This post was updated at 2:50 p.m. with comment from Army spokesman Maj. Justin Platt and Sgt. Micah Turner. It was updated at 5:20 p.m. with comment from Fort Bragg spokesman Sgt. 1st Class Michael Noggle.
Eleven years to the day after U.S. troops first landed in Afghanistan, an American soldier who says he was deployed three times to Afghanistan and once to Iraq tried to give himself up to authorities Sunday after deserting his active-duty unit more than a month ago.
Sgt. Micah Turner, 24, is believed to have first revealed himself as a deserter from Afghanistan in the Washington, D.C., area Saturday, before delivering a speech about his so-called "unauthorized absence" the following day in New York.
Army officials at the Pentagon and at Fort Bragg, N.C, where Turner was reportedly based in a psychological operations unit, said they were working on getting more information to U.S. News about Turner and his UA status.
Turner told the assembled audience in New York Sunday that he was in Afghanistan the night al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, and remembered his fellow soldiers asking "Is the war over? Should we pack up?"
"But the word never came, and a lot of good men died that year," said Turner. "There is no justification for this war. There is no reason our brothers and sisters should die in the sand... It is my duty to dissent."
According to the activist blog Cool Revolution, Turner and his supporters then drove to the gates of Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, which calls itself "the face of America's army in New York City," and gave himself over to military authorities. Turner's supporters include liberal anti-war filmmaker Michael Moore, who thanked the soldier online Friday for his "courage" for going public as an "AWOL vet against [the] U.S. war in Afghanistan."
But Tuesday morning, it appeared Turner was still a free man, writing on his Twitter account that he was exploring the possibility of conscientious objector status with his lawyer "since they haven't let me turn myself in."
Alison Kohler, a spokeswoman for Fort Hamilton, confirmed to U.S. News that Turner had "made contact with our installation" and said that he was expected to arrive Tuesday for processing. It is unclear whether Turner will face charges for his absence, though he previously said he believed he would face felony charges.
Update, 2:50 p.m.:
Army spokesman Maj. Justin Platt tells U.S. News that Turner started his service in 2007. Turner was deployed to Afghanistan from August 2009 to February 2010, according to Platt, and promoted to sergeant in December 2011. He worked as a multimedia illustrator. Platt says he had no record that Turner was deployed four times, but that “it would be possible.”
Turner blames the discrepancy over his number of deployments on the army’s records, saying they “aren’t very good.” Platt acknowledges that Fort Bragg might have more complete records, but Fort Bragg is still working on the request for more information from U.S. News.
Turner also shared more information about his desertion, saying he left Fort Bragg in North Carolina in his own car soon after completing his alleged fourth tour in Afghanistan.
“I had been planning to go since bin Laden was killed,” he says. In the video of Turner’s speech in New York, he mentions bin Laden’s death as a turning point for the Soldiers in his unit toward disenchantment with the Afghanistan war.
As a multimedia illustrator in Afghanistan, Turner says he was in the Bravo Company, 9th Military Information Support Division, and that he was part of Army psychological operations.
"I made propaganda," he says. "We used surveillance analysis to attempt to influence local nationals through video or audible means for desired end states. … I did pro-Afghan government stuff, pro-Afghan army. Everything from ‘Don’t Hide Terrorists’ to ‘Clean Your Water’ to ‘Don’t do this or we’ll kill you.’”
Turner is now headed to Buffalo to meet up with Occupy Wall Street protesters, and says he does not plan to turn himself in to military officials on Tuesday, despite having promised to do so. After consultation with his lawyer, Turner believes he has another 30 days of freedom because the Army let him go when he attempted to turn himself in over the weekend.
But he says that he may not turn himself in even after a month’s time.
“I’m on the run right now, and there’s a definite possibility that I would still be on the run after 30 days,” Turner says, noting that he is also applying for conscientious objector status. “I think there is something wrong with this system, but I also have faith people will do the right thing.”
Update, 5:20 p.m.:
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Noggle, a spokesman for Fort Bragg where Turner was based, says Turner may be disciplined for his absence.
“When SGT Turner returns to military control, he could face adverse action. ... Absence without leave is punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” Noggle told U.S. News, noting that the punishment depends upon the circumstances around Turner’s absence and return, and the kind of court martial he faces.
According to military law, Turner could face up to 18 months confinement, a dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of pay.
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