THE CONTINUING nightmare of the occupation of Iraq is making US soldiers rebel against their leaders' plans. Some 600 US soldiers have gone absent without leave from the war. US staff sergeant Camilo Mejia last week refused to carry on fighting in Iraq. The 28 year old soldier says, 'I am saying no to war. It is a war for oil, based on lies. 'I went to Iraq and was an instrument of violence, and now I have decided to become an instrument of peace. 'The Iraqis don't want us there. We don't want to be there. We're getting killed there.
'I am not a criminal and have not committed a crime. I should not run. I am not turning my back on my comrades. I am doing it for them. 'It dawned on me that protecting our troops didn't rank very high on our leaders' agenda. Medals, glory, and 'sending the right message' were all worth the lives of a few soldiers. 'When I saw with my own eyes what war can do to people, a real change began to take place within me.
'I have witnessed the suffering of a people whose country is in ruins and who are further humiliated by the raids, patrols and curfews of an occupying army. My experience of this war has changed me forever. 'One of our sergeants shot a small boy who was carrying an AK-47 rifle. 'The other two children who were walking with him ran away as the wounded child began crawling for his life. 'A second shot stopped him, but he was still alive.
'When an Iraqi tried to take him to a civilian hospital, army medics intercepted him and insisted on taking the injured boy to a military facility. 'There he was denied medical care because a different unit was supposed to treat our unit's wounded. 'Another medical unit refused to treat the boy. He died. 'That's just one of the things that tells me there's no such thing as a fair war, no such thing as a just war.
'I also learned that fear of dying has the power to turn soldiers into killing machines. In a combat environment it becomes almost impossible to consider things like acting strictly in self defence or using just enough to stop an attack.
'Going home on leave in October 2003 provided me with the opportunity to put my thoughts in order and to listen to what my conscience had to say.
'People would ask me about my war experiences and answering took me back to all the horrors. 'The time I saw a young Iraqi dragged by his shoulders through a pool of his own blood, the time a motorist was decapitated by our machine-gun fire and the time my friend shot a child in the chest. 'You make yourself incredibly vulnerable by doing the same manoeuvre over and over.
'We were basically being used as bait. 'They were doing everything to put soldiers in harm's way and against military doctrine and practice in order to instigate a fight. 'All this could have been avoided by doing what we were taught to do and following procedures, but it wasn't done that way so soldiers could win combat badges. It was a problem of ambition.
'Coming home gave me the clarity to see the line between military duty and moral obligation. 'My feelings against the war dictated that I could no longer be a part of it. 'Acting upon my principles became incompatible with my role in the military and by putting my weapon down I chose to reassert myself as a human being. I know I have made the right decision.'