USA: Amnesty International alert on imprisonment of a conscientious objector

On 17 September, Amnesty International released an urgent action on conscientious objector Abdullah William Webster, a sergeant of the US army who was sentenced by a court-martial to 14 months imprisonment for refusing to participate in the war in Iraq on the basis of his religious beliefs. Abdullah Webster is a US citizen who has served in the US army since 1985. He had been based in Bamberg, Germany since 2001 from where he was requested to deploy to Iraq between March and April 2003. In September 2003 he submitted a conscientious objector application to secure his release from military obligations in Iraq on the basis that his religion prohibited him from participating in any aggressive war against, or in any oppression or injustice to, Muslims or non-Muslims. He later withdrew this application after receiving advice that it would not be successful.

Abdullah Webster then submitted an application to be reassigned to non-combatant services. Despite this he was ordered to deploy to Iraq in February 2004. Following his refusal on religious grounds he was charged with failing to obey commands from his superior and missing his Brigade's movements. A further application for conscientious objector status was refused on the grounds that his objection was not to war in general but to the Iraq war in particular. According to US Army Regulations, requests for qualification as a conscientious objector will not be favourably considered when such requests are based on objection to a certain war. A second application is currently being considered by the army.

At the court-martial hearing, Abdullah Webster was sentenced to 14 months imprisonment, a bad conduct discharge, suspension of his salary and loss of pension and other benefits. He had been due to retire from service in 2005. He is currently held at the US base in Mannheim, Germany.

Abdullah William Webster is one of many US military personnel who refuse participation in the war on Iraq. Many US soldiers fled to Canada, or did not return from "Rest and Relaxation" in the USA, or in Germany. It is presently very difficult to get an overview of the numbers, and WRI would welcome any information on the issue.

Source: AI Index: AMR 51/137/2004, 17 September 2004