Soldier opposed to war charged with desertion

Saturday, March 27, 2004

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- A National Guardsman who criticized the "oil-driven war" in Iraq was charged with desertion for refusing to rejoin his unit after a two-week furlough. Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia of the Florida National Guard was charged after traveling to Fort Stewart from his home in Miami Beach, Fla., Fort Stewart spokesman Richard Olson said Friday. "He's taking it in stride," said Mejia's attorney, Louis Font. "He is strong and intelligent and will defend against these charges."

Army officials said Mejia, 28, left Iraq in October on a two-week leave from the 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment and did not return.

Mejia has said he believes the war is unjust because it is about control of oil supplies and has also said he is upset over the death of civilians.

Mejia has applied for conscientious objector status, but the Army pressed on with prosecution because he was gone so long -- five months.

However, Mejia will face a special court-martial rather than a general court-martial, Fort Stewart commander Maj. Gen. William G. Webster said. That means Mejia faces up to a year in prison and a bad conduct discharge rather than up to five years and a dishonorable discharge.

Mejia has been barred from leaving Fort Stewart without special permission since he arrived last week, said Font. He was denied a request to attend an anti-war rally last weekend at Fort Bragg, N.C.

No date has been set for Mejia's trial.

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