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WASHINGTON – A U.S. Army medic stationed in Korea has asked a federal court in Washington D.C. to order the Army to discharge him as a conscientious objector. The Army refused to release Robert Aaron Weilbacher from his enlistment, according to the lawsuit, even though his claim was upheld by the Army Conscientious Objector Review Board, whose decision was final under the Army’s own regulations. Weilbacher is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital.

After a lengthy investigation and a hearing, the Army’s Review Board determined that clear and convincing evidence established that Weilbacher’s sincere and deeply held moral and ethical beliefs do not permit him to continue to serve in the military. Army regulations entitle sincere conscientious objectors to an honorable discharge if their beliefs have changed since they enlisted.

ACLU-DC Legal Director Arthur Spitzer said: “this case is about the importance of protecting the rights of military conscientious objectors and about the importance of government agencies – including the military – following their own rules and regulations. In Mr. Weilbacher’s case, the Army didn’t follow its own rules and regulations, and failed to honor his deeply held moral and ethical objection to participation in war.”

Weilbacher enlisted in the Army in 2013. At that time, he believed in war as a method of national defense. He chose to be trained for combat service, as a medic.

The transformation of Weilbacher’s beliefs came in 2014, after he spoke with combat- deployed medics about their experiences, including having to shoot their weapons at the enemy and seeing children blown up as “collateral damage.” He then understood, for the first time, the reality of collateral death and destruction caused by war. His previous military training and experience had stressed only the positive and glorified aspects of military service.

These conversations led Weilbacher to an intense period of reading, study, reflection and meditation. He came to a profound change in his beliefs: “to live a life focused around my moral and ethical code, I cannot participate in this degradation of human life that

happens in the military with war.” In February 2014, he submitted an application for discharge from the Army as a Conscientious Objector, explaining that he had realized that military service is inseparable from supporting war and the killing of people.”

ACLU cooperating attorney Deborah Karpatkin, of New York City, explained that federal law and Army regulations require discharge from military service of individuals who, after their service begins, show that they have become conscientiously opposed to war in any form. The objector’s opposition must be founded on “religious training and belief,” which includes moral and ethical convictions, and the applicant’s changed position must be sincere and deeply held. “The Army imposes tough standards on applicants for Conscientious Objector discharge, and the Army found that Robert Weilbacher met those tough standards. He has shown that he is a deeply sincere conscientious objector because of his moral and ethical convictions,” Karpatkin said. “He meets all the legal requirements and is entitled to immediate honorable discharge from military service.”

Army regulation AR 600-43 Par. 2-8, states that the Review Board’s decision is final. Yet in February 2015, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army countermanded the Review Board’s decision.

ACLU cooperating Attorney Peter Goldberger, of Ardmore, Pennsylvania, explained that even if the Deputy Assistant Secretary had the authority to act on Weilbacher’s application, she had no legally sufficient reason to deny his application: “the record of the Investigating Officer, the witnesses, and the chaplain provide clear and convincing evidence of the depth and sincerity of Weilbacher’s conscientious objector beliefs.”

Weilbacher’s legal action claims that the Deputy Assistant Secretary’s action was unlawful and contrary to Army Regulations, and that the Review Board’s final decision granting him an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector should be implemented immediately.

In addition to the ACLU, Weilbacher has been supported by the Center on Conscience & War and by Courage to Resist.