A headline in the Wall Street Journal of November 12th caught my eye recently. It read: “Deserter’s Asylum Claim Gets Assist.” The article told the story of a U.S. soldier—Andre Lawrence Shepherd—who decided on his own that the war in Iraq was illegal and responded by deserting. Understand that Shepherd was not a newly minted private suddenly stunned by the harsh realities of war. When Shepherd deserted, he had already served one tour of duty in Iraq and had recently re-enlisted. In other words, he knew all about the Iraq war. He also knew he would probably be deployed to Iraq again. Knowing this, Shepherd willingly raised his right hand and took the oath to re-enlist, swearing by that oath to do his duty.
However, when his orders for Iraq came though, Shepherd simply ignored the oath he had taken, deserted the Army, and sought asylum in Germany. Since he had previously been stationed in Germany, I am betting his declaring the war in Iraq illegal had more to do with a German girlfriend than politics. This type of thing happened all the time during the Viet Nam War. College students would self-righteously declare the war in Viet Nam illegal and refuse to serve in the military when, in reality, they just didn’t want to leave their girl friends behind or miss out on their comfortable college to do something so inconvenient as serving their country.
Shepherd’s request for asylum was initially denied, as it should have been. However, the highest court in Germany has agreed to hear his case. The German court has been asked to determine if the punishment Shepherd might face for desertion would constitute “an act of persecution.” This absurd statement by an official of the German court system illustrates how far to the left Germany and other nations in the European Union now lean. A soldier who raises his right hand and swears to do his duty is not being persecuted when he is expected to carry out that oath. Further, punishing a soldier for desertion hardly qualifies as persecution.
Frankly, if America had a stronger president, rather than consider granting asylum to an Army deserter Germany would do the responsible thing and turn the deserter over to the nearest U.S. Army base. It is for an Army court marshal to decide what type of punishment Shepherd should receive for deserting, not a German court. The German court has no standing in this case, and therefore should refuse to hear it. The only proper action for German officials is to turn Shepherd over to American authorities.
As to Shepherd, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) specifies the type of punishment that may be administered to deserters, and Shepherd—like all members of the military—knew exactly what the UCMJ says about desertion when he decided to go on the lam. If Andre Shepherd legitimately thought the war in Iraq was illegal, he should not have re-enlisted in the Army, something he did willingly. He knew all about Iraq and he knew that based on his military occupational specialty—mechanic on Apache helicopters—a redeployment to Iraq was probable in his case. In spite of this, Shepherd took the oath and re-enlisted.
Soldiers are taught to obey all lawful orders. This means they may choose to challenge an order given to them by a superior, but only if they believe it is unlawful (e.g. an order to murder innocent civilians). There are processes in place for this type of situation in all branches of the military. For example, this is the option that should have been taken by the soldiers who followed Lieutenant Calley’s illegal orders during the Viet Nam War and participated in massacring unarmed civilians, most of them women and children. However, soldiers do not get to decide which wars they will fight in or even if those wars are legal. Deciding whether a given war is legal is the purview of Congress and the president, not individual soldiers. If we allowed individual members of the military to decide which wars are legal, those who are afraid to fight could simply declare a given war illegal and stay home.
If President Obama were up to doing his job—which he isn’t—he would get on the telephone and demand that Andre Shepherd be turned over to American authorities immediately. Germany has no right to interfere in the internal matters of the U.S. Army, and the German Court system has no standing Shepherd’s this case. Canada, a supposed ally that looks to the United States to protect it militarily, should never have harbored draft dodgers and deserters during the Viet Nam War. In the same vein, Germany—a country that owes its very existence as a free country to the United States—should not become a safe harbor for those who desert the American military. Andre Shepherd should get his day in court, but it should be in a military court marshal run as prescribed in the UCMJ. Shepherd is not a German civilian. He is a member of the U.S. Army and should be dealt with by the U.S. Army.