The hapless Jeremy Sivits got the headlines yesterday. A mechanic whose job
was to service gasoline-powered generators, Specialist Sivits was sentenced
to a year in prison and thrown out of the Army for accepting an invitation
to take part in the sadistic treatment of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison.
But there’s another soldier in serious trouble to whom we should be paying
even closer attention. His case doesn’t just call into question the
treatment of prisoners by U.S. forces. It calls into question this entire
Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia is a 28-year-old member of the Florida National
Guard who served six harrowing months in Iraq, went home to Miami on a
furlough last October, and then refused to return to his unit when the
Sergeant Mejia has been charged with desertion. His court-martial at Fort
Stewart, Ga., began Wednesday, the same day that Specialist Sivits pleaded
guilty to the charges against him. If Sergeant Mejia is convicted, he will
face a similar punishment, a year in prison and a bad-conduct discharge.
Sergeant Mejia told me in a long telephone interview this week that he had
qualms about the war from the beginning but he followed his orders and went
to Iraq in April 2003. He led an infantry squad and saw plenty of action.
But the more he thought about the war – including the slaughter of Iraqi
civilians, the mistreatment of prisoners (which he personally witnessed),
the killing of children, the cruel deaths of American G.I.’s (some of whom
are the targets of bounty hunters in search of a reported $2,000 per head),
the ineptitude of inexperienced, glory-hunting military officers who at
times are needlessly putting U.S. troops in even greater danger, and the
growing rage among coalition troops against all Iraqis (known derisively as
“hajis,” the way the Vietnamese were known as “gooks”) – the more he
thought about these things, the more he felt that this war could not be
justified, and that he could no longer be part of it..