Army ordered to discharge soldier who found religion in Iraq

Anchorage Daily NewsSeptember 23, 2008 

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Army to grant conscientious objector status and an honorable discharge to Pfc. Michael Barnes, a Fort Richardson-based paratrooper who said he experienced a religious awakening in Iraq two years ago that left him opposed to war in any form.

The decision by U.S. District Judge John Sedwick supersedes the Army's decision last year to deny Barnes' request.

Military investigators failed to provide "a basis in fact" to support their contention that Barnes is insincere in professing religious objections to war, Sedwick said, and testimony by a chaplain, a psychiatrist, fellow soldiers and Barnes himself proved the contrary.

Barnes is currently stationed in the Lower 48 and was not available for an interview.

In a statement released Monday by his lawyer, however, Barnes said he was thankful to the federal courts in Anchorage for finding that his request was based on "my sincere belief as a Christian."

In a 16-page ruling, the judge noted evidence of how Barnes' faith grew stronger after he arrived in Iraq in September 2006. Soldiers in his unit testified that he became increasingly withdrawn, devoting much of his spare time to reading the Bible.

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