VILSECK, Germany — A soldier who refused to deploy with his unit to Iraq because of a “deeply held personal belief” that he should not take a human life will spend the next six months in jail before being thrown out of the Army.Spc. Benjamin Stewart, 25, of the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, pleaded guilty Wednesday to missing movement on Jan. 7, 2008, when he was scheduled to deploy to Iraq. Stewart had already been convicted — and reduced in rank from sergeant to specialist — of being absent without leave when the bulk of the regiment deployed last summer.Stewart told the court that he refused to deploy because of what he experienced during his last deployment to Mosul, Iraq, from 2004 to 2005.“I saw a mother and her infant child get killed in crossfire. I saw children lose their limbs in a car bomb. One boy lost an arm and another lost both legs,” he said.After that mission, Stewart said, he decided he could not deploy again."I’m not a pacifist or peacenik or against the war in Iraq. From the beginning, I believe the war was justified, (but) I could not live with myself if I killed another person,” he said.
His wife, Tabitha Stewart, who testified by telephone from the U.S., said Stewart returned from Iraq angry and scared.“He would stop the car in the middle of the freeway and yell at another driver for reasons I didn’t understand. But one day Ben woke up and started … getting back to the Ben I knew before he went to Iraq,” she said.The prosecutor, Capt. Derrick Grace, said Stewart should be made an example of for the Vilseck community. He noted that Stewart had a chance to leave the Army after his first deployment but chose to re-enlist for four more years while he was in Iraq.“He was fine serving in a garrison environment, but when his nation called him to deploy, he said ‘no,’” Grace said.
The defense attorney, Capt. James Hill, argued that Stewart’s sentence should be reduced because of illegal pretrial punishment by his unit. Witnesses testified that while in front of other soldiers, 2nd Cav Rear Detachment commander Lt. Col. Thomas Rickard told Stewart that: “Twenty years ago in Panama we would have stripped a soldier naked, beat him up, thrown him in a van and dumped him for not deploying.”The military judge, Col. Greg Marchessault, agreed with the defense’s argument, ruling that Rickard’s comments caused Stewart to feel degraded, humiliated and made him live in fear. He gave Stewart credit for seven days of pretrial confinement but sentenced him to be reduced to private and confined for six months, to be followed by a bad-conduct discharge.
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