FORT HOOD, Texas - A Fort Hood soldier was sentenced Wednesday to a month in jail for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan over his beliefs that the war violates international law.
Spc. Victor Agosto, 24, of Miami, pleaded guilty to disobeying lawful orders and was sentenced at the central Texas Army post. The judge also reduced his rank to the Army's lowest level, a private, which also was part of the maximum penalty he faced in his plea agreement with the military.
Also, Agosto cannot be discharged at a level lower than other-than-honorable conditions, an administrative discharge. A discharge was not mentioned in the hearing, but Agosto is expected to be released from the Army after completing his jail term.
Before he was sentenced during the hourlong military hearing, he told the judge he should not be jailed because he posed no threat to anyone.
He said he had remained on post and went to work every day since refusing to deploy after learning a few months ago that the Army was keeping him beyond his enlistment date. He said he did not use drugs or go absent without leave, as other soldiers have done to avoid deployment.
He said he did not apply for conscientious objector status because that requires opposition to all wars, and he does not believe that all war is wrong.
"I really had no Army way of being consistent with my conscience," Agosto 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."
His attorney James M. Branum said he plans to appeal for a lesser sentence on the grounds of legal errors. Agosto gave an unsworn statement, which means cross-examination is not allowed.
But after Agosto spoke, Capt. Theresa Santos, acting as the judge in the hearing, asked him several questions, including his opinions about the war before he joined the military.
Agosto said that when he enlisted in 2005, he felt invading Iraq was wrong but that troops had a mission to complete. He said he began to oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan after he served a 13-month tour in Iraq, which ended in late 2007.
Wednesday's proceeding was a summary court martial, in which a soldier's guilty finding will not show up as a felony conviction if an attorney does not represent him during the hearing. Branum said he was there to advise Agosto and did not speak on the record or object to anything.
Earlier, Agosto called one witness to testify on his behalf. Cynthia Thomas, who said she's been an Army wife for 17 years, said Agosto made a hard decision to follow his conscience although he would lose his military benefits and be ostracized by his peers.