AWOL American soldier applies for German asylum
Statement of André Shepherd at press-conference in Frankfurt/M. (Germany)
Hello, my name is Andre Shepherd, and I was a member of the U.S. Army before finding that my conscience would no longer allow for me to continue in such a capacity. I am currently Absent Without Leave and am requesting asylum in Germany. I am asking for your support in this difficult matter.
I enlisted in the military in January of 2004 and worked my way up in rank from private to specialist by the time I left my unit in June of 2007. I served most of my enlistment in Katterbach, Germany, with the 412th Aviation Support Battalion and was deployed to Iraq from September 2004 to February 2005. My mission in Iraq was to repair and maintain the AH-64 Apache helicopter, which were then used to support the infantry or to find and destroy the “enemy combatants.” My job appeared harmless, until one factors in the amount of death and destruction those helicopters caused to civilians in Iraq. When I read and heard about people being ripped to shreds from the machine guns or being blown to bits by the Hellfire missiles as well as buildings and infrastructures being destroyed I began to feel ashamed about what I was doing. It is a sickening feeling to realize that I took part in what was basically a daily slaughter of a proud people. The second battle for Fallujah is a vivid reminder of the level of destruction that these and other weapons can inflict upon a population. I believe the Apache is responsible for a significant portion of the civilian death toll in Iraq which at last count was at least 500,000. I am remorseful for my contribution to these heinous acts, and I swear that I will never make these mistakes again.
When enlisting, I took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” After my deployment to Iraq, however, I began to question whether I was doing what I had signed up to do. I spent many months researching the causes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and what the U.S. military was doing in those countries, and I came to the conclusion that both invasions were illegal according to U.S. and international law. We have destroyed nations, killed leaders, raided homes, tortured, kidnapped, lied, and manipulated not just citizens and leaders of our enemies, but of our allies as well. I could not, in good conscience, continue to serve in the U.S. Army.
The U.S. military does not offer a discharge for someone who believes they are being asked to take part in an illegal war, but believes appropriate force is occasionally necessary. I had to choose between ignoring my beliefs and leaving the military illegally. For me, the correct path was clear: I had to leave.
It is perhaps appropriate that I am applying for asylum in Germany, where the Nuremburg trials took place 60 years ago. One of the main things that were established during these trials was that one cannot defend one’s actions by claiming to have merely been following orders. If I had stayed in the U.S. Army and continued to participate in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I could not legally argue that I was just doing my job. Here in Germany it was established that everyone, even a soldier, must take responsibility for his or her actions, no matter how many superiors are giving orders.
I recognize that the U.S. military could try to charge me with desertion with intent to shirk hazardous duty during a time of war. If I were to be found guilty of such a crime, U.S. military regulations state they have the right to convict me with a penalty of death. Nevertheless, I made the decision that I believe is right.
There have been many Germans who have called the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan illegal and immoral. It is only logical to suggest then that the soldiers who participate in these wars are also committing illegal and immoral acts. The question now is whether Germany will grant asylum and stand with those soldiers who refuse to take part in these wars.
Barack Obama will become president of the United States in January. He campaigned with a message of change and has stated he wishes to end the Iraq War. He has repeatedly stated that as president he will move the troops from Iraq into Afghanistan. However, this does not translate into sympathy for those who refuse to take part in an illegal war. I believe no pardon or amnesty will be given before both conflicts have ended. Furthermore, fellow AWOL Army soldier Robin Long was recently deported from Canada to the United States, where he now sits in military prison. Mr. Obama never stated an intention to reversing the Bush Doctrine, nor has he stated any intention to bring the Bush administration to justice for their part in these criminal activities. Mr. Obama’s silence on these issues speaks volumes as to his current disposition toward those who refuse to fight.
Statement of André Shepherd at press-conference in Frankfurt/M. (Germany), November 27, 2008.