|Camilo Mejía United States Army|
SSG Mejía in an undated photo
August 28, 1975 |
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||?1995?-2004|
|Other work||Road from Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejía|
Camilo Ernesto Mejía (b. Managua, Nicaragua, August 28, 1975) is a Nicaraguan who left the Army as a private after receiving a bad conduct discharge, best known for being an anti-war activist and deserter. He is also the son of Carlos Mejia Godoy, Sandinista songwriter.
Service and court-martial
Mejía is a former student of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, where he intended to major in psychology and Spanish on a military-funded scholarship.:1 Mejía spent six months in Iraq (his first combat tour after enlisting), then returned for a 2-week furlough to the US after which he did not return for duty. He was charged with desertion and sentenced to one year in prison for refusing to return to fight in Iraq. In March 2004 he turned himself in to the US military and filed an application for conscientious objector.
On May 21, 2004, Mejía was convicted of desertion by a military jury and sentenced to one year confinement, reduction to the rank of Private E-1, and a Bad Conduct Discharge. Under Article 85 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, conviction on the charge of desertion during time of war can result in a sentence of death.
Mejía served his time at the Fort Sill military prison in Lawton, Oklahoma. During his time in custody he was recognized by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience and was awarded by Refuse and Resist with its Courageous Resister Award. He was also the recipient of the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award which was presented by his attorney Louis Font.
Camilo Mejía was released from prison on February 15, 2005. Since his release, he has spoken at many peace protests and to the press about his experiences and his opposition to the war in Iraq. In 2005, he was recognized with the 'Young Leader Award' by Global Exchange, in San Francisco.
Mejía has recently written a book entitled Road from Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejía which recounts his journey of conscience in Iraq.
"I say without any pride that I did my job as a soldier. I commanded an infantry squad in combat and we never failed to accomplish our mission. But those who called me a coward, without knowing it, are also right. I was a coward not for leaving the war, but for having been a part of it in the first place. Refusing and resisting this war was my moral duty, a moral duty that called me to take a principled action. I failed to fulfill my moral duty as a human being and instead I chose to fulfill my duty as a soldier. All because I was afraid. I was terrified, I did not want to stand up to the government and the army, I was afraid of punishment and humiliation. I went to war because at the moment I was a coward, and for that I apologize to my soldiers for not being the type of leader I should have been."
Mejía is interviewed in "The Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends (2006)", a documentary about the training and dehumanization of U.S. soldiers, and how they struggle to come to terms with it when they come back home. A quote from him in the movie:
"To the troops, I want to say that there is a way out. We signed a contract, and we swore to protect the constitution and to fight for freedom and democracy, but that's not what we're doing in Iraq. And if it means jail, or if it means disgrace or shame, then that's what it's going to take.... [T]here is no higher freedom that can be achieved than the freedom we achieve when we follow our conscience, and that's something that we can live by and never regret."
Song about Mejía
In early 2006, alternative reggae/rock band State Radio released the album Us Against the Crown, which features the song "Camilo". When they heard of his story, State Radio wanted to bring conscientious objection to light. Lyrics in the song reflect on Camilo Mejía's situation:
Twenty days in a concrete fallout/ What life have I to take your own/ Oh my country, won't you call out/ Doorbells are ringing with boxes of bones/ And from another land's war torn corners/ To a prison cell in my own/ Punish me for not taking your orders/ But don't lock me up for not leavin' my home Camilo/ Camilo/ Leaving my home/ Camilo/ Camilo
- Miami - News - Camilo's Retreat
- A. Delarte, "Iraqi war protesters gather to honor fallen servicemen" The South End (Detroit) March 22, 2005.
- "Camilo Mejia freed from Oklahoma Army prison, Iraq CO and family honored by Oklahoma peace activists"
- Regaining My Humanity
- "The Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends" (Mejía's credit is missing in the IMDb.com page)
- Democracy Now! | War Resister Camilo Mejia Elected to Chair Iraq Veterans Against the War, Group Encouraging War Resistance
- Zeiger, David, Evangeline Griego, Aaron Zarrow, Troy Garity, and Edward Asner. Sir! No sir! a David Zeiger film. New York, NY: Docurama Films, 2006. ISBN 0767091930