BAMBERG, Germany — A 1st Infantry Division Engineer Brigade soldier who refused to deploy to Iraq citing religious beliefs was sentenced Thursday to 14 months’ confinement and given a bad-conduct discharge.

During his court-martial, Sgt. 1st Class Abdullah Webster, 38, pleaded guilty to two counts of disobeying a lawful order from a superior commissioned officer and one count of missing movement.

When his unit was deploying on Feb. 8, Webster — the battalion security noncommissioned officer — told his leaders he would not deploy based on guidance he received from Muslim clerics.

Prosecutors Maj. Vince Vanek and Capt. Catherine Cunningham asked government witnesses about the effect Webster’s refusal to deploy had on the unit.

Maj. David Kennedy, executive officer of the 82nd Engineer Battalion when Webster was assigned to the unit, said the refusal had only a modest effect on the unit because it distracted soldiers from their missions.

But Command Sgt. Maj. John S. Gioia, the 82nd Engineer Battalion’s top NCO, said the unit in Iraq is now short-handed.

“We are a battalion covering a brigade combat team-sized sector,” Gioia said as he testified via telephone from Iraq. “It has had a significant impact on the unit.”

Gioia also said some soldiers had reservations of deploying with Webster, who converted to Islam in 1994 after returning from Operation Desert Storm.

Gioia brought up an incident in which Sgt. Asan Akbar, a Muslim soldier assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, allegedly threw a grenade into a tent killing one U.S. soldier and wounding a dozen more in March 2003.

“Some of the soldiers, when Webster didn’t go, were saying: ‘This is great, now we can do our job without having to watch our backs,’” Gioia testified.

Also testifying via telephone from Iraq, engineer brigade commander Col. William Haight III said Webster was “truly struggling” with his responsibilities to the Army and to his religion.

“His reputation is solid,” Haight said. “The problems were when we had missions in Muslim countries; that’s when he started drawing the line.”

However, several witnesses testified that Webster deployed to Kosovo, a largely Muslim country, and that he carried a weapon. But the battalion commander during the Kosovo deployment, Lt. Col. Thomas Quigley, said Webster never had to go on a security patrol there.

Quigley also agreed with defense attorney Capt. Christopher Ryan that the situations in Kosovo and Iraq were far different, with the former being a peace enforcement mission and the latter being an all-out war.

Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Hamza Al-Mubarak, an imam based at Ramstein Air Base, testified for the defense that Webster had done the right thing.

Al-Mubarak said Webster consulted several Muslim scholars, and that he chose not to deploy because the clerics said it would be better for him to die than to bear arms against fellow Muslims.

“I would not say he’s an extremist,” Al-Mubarak testified during cross-examination. “He was adhering to the sincere advice of the scholars. It is not permissible for him to take up arms and kill another Muslim.

“It would be better for him that he was killed than to pick up arms against anyone.”

Webster had prepared a conscientious objector packet, but it was disapproved at the unit level. It has advanced to the 1st Infantry Division level, and if disapproved there, it will go to the Army level.

But Webster does not qualify as a conscientious objector, because he was not opposed to all wars, only wars in Muslim nations, Quigley said.

In closing remarks, Cunningham asked Hall to ignore the fact that Webster was a senior NCO with 18 years of service. Webster faced a maximum prison term of five years.

“Duty called; he didn’t answer,” she said. “There is a message to be sent. You cannot look at rank in this case.”

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