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Trading One War for Another

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Yesterday, I had the enlightening opportunity to speak to a fellow Military Families Speak Out member, Sarah Lucas of Boston, Massachusetts, about the denial of her son 's Conscientious Objector claim and his current imprisonment at Ft. Sill in Oklahoma.

While Sarah 's son, Private Neil Quentin Lucas, is not alone in his situation, the details are certainly unique and frankly, startling.

The Lucas family is Christian. Neil 's father served in the US military for 24 years. His mother immigrated to the United States to escape the civil war in Uganda that has been called the worst humanitarian failure in the world today. She came here with her sister to make a life in a country where she would not have to live in fear. She never dreamed that she would end up watching her son go through the following nightmarish scenario with the United States military.

Neil Quentin Lucas wanted to be a writer. He studied his art in college, and hoped to pursue his dream after graduation. However, he found it difficult to get a job in the field, so he took a job in a plastics factory, and then, when he needed to make more money to pay off the debt he had incurred going to school, he decided to join the Army.

Neil 's parents were not entirely comfortable with his decision, as they are morally opposed to war and violence. They cautioned him to make sure that if he joined the Army, it would be in a non-combatant role. Neil assured his parents that he would never volunteer to carry a weapon or use one to kill other human beings. It was contrary to his entire sense of moral conviction long before he ever considered enlisting.

Thus assured, Neil 's parents gave him their blessing, and he met with an Army recruiter. He told the recruiter that he wanted to be a writer, and asked if the Army had any use for someone with his skills. The recruiter told him that they did. Lucas told the recruiter that he was willing to be deployed to Iraq or any other place the military needed him to go, but only as a non-combatant. He told the recruiter that he could not train with weapons or carry a weapon of any kind, and the recruiter told him that there were places in the Army for conscientious objectors who wanted to serve in the armed forces in a non-combatant capacity.

The recruiter did not tell Lucas that that place was prison.

Neil Quentin Lucas enlisted, and went to Ft. Knox for basic training. When he arrived, he was told he must participate in weapons training. He told his commanding officer that there must be a mistake, that he was supposed to be there to be a writer, and that he had told his recruiter that he was a conscientious objector and could not be involved in weapons training, combat exercises, or active participation in any combat operations.
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His commanding officer laughed in his face.

Neil realized that his recruiter had lied to him. The recruiting officer never told Lucas that he had to fill out a slew of separate paperwork in order to be considered a non-combatant. Neil refused to take part in the activities he found morally objectionable, and was punished by his commanding officer.

Following this, Neil Quentin Lucas filed the appropriate CO application, and tried to go through the chain of command and CO claim process the right way. His first CO application was apparently torn up by his commanding officer. According to Sarah Lucas, her son was also ordered not to talk to the press about his situation.

Lucas filed a second CO application in summer of 2004, and it was ignored by the military bureaucracy. In January of 2005, he was ordered to deploy, in a combat unit, to Iraq. Lucas reported to the base as ordered, turned in his weapon, and refused to deploy.

His mother, Sarah Lucas, gave me the family 's account of what followed. Her son was immediately arrested and held pending charges. In March, his CO application was denied by the US military and he was informed that he would be tried in a court-martial. The military was willing to pay for two character witnesses to fly to Ft. Stewart, where Neil was being held, to testify in his defense. He chose his father and his pastor.
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Neil 's witnesses were not actually allowed to participate in the trial itself, but gave their testimony beforehand. The investigators in the trial, according to Mrs. Lucas, concluded that the case never should have been brought to trial and that there was no basis for a court-martial. The base Chaplain and Lucas 's commanding officers overruled this, the court convicted Lucas, and sentenced him to 13 months in a military prison at Ft. Sill, where he sits awaiting release this summer. Two clemency appeals have been made on his behalf, and both have been denied. His mother contacted her US senators, Kennedy and Kerry (both D-MA) and asked them for help. They did nothing.

Sarah Lucas described the course of events as an "up and down roller coaster. "

She asked me, "How do you sleep when your son is in jail? He 's there with criminals --people who are dangerous, who have committed violent crimes. "

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Katherine Brengle is a freelance writer and activist.

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