Military Judge Convicts Anti-War Sailor
Petty Officer Refused to Board Ship Deployed to Gulf
Associated Press | May 12, 2005
By SETH HETTENA
SAN DIEGO - A Navy sailor turned anti-war activist was convicted of missing his ship's movement when he refused to board the USS Bonhomme Richard as it deployed to the Persian Gulf in December.
A military judge deliberated about 40 minutes before finding Petty Officer 3rd Class Pablo Paredes guilty of the count. Lt. Cmdr. Bob Klant dismissed a second count of unauthorized absence, ruling the charge was duplicative.
Paredes stood at attention as the judge read the verdict, following Wednesday's court-martial proceeding. The trial then shifted into the sentencing phase.
Paredes, a 23-year-old Puerto Rican from the New York City borough of the Bronx, could receive a year in jail, a forfeiture of pay, reduction in rank and a bad-conduct discharge.
Paredes had waved his right to have his trial heard by a military jury.
The prosecution closed its case by saying it had proven that the weapons control technician failed to board the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard on Dec. 6 - an act that was recorded by news crews at Naval Station San Diego, the scene of Wednesday's court-martial.
Lt. Christopher Castleman testified that he met Paredes at the Navy pier and warned him that if he failed to board the ship 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 idea what to do next."
Defense attorneys said Paredes had expected to be detained at the pier. Witnesses testified Wednesday that Navy officials initially planned to do so, but ultimately decided not to after consulting with Navy public affairs officials.
The Bonhomme Richard and two other ships carried about 3,000 Iraq-bound Marines when it set off on a six-month deployment to the Pacific and Indian oceans.
While his shipmates bid farewell to loved ones, Paredes sat pierside and told reporters he did not want to be part of a war he considers illegal and immoral. He said his military training taught him to avoid what he views as a war crime.
"The war is the real crime here, and that's what I want to get across," Paredes said. Navy prosecutors, however, blocked Paredes' plans to put the war on trial during the court-martial.
Warren said Paredes passed up deals that would have minimized his punishment in exchange for a guilty plea.
"He's not backing down from what he did or why he did it," Warren said.
A Navy officer reviewing Paredes' request for conscientious objector status has recommended that it be denied.
Paredes says he was a different person when he joined the Navy in 2000, looking for a job and a way to get a college education. The Navy sent him to Yokosuka, Japan, and once there, he says he had something of an awakening.
He began reading works by writers like Noam Chomsky, the MIT linguistics professor and political activist. He joined political discussions with like-minded friends who criticized the Bush administration. Japan's strong moral code impressed him as well, and when he left the country last year, Paredes says he had a huge internal conflict.
"I was ashamed to wear the uniform," he said in a recent interview.
Paredes' case attracted attention from all political stripes. Retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, a Fox News commentator who served in the Reagan White House, labeled Paredes a coward. Chomsky and Ron Kovic, the disabled Vietnam and author of "Born on the Fourth of July," said they admire Paredes for his courage.
On Wednesday, the courtroom was packed with reporters and anti-war activists. Paredes' supporters included Fernando Suarez del Solar of Escondido and Cindy Sheehan of Vacaville, who both have spoken out against the war since their sons were killed in Iraq.
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 the president's 1976 drunken driving arrest in Maine. "I think I'll make it with a misdemeanor."