SAN DIEGO -- A Bronx-born Navy sailor turned anti-war activist plans to argue that he was following his military training and his conscience when he refused to board his ship in December.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Pablo Paredes faces charges of unauthorized absence and missing movement at his special court-martial Wednesday. He has pleaded not guilty.
During a recent interview, the 23-year-old from the New York City borough of the Bronx seemed unfazed by the prospect of a conviction following the military equivalent of a civilian misdemeanor trial. He could receive a year in jail, a forfeiture of pay, reduction in rank and a bad-conduct discharge if he's convicted.
Navy Petty officer Pablo Paredes, center left, and Francisco Del Solar, center right, speak to supporters during an anti-war rally at Aswan Hall in National City, Calif., Tuesday, May 10, 2005. Paredes faces court martial for refusing to board the USS Bonhomme Richard which was bound for Iraq. Del Solar's son, a U.S. Marine, died while serving in Iraq. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
"The president of the United States has a DUI under his belt," Paredes said, referring to the president's 1976 drunken driving arrest in Maine. "I think I'll make it with a misdemeanor."
Paredes, a weapons control technician, refused to board the USS Bonhomme Richard on Dec. 6 as it left for a six-month deployment in the Pacific and Indian oceans. The Bonhomme Richard and two other ships were transporting about 3,000 Marines to Iraq.
While his shipmates bid farewell to loved ones, Paredes told reporters he did not want to be part of a war he views as both illegal and immoral. He says his military training has taught him to avoid what he views as a war crime.
"The war is the real crime here, and that's what I want to get across," Paredes said. Navy prosecutors, however, have blocked Paredes' plans to put the war on trial during the court-martial, he said.
Defense attorney Jeremy Warren said Paredes has passed up deals that would have minimized his punishment in exchange for a guilty plea.
"He's not backing down from what he did or why he did it," Warren said.
A Navy officer reviewing Paredes' request for conscientious objector status has recommended that it be denied.
Paredes says he was a different person when he joined the Navy in 2000, looking for a job and a way to get a college education. The Navy sent him to Yokosuka, Japan and once there, he says he had something of an awakening.
He began devouring works by writers like Noam Chomsky, the MIT linguistics professor and political activist. He joined political discussions with like-minded friends who criticized the Bush administration. Japan's strong moral code impressed him as well, and when he left the country last year, Paredes says he had a huge internal conflict.
"I was ashamed to wear the uniform," he said.
Paredes' case has attracted attention from all political stripes. Retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, a Fox News commentator who served in the Reagan White House, has labeled Paredes a coward. Chomsky and Ron Kovic, the disabled Vietnam and author of "Born on the Fourth of July," say they admire Paredes for his courage.
© 2005 The Associated Press