"AWOL" SOLDIER SAYS WAR IN IRAQ IS MORALLY WRONG - WEDNESDAY ON "60 MINUTES II" ON CBS
Mon Mar 29 2004 14:21:16 ET
Commanding Officer Calls AWOL Soldier's Desertion A "Cowardly Act"
Since the U.S. invaded Iraq last year, hundreds of American soldiers have broken the law and abandoned their units on the battlefield. One of those soldiers, who became convinced the war was morally wrong, e-mailed his commanding officer and requested assistance being released from active duty. "[My captain] pretty much said that my place of duty was [in Iraq] and that I was to go back immediately," Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia tells Correspondent Dan Rather during an exclusive primetime interview. "He called me a coward." Rather also talked exclusively with Mejia's commanding officer, Captain Tad Warfel for 60 MINUTES II Wednesday, March 31 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Until October, 28-year-old Mejia, a staff sergeant with the Florida National Guard, was stationed in Ramadi, Iraq. Despite his commanding officer's suspicions that the bloodshed in one of Iraq's most dangerous areas was taking a heavy toll on Mejia, he was allowed to take a short leave to work out the problems he was having renewing his green card. Like almost 40,000 other soldiers who have spent time fighting in Iraq, Mejia is a legal alien. It was during that leave that Mejia tells Rather he first began thinking of going AWOL. "When you look at the war and you look at the reasons that took us to war and you don't find that any of the things that we were told that we're going to war for turned out to be true," says Mejia, "When you don't find there are weapons of mass destruction and when you don't find that there was a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda and you see that you're not helping the people and the people don't want you there and, to me, there's no military contract and no military duty that's going to justify being a part of that war."
In addition to his moral questions about the war, Sergeant Mejia thought he had a legal right not to go back. He says he satisfied his agreement with the Army and National Guard to serve eight years, but like many in the military, he was ordered to serve more time because of the war.
So, from his home in Florida, Sergeant Mejia e-mailed his captain. Warfel tells Rather that he was "furious" with the soldier. "I don't know if I considered him personally a coward but I consider what he did as a cowardly act," says Warfel. "...[Mejia] told me he was coming back and he didn't, and that makes me mad and just that any soldier that abandons his fellow soldier in a time of war, and I can't think of anything worse...I just hope that the military justice system does right by me and by my soldiers and punishes him for what he did," says Warfel. "You know, the worst punishment in the world would be sending him back to Iraq for six more months."
Earlier this month, Mejia turned himself in to a military base in Massachusetts. He has asked to be classified as a conscientious objector and to be given an honorable discharge. "I have not deserted the military," says Mejia. "I have not been disloyal to the men and women of the military. I have not been disloyal to a country. I have only been loyal to my principles and I think that gives me the right to decide not to be a part of something that I consider criminal. I realize I have a duty to the military and I'm going to face that duty and I'm going to face my responsibility." Rather asks Mejia if he still hopes to become a citizen and he responds, "Yes, I do."