PAREDES SENTENCED TO HARD LABOR
SAN DIEGO – A military judge ordered a Navy sailor on Thursday to complete three months of hard labor for refusing to deploy with his ship in protest of the war in Iraq, but he declined prosecutors' requests for time in custody.
Lt. Cmdr. Bob Klant also reduced Pablo Paredes' rank from petty officer third class to seaman recruit, the lowest in the Navy.
Klant's sentencing came a day after he found Paredes guilty of one count of missing his ship's movement when he refused to board the USS Bonhomme Richard as it deployed to the Persian Gulf in December.
Paredes, a 23-year-old from the New York City borough of the Bronx, said he refused to support a war he believes is illegal and immoral. He has since become an outspoken anti-war activist. Before the sentence was imposed, he read an impassioned statement of his beliefs.
"If there is anything I could be guilty of, it is my beliefs," he said. "I am guilty of believing the war is illegal. I am guilty of believing war in all forms is immoral and useless, and I am guilty of believing that as a service member I have a duty to refuse to participate in this war because it is illegal."
Prosecutors had asked Klant to sentence Paredes to nine months in confinement, three months less than the possible maximum, and a bad conduct discharge.
"He is trying to infect the military with his own philosophy of disobedience," prosecutor Lt. Brandon Hale said. "Sailors all over the world will want to know whether this will be tolerated. Sailors want to know whether doing what he did is a good way to get out of deployment."
Prosecutors left the courtroom without making any statements, but Sam Samuelson, a Navy spokesman, said Paredes' guilty verdict sent a message.
"His actions were in conflict with his duty and taxpayers' obligations that the Navy maintain good order and discipline," Samuelson said.
The sentence of hard labor normally involves extra duty. For two of the three months, Paredes also will be restricted to his naval base.
Paredes' lawyer, Jeremy Warren, called the judge's lesser sentence "a stunning blow to the prosecution."
"This is an affirmation of every sailor's and military person's right to speak out and follow their conscience," he said.
The Bonhomme Richard and two other ships carried about 3,000 Iraq-bound Marines when they set off Dec. 6 on a six-month deployment to the Pacific and Indian oceans.
Warren said 10 other servicemen weren't present when the ship set sail, but he did not know what punishment, if any, they received and maintained Paredes was singled out for his political beliefs.
Paredes arrived at the Navy pier that day wearing a T-shirt that read "Like a Cabinet Member, I Resign" and handed over his military ID card, telling a military police officer "I quit." Paredes has alerted the media to his plans and a crowd of TV cameras was waiting for him.
The judge seemed troubled by Paredes' conduct – wearing a "silly T-shirt" with an incoherent message and staging a news conference that upset sailors and Marines who were saying goodbye to their families.
Klant said Paredes' actions seemed out of character for the former Catholic altar boy who consistently received positive evaluations from his superiors in Navy. Rather, they resembled the sort of "tantrum" the judge said he saw too often in his court from disobedient sailors.
Paredes requested conscientious objector status after he refused to board the ship. A Navy officer who reviewed his case found that his refusal was based on political opposition to the Iraq war, not a moral opposition to all war and recommended it be denied. The application is awaiting a final decision from Paredes' chain of command.
Paredes waived his right to have his case heard by a military jury.
Convicted sailor faces brig for act of protest
Petty officer refused to board ship for IraqUNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
May 12, 2005
A San Diego sailor who refused to go to war in Iraq now could face a year in the brig after being convicted of one of two charges against him yesterday.It was standing-room-only in a courtroom at 32nd Street Naval Station during opening day of the court-martial of Petty Officer 3rd Class Pablo Paredes, who chose possible jail time over supporting a war he says is illegal.
On Dec. 6, Paredes refused to board the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard when it sailed with thousands of Marines and sailors to the Persian Gulf.
The Navy charged Paredes, a Bronx, N.Y., native, with missing the ship's movement and with unauthorized absence. His defense team said about 10 other sailors also missed their deployment that day.
Lt. Cmdr. Robert Klant, the presiding judge, heard testimony yesterday after Paredes requested trial by judge alone and then pleaded not guilty. He could have opted to be tried by fellow service members, some of them enlisted like himself.
Klant dismissed the unauthorized absence charge, the lesser of the two charges, but found him guilty of missing movement.
"I'm happy about getting the charge knocked off," Paredes said at the end of yesterday's proceedings. "But I'll have to wait until tomorrow to see what it means."
Lead prosecutor Lt. Brandon Hale argued that Paredes, in trying to gain maximum public attention, orchestrated his refusal to deploy by calling media and appearing pierside as his ship sailed.
Hale said the Navy made every effort short of physically forcing Paredes to board the Bonhomme Richard.
Most courtroom spectators had strong opinions about the defendant.
A three-man contingent from Iraq Veterans Against the War was on hand, as were several other anti-war activists.
"We have all been to Iraq, and we support anyone who stands in nonviolent opposition," said Tim Goodrich, who said the group he co-founded has about 150 members across the country.
"People in the military know this war is an illegal war," said group member Camilo Mejia, 29, an Army staff sergeant who spent nine months in the brig at Fort Sill, Okla., after refusing to return to Iraq after a military leave.
Others, like many officers and crew members of the Bonhomme Richard, had little good to say about Paredes.
"I felt our families were out there (on the pier), and he was making a big joke," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Lietrice Williams.
A few sailors wanted to "take matters into their own hands, to go down and physically" confront Paredes, said Chief Petty Officer Michael Lavassaur.
During the court-martial, Lt. Christopher Castleman testified that he met Paredes at the pier and warned him that if he failed to board the Bonhomme Richard, he could face criminal charges.
Defense attorney Jeremy Warren countered that Castleman also told Paredes that if he didn't board the ship he was "free to go," leaving the sailor with no clear idea what to do.
Paredes requested conscientious objector status after he declined to board the vessel. A Navy officer found that Paredes' refusal was based on political opposition to the Iraq war, not a moral opposition to all war, and recommended that it be denied.
In the days before the court-martial, Paredes seemed unfazed by the prospect of a conviction following the military equivalent of a civilian misdemeanor trial.
"The president of the United States has a DUI under his belt," Paredes said, referring to President Bush's 1976 drunken driving arrest in Maine and subsequent guilty plea. "I think I'll make it with a misdemeanor."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.Rick Rogers: (760) 476-8212; firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/military/20050512-9999-7m12paredes.html