Supporters challenge female soldier's separation from newborn in Fort Carson protest
The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
A handful of peace activists gathered outside of Fort Carson on Sunday to protest the military's continued detention of a self-proclaimed conscientious objector who recently gave birth.
At the heart of their concerns: Army Pfc. Kimberly Rivera's newborn son, Matthew, is not receiving breast milk because Rivera is not allowed to keep him with her at Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in San Diego, where she's being held, according to her civilian lawyer, James Branum.
Rivera is being allowed to express milk via a hand pump for medical reasons but is not allowed to save and refrigerate the milk for her son, Branum said Sunday via phone.
Rivera, with Fort Carson's 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, pleaded guilty to two counts of desertion at an April 29 court-martial at the post. Then pregnant with her fifth child, she was sentenced to 10 months of confinement and a bad conduct discharge.
In January 2007, the Army granted Rivera leave from Forward Operating Base Loyalty in Baghdad, where she served as a front gate guard. She failed to return to duty.
In September 2012, Rivera, who was facing deportation from Canada, turned herself in at the U.S.-Canadian border.
"The right thing to do is to let mom and baby bond and breast-feed," said protestor Melania Jackson, with the Pikes Peak Justice & Peace Commission, Sunday afternoon. She sat outside of Fort Carson's Gate 1 with signs urging Fort Carson acting senior commander Brig. Gen. Michael Bills to "do the right thing" and "let Kim Rivera be with her baby."
Jackson was one of about 13 protestors from the commission Citizens for Peace in Space and the Iraq Veterans Against the War, who gathered outside of Fort Carson's main gate along Colorado Highway 115 and quietly displayed their signs for about an hour.
Their hope: Fort Carson officials would change their mind and let Rivera free as soon as possible so she can salvage her milk supply and begin breast-feeding her son.
"It seems like the humane thing to do," protestor Bill Sulzman said.
Similar protests were slated to occur in California, Oklahoma, Canada and France on Sunday.
Branum submitted a clemency request on Rivera's behalf to Fort Carson officials several weeks ago. He asked that she be released 45 days early, allowing her to prepare for birth, give birth, and bond with and breast-feed her baby, Branum said.
The request was submitted with nearly 500 letters from supporters around the world, he said.
Two days after Matthew's birth, Branum requested that the clemency request be expedited. On Nov. 28, the convening authority denied the clemency request, Branum said.
The military's continued detention of Rivera "is a waste of resources, a waste of money," Branum said. "It's hurting her family, particularly her infant son.
Branum called the clemency denial "inhumane."
Fort Carson did not respond Sunday to a request for a statement regarding the clemency request and protest.
During an April sentencing hearing, government lawyers argued that Rivera, who was granted leave shortly into her tour to work out marital issues, failed to return because her husband threatened to leave her and take their children, not because she was a conscientious objector.
Branum argued that Rivera was a conscientious objector even though she never filed for such a status. She failed to file because she didn't know the option was available to her, he said.
After failing to return for duty, Rivera fled to Canada with her family and began voicing anti-war sentiments via a blog that was discovered by her comrades in Iraq, said Staff Sgt. Amelia Nelson, a former co-worker of Rivera, in court in April.
Rivera wrote that seeing "wounded, injured and killed civilians on a daily basis was normal," Nelson recalled in court.
But "nothing like that had been seen at the front gate" where Rivera worked, Nelson said.
On Sunday evening, Branum said he planned to submit a request for action to the president and secretary of the Army on Monday, requesting that Rivera be released as soon as possible.
"Beyond that, there's really nothing left to be done," he said.
Rivera has breast-fed all of her children because of the health benefits,said her husband, Mario Rivera, via phone Sunday. Barring any further developments, she is slated to be released early sometime in December or January, he said.