November 9, 2008 update – Robert Weiss was released this morning from the military prison at Coleman Barracks in Mannheim, Germany. More info.
By the Military Counseling Network and Connection eV. May 14, 2008
VILSECK, Germany – U.S. Army conscientious objector Robert Weiss was sentenced to seven months confinement during a court martial Tuesday at Rose Barracks in Vilseck, Germany. Weiss pled guilty to charges of desertion and missing movement, which reduced the court martial’s proceedings mostly to the sentencing phase.
In early December of 2007, Weiss learned his application to be classified a conscientious objector and receive an honorable discharge was denied.
Weiss was assigned non-combatant duties while deployed to Forward Operating Base Prosperity in Iraq at the time, and learned of the development immediately before traveling to the United States on leave.
As his leave expired and his Dec. 22, 2007, return flight to Iraq drew near, his C.O. beliefs compelled him to miss the flight and avoid the combat patrol duties he would be assigned upon landing.
He eventually turned himself in to military authorities Feb. 11, 2008, in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
"I had no intention of boarding the flight, your honor," he said to Judge Peter Masters."…I believe they would have transitioned me to a Stryker [combat vehicle] driver position."
The charges of desertion and missing movement can carry a maximum punishment of death by firing squad or seven years in prison, however defense lawyers for Weiss were able to secure a special court martial rather than a general court martial.
A special court martial can issue a maximum punishment of 12 months in prison and a Bad Conduct Discharge, whereas a general court martial has a much higher punishment ceiling, and the possibility of a more serious Dishonorable Discharge. Both convictions are felonies.
Defense lawyers for Weiss orchestrated a pre-trial agreement with prosecutors that included guilty pleas, no out-of-country witnesses, and no jury, relying instead solely on a judge.
Though this agreement carried a prison sentence of eight months, Judge Masters issued a seven-month sentence, to be served at the U.S. Military Detention Facility Europe at Coleman Barracks in Mannheim, Germany.
The sentence also included a Bad Conduct Discharge, reduction to the lowest enlisted rank, and forfeiture of $898 per month for seven months. With good behavior, Weiss’s lawyers estimate he will be released after six months.
In his closing remarks during the sentencing portion of the trial, civilian defense lawyer David Court presented an overview of what the U.S. Military Code of Justice seeks to accomplish through criminal punishment.
Court concluded most aspects – like rehabilitation and protecting society – simply did not apply to someone guilty of essentially refusing to commit an act of violence against other human beings.
"The only tenant that is relevant is to maintain Good Order and Discipline," he said. "Those three letters [G.O.D.] that’s where Robert J. Weiss sees his command. He believes the requirements of his spirituality overcome that of a soldier."
"He will believe he is being punished because he broke the Army’s rules, but not because he broke higher laws," Court said.
Though shackled as he left the building, Weiss managed to rotate a wrist, flashing one last peace sign before boarding a van for Mannheim.
He had only two words to say.