Prisoner of conscience: Abdullah William Webster
Amnesty International, UA 267/04 Prisoner of conscience, 17 September 2004
On 3 June, Sergeant Abdullah William Webster was sentenced by US court-martial to 14 months imprisonment for refusing to participate in the war in Iraq on the basis of his religious beliefs. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned for his conscientious objection to participating in war.
Abdullah Webster is a US citizen who has served in the US army since 1985. He had been based in Bamberg, Germany since 2001 from where he was requested to deploy to Iraq between March and April 2003. In September 2003 he submitted a conscientious objector application to secure his release from military obligations in Iraq on the basis that his religion prohibited him from participating in any aggressive war against, or in any oppression or injustice to, Muslims or non-Muslims. He later withdrew this application after receiving advice that it would not be successful.
Abdullah Webster then submitted an application to be reassigned to non-combatant services. Despite this he was ordered to deploy to Iraq in February 2004. Following his refusal on religious grounds he was charged with failing to obey commands from his superior and missing his Brigade's movements.
A further application for conscientious objector status was refused on the grounds that his objection was not to war in general but to the Iraq war in particular. According to US Army Regulations, requests for qualification as a conscientious objector will not be favourably considered when such requests are based on objection to a certain war. A second application is currently being considered by the army.
At the court-martial hearing, Abdullah Webster was sentenced to 14 months imprisonment, a bad conduct discharge, suspension of his salary and loss of pension and other benefits. He had been due to retire from service in 2005. He is currently held at the US base in Mannheim, Germany.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION Amnesty International considers a conscientious objector to be any person who, for reasons of conscience or profound conviction, refuses to perform service in the armed forces or any other direct or indirect participation in wars or armed conflicts. This can include refusal to participate in a war because one disagrees with its aims or the manner in which it was being waged, even if one does not oppose taking part in all wars.
Furthermore Amnesty International considers a person to be a prisoner of conscience when they are detained or imprisoned solely because they have been denied or refused their right to register an objection or to perform a genuinely civilian alternative service. They would also be prisoners of conscience if they are imprisoned for leaving the armed forces without authorization for reasons of conscience, if they have taken reasonable steps to secure release from military obligations.