By Seth Hettena, Associated Press, 5/12/2005
SAN DIEGO (AP) A U.S. sailor was sentenced to three months of hard labor Thursday for refusing to ship out for the Persian Gulf in a protest against the war in Iraq.
Pablo Paredes was also demoted from petty officer third class to seaman recruit, the lowest rank in the Navy.
A military judge, Lt. Cmdr. Bob Klant, imposed the sentence a day after finding Paredes guilty of refusing to board the board the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard after it received orders for the Persian Gulf in December.
The 23-year-old New Yorker said he refused to support a war he believed was illegal and immoral, and he has since become an outspoken anti-war activist.
”If there is anything I could be guilty of, it is my beliefs,” he said in a statement before the sentence was imposed. ”I am guilty of believing the war is illegal.”
Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Paredes to nine months of confinement, three months less than the possible maximum, and a bad conduct discharge.
”He is trying to infect the military with his own philosophy of disobedience,” prosecutor Lt. Brandon Hale said. ”Sailors all over the world will want to know whether this will be tolerated. Sailors want to know whether doing what he did is a good way to get out of deployment.”
The sentence of hard labor normally involves extra duty but does not include time behind bars. For two of the three months, Paredes will be restricted to his naval base.
Paredes’ lawyer, Jeremy Warren, called the judge’s lesser sentence ”a stunning blow to the prosecution.”
”This is an affirmation of every sailor’s and military person’s right to speak out and follow their conscience,” he said.
Paredes had requested conscientious objector status after he refused to board the ship. A Navy officer found that his refusal was based on political opposition to the Iraq war, not a moral opposition to all war, and recommended it be denied.
In a similar case, an Army mechanic who refused to deploy to Iraq while he sought conscientious objector status faced new charges Thursday for collecting combat pay while he remained in the U.S.
Army prosecutors added two counts of larceny against Sgt. Kevin Benderman, who is also charged with desertion and missing movement for skipping his 3rd Infantry Division unit’s deployment flight Jan. 8.
The new charges came as Army prosecutors at Fort Stewart, Ga., had to start over Thursday in seeking a court-martial for Benderman. A military judge halted his court-martial Wednesday after ruling that previous proceedings may have been prejudiced against the soldier.
Benderman says his first tour of duty during the 2003 invasion of Iraq left him morally opposed to war after experiencing its devastation firsthand.