FRANKFURT (Reuters) – A U.S. soldier who deserted his unit to avoid returning to Iraq has applied for asylum in Germany, saying the Iraq war was illegal and that he could not support the "heinous acts" taking place.
Andre Shepherd, 31, who served in Iraq between September 2004 and February 2005 as an Apache helicopter mechanic in the 412th Aviation Support Battalion, has been living in Germany since deserting last year.
"When I read and heard about people being ripped to shreds from machine guns or being blown to bits by the Hellfire missiles I began to feel ashamed about what I was doing," Shepherd told a Frankfurt news conference Thursday.
"I could not in good conscience continue to serve."
Shepherd, originally from Cleveland, Ohio and ranked as an army specialist, applied for asylum in Germany Wednesday, said Tim Huber from the Military Counseling Network, a non-military group which is assisting him.
According to U.S. law, soldiers who desert during a time of war can face the death penalty.
The soldier said he was particularly hopeful he would be granted asylum in Germany, a staunch opponent of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, due to the legacy of the post-war trials of Nazi officials, notably in Nuremberg in 1945-1949.
"Here in Germany it was established that everyone, even a soldier, must take responsibility for his or her actions, no matter how many superiors are giving orders," he said.
Shepherd, who enlisted in January 2004, is only the second U.S. soldier to have applied to Germany for asylum "in a similar situation," said Claudia Moebus from the government's department for migration. The earlier application was later withdrawn.
The specialist was posted to Germany in 2005 where he undertook desk jobs, but he gradually began questioning the justification for the Iraq war and began worrying he would be sent back to serve there, said Huber.
"That's when he went AWOL," he added.
Earlier this year, Jeremy Hinzman, an American who applied for refugee status in Canada after deserting the U.S. Army when he received orders to go to Iraq, said he would appeal a deportation order returning him to the United States.
Another U.S. deserter, Robin Long, was deported from Canada in July and sent to jail in Colorado.