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U.S. Army deserter denied asylum by Germany

UPDATED: April 6, 2011 12:06 p.m.

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The U.S. soldier who asked the German government for political asylum in November 2008 has been rebuffed by the German Interior Ministry.

“I’m really disappointed with the reasoning behind it,” André L. Shepherd said in a phone interview Wednesday. He explained that “the fact that the illegality (of the war) was not (considered) a big issue” bothers him.

In a 25-page document produced by the federal interior ministry’s office for migration and refugees, a German judge ruled that André L. Shepherd failed to satisfy the criteria for being granted political asylum. The judge wrote that Shepherd is in discord with the U.S. military not because of his political beliefs but because of his failure to fulfill his military obligations, particularly for being away without proper leave.

The ruling characterized the way the U.S. military deals with deserters as “obviously moderate,” pointing out that during the Iraq combat mission deserters received punishments ranging from 100 days to 15 months.

Shepherd, 33, who served in Iraq for six months in 2004-05, left for “vacation” in April 2007, knowing deployment orders for Iraq were pending.

The one-time helicopter mechanic, who lives south of Munich near the town of Rosenheim, intends to appeal the decision, explaining there is “too much riding on the line for everybody” not to challenge the ruling. He said he would explain more at a news conference scheduled for Thursday morning in Frankfurt.

“He’s not living underground,” said Elsa Rassbach, an ardent supporter of Shepherd. “He’s married to a German, has a job and is living in Bavaria.”

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Rassbach would not comment much beyond that, saying more will be said at Thursday’s public announcement.

Shepherd, the first U.S. servicemember ever to apply for political asylum in Germany, has been hailed in some circles as a hero for his strong anti-war beliefs as they apply to Iraq. He has received awards from organizations ranging from German peace groups to political parties.

In an interview in his Bavarian safe house days before he applied for political asylum in 2008, Shepherd explained he is not totally against war but against the military action the U.S. and its allies took in Iraq. He characterized the political reasons given for the military action as fraudulent.

“This is a life-changing moment,” Shepherd said at the time of his request for political asylum. “We know the risks we face.”

Regardless of his political sentiments, Shepherd remains bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. However, a spokeswoman for U.S. Army Europe indicated that no police posse would be dispatched to round up the suspect.

“MPs are not going to show up (at the news conference) and arrest him,” said Hilde Patton. “However, if German authorities return him to U.S. Army custody, then his case would be handled like any other deserter’s.”

The maximum penalty for desertion is 5 years in jail, according to Article 85 of the UCMJ. Patton indicated that such a long sentence would be unusual.

Monday’s ruling said that merely the chance a person might be involved in a suspected war crime isn’t enough grounds to grant political asylum. Shepherd “would have to prove that he himself would take part in illegal acts.”

So far, according to the ruling, Shepherd hasn’t done so.

Stars and Stripes reporter Marcus Klöckner contributed to this report.

doughertyk@estripes.osd.mil

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