Prosecution of U.S. Army deserters rise

According to a report by the International Herald Tribune, U.S. Army prosecutions of desertion and other unauthorised absences have risen sharply in the past four years, resulting in thousands more negative discharges and prison time for junior soldiers and combat-tested veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, military records show.

The increased prosecutions are meant, in effect, to serve as a deterrent to a growing number of soldiers who might be looking for a way to avoid heading - or heading back - to Iraq, several army lawyers said during interviews. The use of courts-martial for these violations, which before 2002 were treated mostly as unpunished nuisances, is a sign that active-duty forces are being stretched to their limits, said military lawyers and mental health experts.

"They are scraping to get people to go back, and people are worn out," said Thomas Grieger, a senior U.S. Navy psychiatrist.

From 2002 through 2006, the average annual rate of army prosecutions of desertion tripled compared with the five-year period from 1997 to 2001, to roughly 6 percent of yearly deserters from 2 percent, army data show. Between these two five-year spans prosecutions for similar crimes, like absence without leave or failure to appear for unit missions, have more than doubled, to an average of 390 per year from an average of 180 per year, army data show.

Since 2002, the army has court-martialed twice as many soldiers for desertion and other unauthorized absences than it did on average each year between 1997 and 2001.

Deserters are soldiers who leave a post or fail to show up for an assignment with the intent to stay away. Soldiers considered absent without leave, or AWOL, which presumes that they plan to return, are classified as deserters and dropped from a unit's rolls after being absent 30 days.

Source: International Herald Tribune, 9 April 2007