LOS ANGELES — The March 6 military court conviction of pacifist soldier Agustin Aguayo was reversed in the court of public opinion as Amnesty International officially recognized him as a “prisoner of conscience,” and a battery of progressive attorneys began efforts to get a federal court to reverse the Army’s denial of conscientious objector status to Aguayo.

Aguayo’s three-year struggle, supported by his family, to win recognition of his pacifist beliefs and conscientious objection to the war has won support from world and U.S. peace groups, much of the U.S. Latino community and the government of Mexico. It is a compelling story. Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.) has inquired into his well-being in confinement.

Aguayo, 35, is a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Mexico and raised in Los Angeles. He enlisted in the Army in late 2002 before the Iraq war was launched. Married with two young daughters, he was working the night shift at a Home Depot and sought to train and work in the medical corps to serve his country meaningfully and develop a new career. The recruiter told Aguayo there was little danger of combat duty, telling him that he had served in “Desert Storm playing cards.”

“We were not political then and had no idea a war was imminent,” says his wife, Helga Aguayo, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Guatemala. “I had to tell Augie our country was at war while he was in basic training.”

Though trained as a medic, Aguayo was assigned to infantry duty on arrival at a U.S. base in Germany. During infantry training there, he developed psychological and then moral qualms about killing, which developed into pacifist convictions. Peace movement information made him aware of the option of conscientious objection and he applied for such status before being deployed to Iraq.

While in Iraq, he performed medic and infantry duty. On patrol, he would not put ammunition in his weapons. His pacifist conviction deepened at the death, brutality, and moral and psychological abuse suffered by Iraqis and U.S. soldiers. His pacifist principles extended to political opposition to the war. His application for conscientious objection was rejected despite several positive recommendations.

Redeployed back to Germany where his wife and children were stationed, Aguayo pursued administrative and then federal court appeals for conscientious objection status. In the summer of 2006 his unit’s term of service was extended and orders came for a second deployment. Aguayo informed his superiors he would refuse to go. When his unit departed Sept. 1, Aguayo absented himself from the base. He returned the next day, saying he would go to jail rather than directly or indirectly support killing in Iraq.

“They told Augie they did not want a ‘domino effect’ on other soldiers and they would take him to Iraq whether he consented or not, in ‘handcuffs and shackles,’” his wife, Helga Aguayo, told a Feb. 26 meeting of Latinos For Peace in Los Angeles. They even offered him a promotion to sergeant, and non-combat duty if he went voluntarily, she added.

When guards brought her husband to their home to gather his gear, Helga Aguayo said, “I could not stop sobbing. At first I was shocked, thinking he was going willingly, but looking into his eyes, I saw he did not want to go.”

Excusing himself to get more gear from another room, Aguayo left through a rear window.

He then sought help from the Mexican Embassy and was aided to travel to Mexico. Returning to Los Angeles, he told a Sept. 26 press conference that he would hand himself over to Army custody to face court martial, and pursue his appeals in federal court. After turning himself in at Fort Irwin, near Barstow, Calif., later that day, Aguayo was returned to Germany in handcuffs and shackles.

Since then, Helga Aguayo, their two daughters, and his mother, Susana Aguayo, have spoken at many events to raise funds for his legal defense. “We were quiet before, trusting that Augie’s sincerity would be recognized. We will be quiet no more about the justice of Augie’s case and the injustice of this war,” said Helga Aguayo.

Army Colonel R. Peter Masterson, the judge in the March 6 court martial in Wurzburg, Germany, sentenced Agustin Aguayo to eight months (180 days) confinement, forfeiture of all pay, demotion to private and a bad conduct discharge. The Army says Aguayo had already served 161 days.

Meanwhile, Aguayo’s attorneys are preparing to return to court later this month, according to lead Attorney Peter Goldberger. In February a three-judge panel of the Washington, D.C. federal appeals court denied Aguayo’s habeas corpus appeal for recognition of conscientious objector status. Two of the judges were part of a recent decision denying habeas corpus rights to detainees at Guantanamo.

The next step is to go to full appeals court. Helga Aguayo told Latinos for Peace the family has decided to continue to the Supreme Court if necessary.

For further information on the case, see .

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