A British Baptist woman is campaigning for reversal of her husband’s military prison sentence.
A 20 year veteran of military service, U.S. Army Sgt. Abdullah William Webster was sentenced last June to 14 months imprisonment for refusing to participate in the war in Iraq. A convert to Islam, Webster was stationed in Germany before receiving a request to deploy to Iraq between March and April of 2003.
Webster applied as a conscientious objector in September 2003, saying his religion prohibited him from participating in war against Muslims. He later asked to be reassigned to non-combatant service.
The Army instead ordered him to go to Iraq in February 2004. He refused on religious grounds and was charged with disobeying orders and failure to deploy. At his court martial, he was sentenced to 14 months in prison, a bad-conduct discharge, suspension of salary and loss of pension and other benefits. He was due to retire from service in 2005.
Webster is being held at the U.S. base in Mannheim, Germany. While he is due to be released in May, military rules say any imprisonment longer than 12 months leads to an automatic criminal record, which could hinder him from finding work after his release.
His wife, Sue Webster, moved to England to live with her mother, along with her 2-year-old daughter. A member of Erdington Six Ways Baptist Church in Birmingham, England, she spoke March 12 at the premiere of “Refusing to Kill,” a video documenting experiences of conscientious objectors worldwide.
According to a report in the British newspaper The Baptist Times, Webster attributes her husband’s sentence to anti-Islamic sentiment in the U.S. military.
“They waited until he was in a position where he had to disobey an order,” she said. “They could have just allowed him to transfer, or resign, or given him a stay-at-home posting.”
The video is being promoted in conjunction with the sixth annual Global Women’s Strike, a movement in 60 countries urging women to refrain from work as a protest against poverty and war.
According to a Web site, women and girls perform two-thirds of the world’s work, most of it unpaid. More than $1 trillion a year is spent on militaries worldwide, meanwhile, more than half of it by the United States. Just 10 percent of that amount, the group says, would provide essentials of water, sanitation, basic health, nutrition, literacy and a minimum income for everyone in the world.
Payday, an international organization of men that campaigns for recognition and payment for unwaged work done by women, children and men, supports the strike and movie on a Web site.
Along with the Websters, RefusingToKill.net features Jeremy Hinzman, a U.S. soldier seeking asylum in Canada, and Sgt. Kevin Benderman, an Army mechanic at Fort Stewart, Ga., who is facing a May 11 court martial for failing to show up when his unit deployed to Iraq in January.
Benderman, who grew up as a Southern Baptist but now describes himself as more spiritual than religious, was featured last week on the “Democracy Now” radio program and in a New York Times article about soldiers and Marines who are trying to get out of the military in order to avoid serving in Iraq.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.