Road from Ar Ramadi:
The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia
By Camilo Mejia
The New Press, 2007
320 pages, $24.95, hardcover
Camilo Mejia was the first of the now numerous and growing list of soldier resisters to the Iraq War to go public.
Mejia had served all but four months of an eight-year-term in the U.S. military when his Army National guard unit was ordered deployed. Though eight years is the legal limit for what a non-U.S. citizen can serve in the U.S. military, Mejia, who is originally from Nicaragua, was kept in the military illegally under the stop-loss program.
Sent to fight a war he opposed from the beginning, he had a trustworthy fellow soldier take a picture of him in uniform holding a sign reading “Give Peace a Chance,” to document his feelings for his daughter Samantha in case he died in battle.
Mejia’s unit served briefly as prison guards in Iraq, where he witnessed abuses toward prisoners later made famous by the Abu Ghraib revelations. Eventually, his unit settled down in Ar Ramadi west of Baghdad.
Either Mejia kept a war diary, or his wartime experiences are engraved on his heart. He relates in aching detail the atrocious encounters between U.> soldiers and Iraqis. And he pulls no punches about the times he too fell prey to committing atrocity out of confusion or exhaustion or terror.
The commitment all soldiers feel toward their buddies was emphasized for Mejia as a non-commissioned officer with command responsibility for his squad members. He agonized over approaching “A war waged within myself, one where my fears and doubts would come face to face with my conscience, a war to reclaim my humanity and my spiritual freedom.”
When he went home on leave to get his residency card extended, he tried to make the Army respect its own limit on service time for non-citizens. However, as his legal hopes faded, he called the GI Rights Hotline, a number given to him by his mother. Through the hotline, he discovered the idea of conscientious objection. He was so conflicted about the decision to become a conscientious objector that he could not face it directly. He simply slept through his flight time and the rest of the day he was scheduled to report for duty.
Unaware of the support for GI resisters, Mejia went underground. He moved to New York City to avoid recognition or capture in his hometown of Miami. During this time he consulted with World War II resister Ralph DiGia at the War Resisters League office. He also connected with Vietnam resister and attorney Louis Font. Not knowing that Font, a West Point graduate, had applied for conscientious objector status during Vietnam, he initially feared the lawyer would disapprove of his refusal to fight.
Eventually turning himself publicly over to the military, Mejia began the slow and frightening process of being tried under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The deck was stacked against him; he was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison.
Paradoxically, he writes that his feeling of freedom was profound. His book is a testament to the freedom he found in his own conscience and provides soldiers behind him an example of how to resist.