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.]

Turned away by military police, Sgt. Micah Turner says he’s “on the run”

Photo by @Unoccupier

Turned away from Fort Hamilton for a second time, AWOL soldier and anti-war protestor Sgt. Micah Turner says he’s “on the run.”

This is how he recounts his attempts to turn himself in on his blog, Unoccupier:

Just before midnight on Sunday, October 7, 2012, the anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan, I drove into Fort Hamilton with five activist friends… The police took me into custody for about 15 minutes, or perhaps a little longer. They told me to come back the next morning as they couldn’t process me at that time. So, one cheap hotel room later, and one awesome night with my friends, I reported to the military police at Fort Hamilton again at 0800 hours sharp. I was handcuffed and searched. But once again, I was told to come back as they didn’t have personnel to process me at that time.

While he tweets that he’s a fugitive and uses the hashtag #ontherun, at the same time Turner believes his actions have given him a temporary reprieve:

[My lawyer] said that my having appeared at Fort Hamilton to try to turn myself in automatically gives me a 30-day extension of my AWOL status. (After 30 days, I become a fugitive and the sentencing could get much harsher!)

He’s looking into obtaining status as a conscientious objector. In the meantime, he’s hitting the road with Occupy the Roads, an RV piloted by Tino Fuentes and Janet Wilson. They visited the anniversary celebration of Occupy Buffalo, and next destinations are Erie and Cleveland.

In addition to an active Twitter account, he’s upped the social media campaign with a Facebook page and blog.

AWOL combat veteran turned war protestor faces uncertain fate

Sgt. Micah Turner

This post has been updated below.

Late Sunday night Sgt. Micah Turner, an active-duty soldier deployed multiple times to Afghanistan,  surrendered to authorities at Fort Hamilton after being absent from his unit for more than a month.
He had abandoned his post on September 7, and as of today, would have been officially considered a deserter.

The day before in Washington, DC, Sgt. Turner, 24, risked immediate arrest by revealing his status as a soldier absent without leave (AWOL) and publicly stating his opposition to the war in Afghanistan. Today he joined Veterans for Peace in New York and again spoke out against the war, saying that what was happening to soldiers and citizens in Afghanistan was a tragedy. Then he drove with supporters to the gates of Fort Hamilton near New York City and surrendered to military authorities.

“The Army tells us to be people of integrity, personal courage, and duty,” he said. “As a person of courage, it is my duty to dissent.”

He walked away from his post 31 days ago. Saturday at Freedom Plaza, he said, “As of today I am officially designated AWOL.” He wore his Class A uniform blouse, “Army greens” and stood in front of a line of supporters who held “No More War” posters. The announcement was livestreamed over the internet to large audiences.

He has served five years in the Army, only one year short of his six-year commitment, and has been deployed to Iraq once and Afghanistan three times. His assignment was in PSYOPs, which, according to the Army Field Manual, uses manipulative techniques “to influence foreign target emotions, motives, objective reasoning” to achieve the goals of a military mission. Sgt. Turner’s 6-year obligation to serve in the Army would have ended with an honorable discharge had he not gone AWOL.

During his most recent deployment to Afghanistan, his feelings about the 12 year-long war began to change. He recently became active in the Occupy movement. He also participated in the Occupy DC anniversary protests and the Veterans for Peace rally and vigil in front of the Veterans Administration.

Sgt. Turner will have a long legal road ahead of him before he knows his fate. He may be tried by court martial with the possibility of losing his rank and all pay and benefits. It could take years before the final disposition of his case is adjudicated by the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.

Sgt. Turner speaks to media about his reasons for going AWOL.

UPDATE 10/8/12: According to Sgt. Turner’s twitter account, authorities at Fort Hamilton released him last night after he turned himself in and requested that he come back in the morning. He returned to Fort Hamilton at 8am and once again was released, because today is a federal holiday, Columbus Day, and no military detectives are working.

He’s currently considering his options, including seeking Conscientious Objector status.

Video of Sgt. Turner speaking in New York at Veterans for Peace Vigil on October 7: