Agustín Aguayo (born c. 1971) is a veteran of the Iraq War. After several failed attempts to attain conscientious objector status, he deserted his unit in Germany in September 2006 to avoid redeployment to Iraq. He was convicted of desertion by a court martial March 6, 2007 and served six months in prison. His trial led Amnesty International to declare him a prisoner of conscience, and made him a hero to the American and European anti-war movements.
Aguayo is a U.S. citizen who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. He enlisted in the United States Army in 2002 to earn money for his education. The following year, Operation Iraqi Freedom began. Aguayo was trained by the Army as a combat infantryman. After his advanced individual training he was stationed in Germany, and was soon deployed to the Middle East.
Though Aguayo was not anti-war at the time of his enlistment, he stated that he became anti-war as a result of his experiences in the Army. In February 2004, he applied for conscientious objector status, but was denied, reportedly by a vote of two to one by the three-person panel. He was deployed to Tikrit, where he served a year as a combat medic. In 2005, he sued in federal court to force the Army to recognize him as a conscientious objector, but his suit was denied.
Aguayo was notified his unit would be returned to Iraq and instead missed his unit's movement to that theater of operations. When military police came to his home in Schweinfurt, Germany on September 2, 2006, he climbed out of the bathroom window, going AWOL for 24 days. On September 27, he turned himself in at Fort Irwin in California, stating that "It is the right thing to do... I'm not a deserter or a coward."
On March 6, 2007, Aguayo was convicted of desertion by a court-martial in Würzburg, Germany. He was given a sentence of only eight months' imprisonment, rather than the possible maximum of seven years. Aguayo told the court that "I tried my best, but I couldn’t bear weapons and I could never point weapons at someone." An army prosecutor dismissed Aguyao's reasoning, stating, "His service was going to be important as a medic regardless of whether he was carrying a weapon or not." He was given a bad conduct discharge and his rank reduced to the lowest grade. Following his conviction, Amnesty International named Aguayo a prisoner of conscience, arguing that he had taken "reasonable steps to secure release from the army" and that he was "imprisoned solely for his conscientious objection to participating in war".
Release and activism
As Aguayo had already served 161 days in prison, he was released on April 18. He then returned to his family in Los Angeles. On his return, he spoke of his experiences before an audience of antiwar activists, who gave him what the Los Angeles Times described as "a hero's welcome". Der Spiegel also described him as a "hero" to the US and European anti-war movements as a result of his trial. Aguayo began a speaking campaign at U.S. schools, describing his activities by saying, "I want to bring young people awareness. We ask them to sacrifice so much yet we don't educate them about the realities of war." He was awarded the Stuttgart peace prize in December 2007.
Aguayo has a wife, Helga Aguayo, and two daughters.