Army medic Agustin Aguayo was released this week after more than six months in military custody for refusing to deploy to Iraq a second time. Aguayo went AWOL for weeks after refusing the order. He was taken into military custody and jailed after turning himself in. We speak with Agustin Aguayo’s wife, Helga. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: The last time we broadcast from Los Angeles, we were joined by the Army medic Agustin Aguayo and his wife Helga. It was September 25th, 2006, the day before Agustin turned himself in to the military. He had been AWOL for weeks after he refused to obey a second deployment order to Iraq. Aguayo was taken into military custody and jailed — until this week. Agustin Aguayo has just been released in Germany. He remains on his military base in Germany, where he is awaiting a discharge.
Agustin’s wife Helga has led the campaign for his release. Today, she joins us here, again, in Los Angeles. We welcome you to Democracy Now!
HELGA AGUAYO: Thank you for inviting me.
AMY GOODMAN: So tell us about the latest circumstances. We didn’t get to talk to you when you were in Germany. Agustin, your husband Agustin Aguayo, was court-martialed.
HELGA AGUAYO: Yes. He was court-martialed March 6, and he was convicted of desertion, which, as far as we understand, is unheard of for people that are gone less than 30 days — soldiers that are gone less than 30 days. And we’re disappointed that they convicted him of desertion and missing movement. He was willing to plead guilty to missing movement, but not to desertion, and the outcome of that is that now he has two federal convictions — in other words, two felonies — on his record, and we intend to continue our fight.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain why Agustin went AWOL. Explain why he went into the military and what happened to him when he was in Iraq.
HELGA AGUAYO: OK. He went AWOL basically because the military forced him, put him in that position. He was a conscientious objector up until that point, but then he became a war resister. He had to. He wasn’t willing to deploy to Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, he did go to Iraq and had applied for CO status before, and they were considering it through his period there, but then they refused it.
HELGA AGUAYO: They refused it, and he came back and decided —
AMY GOODMAN: Despite the fact the investigating officer had recommended.
HELGA AGUAYO: Correct. The investigating officer said that it was in the best interest of the military to discharge him and that he believed that Agustin was sincere. However, higher-ups in the chain of command that never met with my husband decided that he wasn’t sincere and just didn’t really give a reason, just said that he didn’t qualify as a conscientious objector.
When he enlisted, he was not a conscientious objector and felt that he could do what would be required of him, but once he joined the military and started to question if he could kill — you know, you can’t really know if you’re capable of doing that until you’re in that position, I believe. And my husband decided that he could not.
But, even so, he decided to honor his contract and deploy to Iraq. He just refused to load his gun. And while he was there, even though he was in danger at different points, he never loaded his gun. And that came up. It was recurring at the court-martial. They asked everyone that was a witness for the prosecution, "Have you ever known of a soldier that has never loaded his gun?" And they all said no. You know, other than a chaplain, this is just not normal behavior for a soldier, yet they required him to deploy a second time, and he just wasn’t willing to go, because he felt that it was immoral and he could not support that anymore, and therefore he went AWOL.
AMY GOODMAN: You were in Germany at the time. You were living on the base with your twin girls?
HELGA AGUAYO: Yes. Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And what happened when Agustin came home that day?
HELGA AGUAYO: Well, he missed a movement. And we decided that he would just go away. We didn’t want our daughters to be exposed to them coming to the house and dragging him away. And in a sense, that ended up happening anyway. The next morning he turned himself in. I drove him to the MP station, and they wanted to keep it under wraps, didn’t want to tell anyone about it, didn’t want — the MPs gave him back to the unit, and they didn’t file any charges, which is what we had anticipated and even wanted.
But instead, they brought him home, and they tried to force him to grab his Iraq gear, and they said that they would take him by force, if needed, they would shackle him, they would handcuff him, they would carry him on the plane — to the plane, get him to Iraq, any which way. And so, you know, all this happened in front of our daughters. And it was horrible. It was absolutely horrible. He pretended to cooperate, as many people know, and then he jumped out the back window and went AWOL for 26 days.
AMY GOODMAN: And that’s when we saw him here at the end of that period.
HELGA AGUAYO: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: He had come back to the United States with you and the kids?
HELGA AGUAYO: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And then turned himself in to Fort Irwin?
HELGA AGUAYO: Yes — no, no. He turned himself in — yes, Fort Irwin — I’m sorry — in Barstow.
AMY GOODMAN: And then how long was he held, from that period on?
HELGA AGUAYO: Well, he was taken back to Germany October 3, and then he was in pretrial confinement. He asked for pretrial confinement, because he didn’t want to be with the unit. And it’s ironic because now he’s with the unit, and it’s not ideal circumstances. But he was in prison for a total of a little over six months, I believe. He was sentenced to eight months, but he had 161 days already served and good conduct, so that that’s when he got released, April 18, this past Wednesday.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, just to understand, as we wrap up, Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Hibner — I’m reading from Stars and Stripes, the newspaper of today — said that because of Aguayo’s appeal, he has two decisions: "either stay as a member of his unit until the process is completed, or request voluntary excess leave from the Army and go stateside to his home of record." So that would be coming here.
HELGA AGUAYO: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: "Leave requires approval of the regional court-martial convening authority ... As of Wednesday," the newspaper says, "Aguayo has not requested any leave." Hibner said, "As of now, (Aguayo) stays with the unit until he files (for leave) … He’ll be on normal active-duty status, with the same standards as all the other soldiers in the unit."
HELGA AGUAYO: Yes, it’s absurd, I think.
AMY GOODMAN: He hasn’t applied for leave?
HELGA AGUAYO: No, he has been working on this from the second he got out. I mean, if he asked for pretrial confinement because he didn’t want to be with the unit, why would he want to be with the unit now? It’s the same people that tried to force him on the plane and, you know, were forceful with him. He just has been given the runaround. They’re not — they don’t know how to process him out. I guess they’ve never been in the position. Agustin told me they’re inefficient, they don’t know what they’re doing. And he has a JAG attorney that’s amazing, and he’s working towards it, but, I mean, there’s only so much that he can do if the unit doesn’t know what they’re doing.
And the other thing is that Agustin will not be discharged. I’m getting congratulations — "Oh, congratulations, he’s coming home" — we don’t know when he’s coming home, one. And, two, he actually will not be discharged from the military for 12 to 24 months from now, because he got a bad-conduct discharge and it’s such a serious offense. He has the two felonies. It goes onto an automatic appeal, and because of that, he will remain active-duty, which means he has to abide by the standards that is required of every soldier. He could potentially be charged with anything else during the time that he’s on voluntary or involuntary leave or administrative leave. They’ll give him one of the three, if it’s approved. And we won’t know if it’s approved.
AMY GOODMAN: Could he be sent back to Iraq?
HELGA AGUAYO: I hope not. I don’t think so. I think it would be — I mean, Agustin’s gotten a lot of support. And I, you know, would definitely just go to the press and go to the people. I don’t think it’s — I don’t want to say, but I don’t think it would be in their best interest to do that.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Helga Aguayo, I want to thank you very much for joining us.
HELGA AGUAYO: Thank you so much.
AMY GOODMAN: Helga Aguayo is the wife of Agustin Aguayo. He got out of military prison day before yesterday. We’ll see if he is able to come back to the United States. We’ll certainly continue to cover this story.