LOS ANGELES — Agustin Aguayo has a decision to make. Aguayo is seeking conscientious objector status, and may appeal his case to the Supreme Court. His deadline is Sept. 5.
At issue is whether a soldier’s conscientious objection to war can develop after enlistment and outside of an organized religion, as well as whether the Army can deny a soldier’s claim to conscientious objection without a response to the soldier’s arguments.
“The courts have sided with the Army, saying the proper procedures were followed even though they [the Army] did not give a reason for denying me CO status,” Aguayo, 35, told the World in a recent interview.
He said his lawyers say he has a strong case and are prepared to go forward with the appeal, but he won’t make a decision until he and his wife travel to the East Coast to talk with them in person. Politically, the decision must take into account the direction of the high court and the danger of a far-right majority using the case to further undermine soldiers’ rights.
If successful, Aguayo’s case could block a right-wing current that seeks to eliminate the broader definition of conscientious objection established during the Vietnam War.
Aguayo’s story is informative, troubling, dramatic and inspiring. It gives insight to the physical, psychological and moral damage inflicted by an unjust war.
Aguayo, a Mexican American immigrant, enlisted in the Army in the fall of 2002. He was 30 at the time and married to Helga, his high school sweetheart, for 12 years. They had 8-year-old twin daughters. He enlisted to serve the country as a medic, hoping to get training for a fulfilling career to better provide for his family.
The soft-spoken and modest, if not shy, family man was jolted and revolted from the first combat training. This revulsion grew into a deep objection to war. He filed for a conscientious objection discharge when ordered deployed to Iraq from a base in Germany in February 2004.
During his year in Iraq, for which he was awarded a medal for meritorious service, he abstained from putting ammunition in his weapons while on patrol. Based on what he observed among Iraqis, he came to reject the U.S. occupation as unwelcome and wrong.
During his deployment and afterwards, while stationed in Germany, he followed the procedures of his petition for CO status, and subsequent legal appeals, to the letter.
Still his petition was denied by the Army and civilian courts.
When ordered to a second deployment in Iraq on Sept. 1, 2006, he deliberately did not report. The next day he turned himself in to face disciplinary charges. When his commander instead threatened to take him to Iraq “handcuffed and shackled to avoid a domino effect,” he found a way to elude Army guards.
Aguayo returned to Los Angeles, where he publicly declared his continuing fight for recognition as a CO and turned himself back in to Army custody. He was returned to his base in Germany to await court-martial. On March 6, he was court-martialed for desertion and “missing movement,” and sentenced to eight months in prison. He had already served six and a half months.
He attributes the relatively light sentence to the public support he received. “These are two felonies, however, and I cannot vote or get a job in government,” he said. “It is painful to be punished for being for peace,” and he also wants to clear his name.
Speaking to youth about “informed enlistment” is now a passion for him. “We are told we will come out from the service better,” he said. “Instead, it puts you at a disadvantage. Many do not come back, and some don’t come back sane.”
Returning soldiers often have to grapple with divorce, post-traumatic stress, depression, and alcohol and drug abuse, he said. Many face a second deployment.
Both Agustin and Helga are active in antiwar efforts, including with Iraq Veterans Against the War.
“Working with veterans and others who feel the same way about peace and want change is a blessing,” he said. “War, violence is not a way to solve problems.”
Aguayo is especially disturbed about the growing number of Latinos being targeted for recruitment. Many are immigrants like him. “So many are disadvantaged and want opportunities, and they are targeted. It’s really unfair.”
More information on Aguayo’s case can be found at , couragetoresist.org, and a recent video of he and Helga speaking recently in Portland at .