Florida soldier refuses to return to Iraq, could face charges

NORTH MIAMI — A U.S. soldier who refused to return to Iraq after seeing civilians killed reported to his unit in Florida on Tuesday and said he would go to prison rather than take part in “an oil-driven war.”

Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia, who is seeking to be declared a conscientious objector, met with officials at his Florida National Guard unit after repeating his determination not to return to the Middle East and fight.

“I’m prepared to go to prison because I’ll have a clear conscience,” Mejia said.

Guard spokesman Jon Myatt said Mejia has been classified as a deserter because he had been missing from his unit for more than 30 days.

Myatt said a warrant to arrest Mejia could be issued if he failed to appear Wednesday at Fort Stewart, Ga., from which his unit is deployed. He said Mejia had not been charged.

Mejia, 28, of Miami Beach, could face up to one year in prison for being absent without leave and up to five years if convicted of desertion, said Tod Ensign, director of Citizen Soldier, a New York-based group that is organizing Mejia’s defense.

Mejia was in Iraq for about five months last year until October, when he came home on leave and did not return to duty. He surrendered Monday at an Air Force base in Massachusetts and was ordered to report to his Florida National Guard unit.

“The justification for this war is money and no soldier should go to Iraq and give his life for oil,” Mejia told reporters Tuesday.

He was accompanied by his mother, an aunt and Spc. Oliver Perez, who served with him, when he reported to the Florida armory.

Perez said Mejia is “a brave leader” and should not be prosecuted.

“I fought next to him in many battles. He is not a coward,” Perez said.

Mejia said he was particularly upset over an incident in which he and others were ambushed and innocent civilians were hit in the ensuing gunfire.

A native of Nicaragua, Mejia is a permanent resident of the United States who served in the Army for three years. He had served in the National Guard for five years when his unit was called to active duty. In civilian life, he was a psychology student at the University of Miami.

Mejia said he joined the military upon his arrival in the United States so he could work his way into American society. He could not say whether he might be deported because of his refusal to serve, but said, “Whatever sacrifice I have to make, I have to go there.”

Meanwhile, in Iraq, a commander said two U.S. Army medics there have applied for conscientious objector status. Capt. Todd Grissom said the two, both privates first class, notified the Army of their request on Feb. 9, the day before their Germany-based infantry unit was sent to Iraq.

The two want to be honorably discharged from the military because the idea of killing is “revolting” to them, Grissom said Tuesday.

Grissom would not identify the two soldiers, saying only that they come from California and Illinois. Their requests were being investigated, he said.