Soldiers Court-Martialed for Refusing Deployment

There have been two interesting cases of soldiers refusing to deploy.  Both were court-martialed and convicted, both share the same lawyer, and both are from Fort Hood–but the details of how they handled themselves (and the punishments they received) are in stark contrast. 

The first, Sgt. David Travis Bishop, 26, was found guilty by special court martial and sentenced to a year in jail and a bad conduct discharge, as well as a reduction in grade and fine.  Bishop reportedly began studying his Bible after a tour in Iraq and came to the conclusion that war was wrong.  However, he went AWOL at deployment time for a week.  He has apparently applied for recognition as a conscientious objector, though the status of that claim is unknown.  If it is granted it could be a factor in an appeal.

The second, Spc. Victor Agosto, 24, pled guilty to disobeying an order to deploy.  He was sentenced to a month in jail as well as a reduction in grade.  According to the report, Agosto cannot be discharged at lower than “other than honorable” conditions.  He reportedly stayed on post, reported to work every day, and did not apply for conscientious objector status because he knew that such status requires opposition to all war–and he does not believe that all war is wrong.

While both acted illegally and in violation of military orders, Agosto’s conduct, despite the disobedience, was far better Bishop’s.  Still, his logic for his situation is strained.  He said:

The courts haven’t recognized soldiers’ rights to refuse an order they believe to be illegal…I believe future courts will find that the Afghanistan war is illegal because it violates international law.

The “right” to refuse an illegal order is actual a moral obligation recognized by the UCMJ.  However, the fact that Agosto believes the war in Afghanistan violates international law does not make the order to deploy illegal.  That assessment is left to the objective analysis of others, and they have not accepted that conclusion.

If Agosto disagrees, he has the “right” to refuse, if you will; and the Army has the right to court martial him.  He accepted that outcome, which, if nothing else, seems to indicate that he is a man of principle.