Prosecution of US Refuseniks Spiraling

Prosecutions of US soldiers who abscond or refuse to return to Iraq are sharply on the rise with daily bloody scenes of attacked army patrols and forcing others to maim themselves for life to escape the inferno.

Prosecution of US Refuseniks Spiraling

Prosecutions of US soldiers who abscond or refuse to return to Iraq are sharply on the rise with daily bloody scenes of attacked army patrols and indiscriminate bombings are scaring away servicemen and forcing others to maim themselves for life to escape the inferno, a leading American newspaper reported Monday, April 9.

"The nation is at war, and the Army treats the offense of desertion more seriously," Maj. Anne D. Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman, told The New York Times in a report published Monday, April 9.

"The Army's leadership will take whatever measures they believe are appropriate if they see a continued upward trend in desertion, in order to maintain the health of the force."

According to Army records, prosecution for absence without leave or failing to appear for unit missions has more than doubled to an average of 390 per year from an average of 180 per year.

The prosecution ranged between discharges and prison time for both junior soldiers and veterans.

The average of soldiers court-martialed for desertion and other unauthorized absences doubled since 2002 compared to the period between 1997 and 2001.

The rate of army prosecution in the five-year period from 1997 to 2001, was only 2%.

Army desertions were treated mostly as unpunished nuisances before 2002, the paper said.

Estimates show that 2,357 soldiers deserted the army in 2004. In 2006, the desertion rate surged to 3,196 soldiers.

Since October 2006, up to 1,871 soldiers deserted the army, a rate that if it stays on pace, would produce 3,484 desertions for 2007, an 8% increase over 2006.

Moral Waivers

To make up for the surging desertion, the US army has resorted to using moral waivers to recruit people with low-level criminal conviction and poor academic records.

"We're really scraping the bottom of the barrel trying to get people to join," said a senior noncommissioned officer involved in Army personnel and recruiting.

"We're enlisting more dropouts, people with more law violations, lower test scores, more moral issues," he explained.

The officer said the Army National Guard last week authorized 34 states and Guam to enlist the lowest-ranking group of eligible recruits, those who scored between 16 and 30 on the armed services aptitude test.

According to the Army Research Institute, at least 1 in 10 deserters surveyed after returning to the Army from 2002 to mid-2004 required a waiver to enter the service.

US law bars recruits who scored lower than 16 from enlisting.

An Army criminal defense lawyer said the desertion rate, after the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is "being taken much more seriously because we were losing so many soldiers out of the Army that there was a recognized need to attack the problem from a different way."

To meet the shortage of soldiers, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, has called for lifting Pentagon restrictions on involuntary call-ups of Army National Guard and Army Reserve troops.

The Army, which had 482,000 soldiers in 2001, plans to grow temporarily to 512,000.

But the Army now seeks to make that increase permanent and to continue increasing its ranks by 7,000 or more a year.

Maimed for Life

Psychiatrists say that the raging violence and unabated resistance in Iraq have scared away many soldiers and forced others to maim themselves

"There was one guy who literally chopped off his trigger finger with an axe to prevent his deployment," Dr. Thomas Grieger, a senior Navy psychiatrist, told the Times, referring to the case of an army personnel at a base in Alaska last year.

Military doctors and soldiers also cite emotional trauma from the battle experiences for the surging desertion.

"It starts messing with your head," James, a 26-year-old paratrooper who was deployed twice in Iraq, told the Times.

James, who went on an unauthorized leave in July and now faces a court-martial, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and abuse alcohol to self-medicate.

A US study has revealed that US troops returning from Iraq have the highest rate of mental health consultation and psychological problems compared to other troops returning from Afghanistan and other trouble spots.

One third of US troops returning from Iraq have needed at least one mental health consultation and one in five have been diagnosed with combat-induced psychological problems,

A recent poll has showed that the vast majority of US troops in Iraq want to end occupation of the Arab country within a year, as public backing for the US policy in Iraq has tumbled to an all-time low.

The wide-ranging poll of US troops in Iraq conducted by Le Moyne College and Zogby International found that 72 percent believe the United States should exit Iraq within a year.

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