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.”

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.

For further information on the case, see popuplink www.aguayodefense.org www.aguayodefense.org>.