A civil separation: Micah Turner may avoid court-martial in discharge proceedings

Sgt. Micah Turner

An Army combat veteran who was arrested for going AWOL from his unit back in September says he will not be prosecuted for desertion but will instead face administrative discharge by his unit commander at Fort Bragg, NC. Sgt. Micah Turner gained notoriety when he publicly admitted that he had left his unit without permission after becoming increasingly disillusioned by the war in Afghanistan. No official decision has been reached, but if administrative discharge proceeds, it’s good news for Turner, who would otherwise face the possibility of imprisonment with a court-martial conviction.

His public opposition to the decade-long war in Afghanistan attracted supporters who have lobbied on his behalf for lenient treatment since his arrest in early January. In a statement addressed to them, he said, “My commander has promised me that I will be separated from the military as fast as possible and it looks like my punishment will be by Article 15 of the UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice] and not Courts Marshal (sic).”

Article 15 gives an officer limited authority to punish a soldier under his command for certain offenses. Non-judicial punishment, even when it results in discharge, usually has less serious consequences than court-martial. According to a source familiar with military law, with discharge under Article 15, Turner is likely to leave the Army with loss of his rank and all pay, leave and benefits.

These penalties however might be best-case scenario for Turner, if non-judicial separation does in fact go forward. Prosecution for desertion and court-martial could result in a “bad conduct” discharge and a period of incarceration. It is more common to prosecute an AWOL soldier for desertion, according the military law source, but there is discretion to allow him to admit guilt and avoid a court martial. A “bad conduct” discharge can cause difficulties in obtaining future employment.

In his statement Turner also says that he is being treated “fairly and with respect” at Fort Bragg. He is not confined at the moment but free move about the base.

Turner’s supporters are pleased to hear that he may avoid court-martial and believe that besides his good service record, media attention could also play a role. They hope their campaign steers authorities to use their discretion and opt for the non-judicial route. “We know that military officials want to avoid negative publicity. The petition and support effort are clearly having an effect,” said @Unoccupier, who took over Turner’s Twitter account after his arrest.

Supporters also hope that “fair treatment by military officials at Fort Bragg could serve as a positive model of a way to release soldiers who become morally opposed to their participation in combat.”

Turner was a psychological operations specialist deployed to Afghanistan three times and once to Iraq. He became disillusioned with the continuation of the war in Afghanistan following the death of Osama bin Laden. He has expressed concern about the impact of traumatic stress on troops’ health and cited the high rate of suicides among service members, which have outpaced combat fatalities among causes of death.

Micah Turner arrested; supporters seek leniency for anti-war protestor

Sgt. Micah Turner

Military police were informed of the Army deserter’s whereabouts all along. What motivated their choice of time and location of arrest?

Micah Turner, Army Sargeant turned anti-war protestor, was arrested in early January* at his parents’ home after spending three months in legal limbo. He deserted his unit in September and later went public with his AWOL status and opposition to the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

His arrest follows two attempts to turn himself in at Fort Hamilton in October. He reportedly was turned away because no one was available to process an arrest on a federal holiday.

Military police, however, appear to have kept an eye on his movements since then and waited until he returned to his parents’ home for Christmas. He’s currently being held at Fort Irwin and will soon be transferred to Fort Bragg, where his Army unit is based.

According to his Twitter feed (@Unoccupier), which is being maintained by a friend, “Micah’s unit at Fort Bragg has authority to decide whether to retain, reprimand, prosecute, and/or discharge him.” It may also decide whether to hold him in pre-trial confinement. Supporters are organizing a campaign to advocate discharge rather than prosecution.

Turner was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan five times.

* [An earlier version of this post stated that Turner had been arrested on January 10, but his arrest occurred no later than January 3.]