In today’s New York Times, Bob Herbert writes about Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia.
Herbert writes about how SSGT Mejia served six harrowing months in Iraq, went home to Miami on a furlough last October, and then refused to return to his unit when the furlough ended.
And he then goes on to say:
Sergeant Mejia told me in a long telephone interview this week that he had qualms about the war from the beginning but he followed his orders and went to Iraq in April 2003. He led an infantry squad and saw plenty of action. But the more he thought about the war — including the slaughter of Iraqi civilians, the mistreatment of prisoners (which he personally witnessed), the killing of children, the cruel deaths of American G.I.’s (some of whom are the targets of bounty hunters in search of a reported $2,000 per head), the ineptitude of inexperienced, glory-hunting military officers who at times are needlessly putting U.S. troops in even greater danger, and the growing rage among coalition troops against all Iraqis (known derisively as “hajis,” the way the Vietnamese were known as “gooks”) — the more he thought about these things, the more he felt that this war could not be justified, and that he could no longer be part of it.
Mind you, SSGT Mejia volunteered for the National Guard, and has apparently remained there long enough to reach the rank of Staff Sergeant. He’s identified later in this column as a squad leader and thus he has a significant amount of responsibility for the lives of his men. And because he decided the war was unjustified, he refused to return.
He let down his men.
Herbert attempts to cast this as an entirely different issue as he writes about SSGT Mejia’s defense:
Sergeant Mejia’s legal defense is complex (among other things, he is seeking conscientious objector status), but his essential point is that war is too terrible to be waged willy-nilly, that there must always be an ethically or morally sound reason for opening the spigots to such horror. And he believes that threshold was never met in Iraq.
And then at the end of the column:
A military court will decide whether Sergeant Mejia, who served honorably while he was in Iraq, is a deserter or a conscientious objector or something in between. But the issues he has raised deserve a close reading by the nation as a whole, which is finally beginning to emerge from the fog of deliberate misrepresentations created by Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz et al. about this war.
The truth is the antidote to that crowd. Whatever the outcome of Sergeant Mejia’s court-martial, he has made a contribution to the truth about Iraq.
The reality is that this man swore and oath – he had an obligation to the service, to his country, but most importantly to the men in the squad that he led. And instead he chose to throw all of that away.
The real issue here isn’t that SSGT Mejia has made a statement about the war – but rather that he let down his men and violated his oath.
And for that, SSGT Mejia was convicted this week.