer, Louis Font,told The Tico Times this week via cellphone that the defense team will appeal thecourt-martial once it is officially documented,a process that could take weeks or evenmonths. Amnesty International is alsoexpected to appeal on Mejia’s behalf ongrounds that he is a “prisoner of conscience,”Font said.Maritza Castillo said Monday that shehas appealed to the Costa Rican governmentto intervene on her son’s behalf. Shecited a bilateral treaty between the UnitedStates and Costa Rica that prevents CostaRican citizens from being ordered to fight,even if they have U.S. residency, as inMejía’s case.Costa Rica’s Foreign Ministry thisweek acknowledged the existence of thetreaty, and promised that a consular representativewould visit Mejía at Fort Stewartin the coming days.Under U.S. law, only the Costa Ricanconsulate and defense lawyers have accessto Mejía until he is transferred to a jail cell.No friends or family have been allowed tocommunicate with the soldier since his sentencinglast Friday.PEACE activists – some 50 of whomstood outside the gates of Fort Stewart toshout words of encouragement to the soldier– are celebrating Mejía as the nextgreat voice for peace and truth.“We just witnessed the birth of anotherprince of peace in the world community –an ordinary person who stands up andspeaks truth to power. The military doesn’trealize this yet,” said friend and PeaceAbbey founder Lewis Randa.

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