Tuesday, September 23, 2008

U.S. District Judge John Sedwick Wrongfully Orders Conscientious Objector Status For PFC Michael Barnes In Anchorage, Alaska

U.S. District Judge John Sedwick has ordered the U.S. Army to grant conscientious objector (CO) status and an honorable discharge to PFC Michael Barnes, a paratrooper formerly based at Fort Richardson, Alaska, who said he experienced a "religious awakening" in Iraq two years ago that left him opposed to war in any form. This decision supersedes the Army's decision last year to deny Barnes' request. Full story published September 23rd, 2008 by the Anchorage Daily News; additional story in the Army Times. For additional background, read this May 2008 Military Times story, to which numerous public comments were appended, nearly all against Barnes.

Judge Sedwick rejected the U.S. Army's contention that Barnes was "insincere" in professing religious objections to war. Furthermore, the judge decided that testimony by a chaplain, a psychiatrist, fellow soldiers and Barnes himself validated Barnes' sincerity.

A May 13th story in the Anchorage Daily News reveals three reasons why the Army questioned PFC Barnes' sincerity:

• It was at odds with Barnes' previous stated desire to serve in Iraq.

• The timing of his request for CO status was suspect, coming three months after his deployment to Iraq rather than earlier.

• Officers in his chain of command were never made aware of his objections to the war until he was reassigned in December 2006 to serve as a gunner.

Barnes is currently stationed in the Lower 48 and was not available for an interview. However, in a statement released September 22nd by his lawyer, Barnes said he was thankful to the federal courts in Anchorage for finding that his request was based on his sincere belief as a "Christian".

A native of Portland, Oregon, the 26-year-old Barnes enlisted in the U.S. Army for five years in March 2005 with the stated goal of defending freedom and helping other people in countries no one else would help. But PFC Barnes' doubts began surfacing after he arrived in Iraq with the 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team in September 2006. As his religious faith grew stronger, he became increasingly withdrawn, devoting much of his spare time to reading the Bible. Finally, he formally applied for CO status in December 2006.

In his request, Barnes wrote, "I have been trying to justify being a soldier and finding a way to do so while still being a Christian, because that is what I wanted to do since I was a kid. But I can no longer justify spending my short time in this world participating in or supporting war. ... I must try to save souls, not help take them. I fear not for my life, but for my soul."

Married with two children, Barnes previously worked as a counselor to troubled youths in Oregon and Washington. In his request for conscientious objector status, he said he would like to return to similar work as a civilian.

Judge John Sedwick has previously been in the public eye in Alaska. As presiding judge in Vic Kohring's corruption trial, he briefly came under fire for refusing to recuse himself after a potential conflict of interest was disclosed. Kohring had asked Sedwick to step aside because of what he called an "extremely antagonistic relationship" Kohring had with the judge's wife, Deborah Sedwick. It started back in the late 1990s when she was commissioner of the state Department of Commerce and Economic Development and Kohring targeted her department for cuts and downsizing. Kohring said he sponsored legislation that eliminated her department and her job as commissioner. But Judge Sedwick rejected the request, despite the fact that the potential for judicial bias clearly existed.

Commentary: If PFC Barnes had been involuntarily drafted into the military, I might be more sympathetic to his concerns. The draft is a form of involuntary servitude, although courts have held that it does not breach specific 13th Amendment constraints against involuntary servitude.

However, PFC Barnes voluntarily enlisted. In addition, he also sought paratrooper training, which implies a greater level of personal commitment. Now, after all that personal investment, Barnes suddenly changes his mind and wants out of his contract altogether. Perhaps he forgot about that verse in the Bible, Matthew 22:21 (KJV), which states, "...Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's". This is a common fault of many simple-minded Christians; they cherry-pick cotton-candy feelgood verses in the Bible, not to glorify God or promote Jesus Christ, but merely to score cheap political points. And those verses which contradict their cause are blithely ignored or summarily discarded. The bottom line - if you voluntarily and knowingly sign a contract, you live up to it unless you become incapacitated in some way.

But the U.S. Army may have erred in publicly questioning Barnes' sincerity. This may have made them look bad. Perhaps it would have worked more successfully if the Army had proffered a contractual argument instead. The military can accomodate many COs by assigning them to official "non-combatant" jobs, although the situation in Iraq shows that the days of organized "front lines" are over; the whole country became a combat zone.

AR 600-43 (34 pages in PDF format) outlines the Army's policy on conscientious objection.

1 comment:

  1. Render unto Caser is in reference to payment of taxes not an exemption from Christ commandment to resist not evil. While you criticize “simple-minded Christians” for cherry-picking cotton-candy feel good verses in the Bible you seem to be simple mined enough not to be able to understand the one you cherry picked or realized that the reference you provided provides for CO objection for military personal who are under contract so what is the point of producing a contract?