Two members of the military stationed in New Mexico requesting discharge as conscientious objectors have taken their case to U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.
First Lt. Eric Riley of the United States Army Reserve and Spc. Preston Betts of the California Army National Guard filed documents with the court Thursday to postpone their deployment to Iraq until a decision can be made regarding their conscientious objector applications.
“I won’t kill,” Riley said in a phone interview with the Tribune. “If it is wrong for an individual to perform an act, how can it be correct for a collective such as the state to perform that same act?”
Both Riley and Betts have been awaiting a decision on their applications for months, said Reber Boult, an attorney for the men.
He said the filing was made because the men’s deployment was likely to occur by April 2.
A hearing has not been set but is likely to be Monday or Tuesday, he said.
He said the goal of the filing is to keep the men from deploying and have the military or the court make a decision regarding their applications.
Riley said he applied for discharge as a conscientious objector in October and had been trying to leave the military for years.
Betts made his desire to be a conscientious objector first known in September, according to the filing.
Reviews of the applications by military officers have concluded the two men should be granted conscientious objector status and discharged from the military, according to the filing.
Riley said the United States invasion of Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks made him question the validity of war.
“I remember people really cheering for us bombing the Afghanis,” he said. “The strident voices people had – I was kind of horrified by that.”
He said that if the situation in Iraq were reversed, and it had invaded the United States, Americans would be doing what the Iraqi “bad guys” are now doing.
“This arbitrary judgment of good and bad – who makes that choice? They’re only bad because they’re on the other side,” he said. “That’s not really a good basis for morality, in my opinion.”
Riley said he is trying to live by his own beliefs, not change people’s opinions about war.
“The people who disagree with me, I can’t say they’re wrong; I can only say I believe what I believe,” he said.
Even though the military has a policy of trying to put conscientious objectors in roles that conform with their beliefs, any role the two men played in the war in Iraq would contribute toward actions contrary to their beliefs, Boult said.
Both men are stationed at Fort Bliss, a military base that sits mostly in southern New Mexico and stretches into Texas.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Albuquerque had not reviewed copies of the filing and could not comment upon the case, said Norm Cairns, spokesman for the office.