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Enlistee Flees Return to Iraq

Medic's attorney and wife say he had been told he could be taken by force for a second tour. He seeks a discharge as a conscientious objector.

September 22, 2006|Mima Mohammed | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — An Army enlistee from Los Angeles who escaped through a window in base housing and fled rather than face a second deployment to Iraq had been told that military commanders would send him into combat in handcuffs, if necessary, according to his wife and his attorney.

Army Spec. Agustin Aguayo, 35, has been missing since fleeing Sept. 2 but wants to turn himself in and would rather face prison than another tour of duty in Iraq or any other conflict, said his wife, Helga Aguayo, who recently moved back to California from Germany, where her husband was based.

"My husband has never broken a law and I am proud of him," she said Wednesday at a news conference in Washington. "He doesn't want to support the war -- he cannot do so conscientiously. He is a conscientious objector, but the Army forced him to become a resister."

Aguayo, a medic with the Army's 1st Infantry Division, is the first U.S. soldier based in Germany who has refused to accept a second deployment to Iraq, attorneys and supporters said.

He signed up to join the Army in 2002 and applied for discharge as a conscientious objector in February 2004 as he began his first deployment in Iraq. His application was denied by the Pentagon, and in 2005, he appealed that decision to federal court in Washington. Arguments in his case are set for November.

While the appeal was pending, Aguayo was told to prepare for a second deployment but said in a letter to the court that also is posted on a web log that he would refuse to go.

"Even though I deployed as a noncombatant in 2004-05, I still carry guilt from my participation," he wrote, adding that his role as a medic, guard and patrol driver advanced the overall war effort. "I regret involvement in those activities, because ultimately I was contributing to the war mission and enabling others to do what I oppose."

When his unit shipped out Aug. 31, Aguayo remained behind. The next day, he turned himself in to the military police, said James Klimaski, his Washington lawyer, expecting to face court-martial proceedings.

However, Army personnel told Aguayo that he would be going to Iraq even if they had to forcibly put him on the plane, his wife said. On Sept. 2, Army personnel took Aguayo to his apartment in Schweinfurt, Germany, to gather his gear for deployment. She believes Aguayo escaped from their apartment while two officers were waiting for him in the living room.

"I heard him in the back of the house getting his equipment, and then I didn't hear any more noise," Helga Aguayo said. "I went to check and I didn't see him. I told them, 'My husband is gone. I think he went out the window.' "

She said the two searched for Aguayo and questioned her 10-year-old twin daughters, "using harsh words."

Supporters said Aguayo plans to turn himself in to Army officials if assured he will not be sent to Iraq. His attorney said he is likely to face charges of desertion and being absent without leave, carrying penalties of up to five years in prison.

Pentagon officials could not comment on claims that he was threatened with being forcibly taken to Iraq but said the Army has procedures for dealing with troubled soldiers.

"I would encourage the individual to get with his chain of command," said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman. "There are many other ways to address these things without going AWOL."

Wednesday's news conference was held on the National Mall among a collection of white canopies sheltering Iraq war protesters at a site called Camp Democracy that has drawn a few protesters and followers of antiwar leader Cindy Sheehan over the last several weeks.

mima.mohammed@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Moises Mendoza in Washington contributed to this report.

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