By Rebecca LaFlure
Killeen Daily Herald
A Fort Hood soldier who says fighting in a war violates his religious views faces up to a year in jail for refusing orders to deploy to Afghanistan.
Sgt. Travis Bishop, with the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, pleaded not guilty at a special court-martial Thursday to two counts of missing movement, disobeying a lawful order and going absent without leave (AWOL). If he's found guilty, Bishop also could be demoted to the lowest Army rank and given a bad-conduct discharge.
His court-martial will continue today at 9:30 a.m. at Fort Hood. He's the second Fort Hood soldier in as many weeks to be tried by a military court for his refusal to participate in a war that he believes to be immoral and illegal.
"I'm objecting to the U.S.'s current occupation in the Middle East, and I'm objecting on religious grounds," Bishop said during an interview in June.
"I started reading the Bible more when I knew I was going to Afghanistan. The more I read about loving thy enemy and turning the other cheek, the more I realized that there's nothing holy about this. … It was a moment of clarity."
Bishop, 25, who previously served a year in Iraq, was initially scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan on May 18, but did not because of an alleged back injury he sustained when he fell down a flight of stairs carrying his luggage. He was sent to an emergency room where he received pain medication.
Bishop's defense claimed he was physically unable to deploy that day because of his injury. He missed his flight because he was in the emergency room. However, Capt. Sharon Denson, a physician assistant who examined him that day, testified that she did not see any physical injuries.
"In my professional opinion, he was fit to deploy," she said at Thursday's court-martial.
Bishop was then rescheduled to deploy on May 20, but instead went AWOL. He turned himself in to his unit a week later.
James Branum, Bishop's defense attorney, said Bishop had serious doubts about his views on war for a long time, but was unaware of his right to file for conscientious objector status until just days before he was scheduled to deploy. A conscientious objector is someone who refuses to participate in combat based on religious or ethical grounds, and can be given an honorable discharge by the military.
"Never was he told about his option of conscientious objector status. … If an enlisted soldier isn't informed that he has a right, then he effectively does not have that right," Branum said during the nearly five-hour military hearing Thursday.
"Just one to two days before he was set to deploy, in the midst of moral questions, he heard about CO status."
Branum said CO status is difficult to file, and often takes weeks to do. Bishop decided to leave his unit to draft an application. A week later, he filed for CO status, which is still pending.
Bishop's defense called two witnesses to the stand. Both are active-duty Fort Hood soldiers who claim they too were never informed that filing for CO status was an option.
Pfc. Anthony Sadoski, who's been in the Army for eight years, said he'd never heard of conscientious objectors until Bishop told him.
Bishop did not take the stand in his own defense.
"Ignorance of the law is no excuse," Capt. Matt Kuskie, the prosecuting attorney, argued after the defense made its case.
Maj. Matthew McDonald, who served as the judge, said whether or not Bishop was notified about his right to file for CO status is not relevant to this case.
"If every soldier in the Army who disobeyed an order could claim it was because they weren't notified of conscientious objector status, we probably wouldn't have a military any more," he said.
Both sides will give their closing statements this morning, and if found guilty, Bishop's sentencing would begin.
Protesters from all over Texas are expected to rally in support of Bishop outside Fort Hood's East Gate tonight if he's sent to jail.
On Aug. 5, Victor Agosto, also in the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, was sentenced to a month in jail and stripped of his Army rank for refusing orders to prepare to deploy.
Agosto said the wars in the Middle East are "immoral and unjust," and a violation of international law. Agosto did not file for CO status because he only objects to certain wars. He's now serving his sentence at Bell County Jail.
Protesters plan to be outside the Bell County Criminal Justice Complex, at Loop 121 and Huey Drive in Belton, from 1 to 2 p.m. every Saturday while Agosto is incarcerated.
Contact Rebecca LaFlure at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7548.