Private First Class Kimberly Rivera — a conscientious objector and pregnant mother of four — has just been sentenced to military prison for refusing to serve in the Iraq War. Rivera was on a two-week leave in December 2006 when she decided she would not return to Iraq for a second tour of duty. She and her family fled to Canada in February 2007, living there until their deportation back to the United States last year. On Monday, a military court sentenced her to 10 months behind bars. Her fifth child is due in December. We’re joined by Mario Rivera, Kimberly’s husband and now the primary caretaker of their four young children, and by James Branum, a lawyer who represents Kimberly and dozens of other conscientious objectors.
AARON MATÉ: We turn now to the case of Private First Class Kimberly Rivera. She is a conscientious objector and a pregnant mother of four children, who has just been sentenced to military prison. Rivera first deployed to Iraq in 2006. During a two-week leave back in the U.S., she decided to refuse a second tour of duty in Iraq. In January 2007, Rivera and her family packed up their car and crossed the border into Canada. She was later charged with desertion and faced up to five years in prison if convicted. Well, on Monday she was sentenced to 14 months. Under a pretrial agreement, she will serve 10 months of that sentence.
This is Kimberly Rivera speaking late last year about her case.
KIMBERLY RIVERA: If you want to know, my biggest fear is being separated from my children and having to—having to sit in a prison for politically being against the war in Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: Since their arrival to Canada in early 2007, Kimberly Rivera, her husband and two children settled in Toronto. She had two more children there and made several attempts to legally immigrate. Canada’s War Resisters Support Campaign championed the case, drawing endorsers including Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. But Canadian officials refused. In August, they ordered the Rivera family to leave the country or face deportation. A provincial lawmaker representing Rivera’s Toronto district, Cheri DiNovo, condemned the order.
MPP CHERI DINOVO: As the member of Parliament for Parkdale-High Park, which is home to a number of war resisters, I know Kimberly personally. I see her in our—in our neighborhood, see her with her family. I know that she participates in the community. She’s a volunteer. She works with children. And she is a person who has shown great integrity and courage and principle. Surely, she is exactly the kind of person that we want to embrace and welcome here in Canada. Canada has a proud history of welcoming conscientious objectors from other wars in the past. Why not now? Especially given that this is a war that Canadians are proud not to have participated in.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Ontario lawmaker Cheri DiNovo speaking last August.
Kimberly Rivera turned herself in at the U.S.-Canadian border just days later. She’s now on her way to a military prison for 10 months. Her fifth child is due while she’s behind bars.
Well, we’re joined right now by her husband, by Mario Rivera. He will now become the primary caretaker for their four young children. We’re also joined by James Branum, the defense attorney who represented Kimberly during her court-martial yesterday, Monday, at Fort Carson. He’s also represented dozens of other conscientious objectors, is legal director for the Oklahoma Center for Conscience and Peace Research. They’re speaking to us from the Tim Gill Center for Public Media in Colorado Springs, home to Rocky Mountain PBS and KRCC public radio.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Mario, you’ve just come out of the court yesterday. Can you respond to the sentencing of your wife Kimberly to 10 months in jail for refusing to return to Iraq and go to Canada instead?
MARIO RIVERA: I think it was severely harsh, and I personally feel that the judge already made up his mind before the trial had even started. It’s just too much. The kids need her.
AARON MATÉ: Mario, tell us about the reaction of your children. How have they handled this whole ordeal? And what did they say yesterday?
MARIO RIVERA: As soon as they found out yesterday, they broke down into tears. Just the thought of being away from their mother for—sorry, for 10 more months; they’ve already been gone for eight months out of her life, so it’s difficult.
AMY GOODMAN: Mario, how old are your kids, and what are their names?
MARIO RIVERA: Christian is 11, Rebecca is eight, Katie is five, and Gabriel is two.
AMY GOODMAN: James, James Branum, you’re her attorney. When she was in Iraq, she turned to a chaplain to say she could not do this, that she could not, when she looked at Iraqi children, she said, open fire?
JAMES BRANUM: Yes, she talked to the chaplain, expressed her concerns. She said that she didn’t think she should—could pull the trigger, if asked to. And this is a critical issue, because she was a gate guard at FOB Loyalty in Baghdad. Her job was a critical—critical thing, as far as security coming on and off the base. And so, she felt that she morally could not do what she was asked to do; at the same time, she realized that she would put other soldiers in danger if she didn’t pull the trigger when the time came. She talked to a chaplain about it. The chaplain largely pushed her aside, did not give her the counsel that she really needed. And so, when she came home on leave, she took other steps. And it’s unfortunate that she did not get the legal advice and information she needed to seek status as a conscientious objector.
AMY GOODMAN: So when she—
JAMES BRANUM: That said—
AMY GOODMAN: James Branum, so when she said this to the chaplain, he didn’t say, “There’s a way you can legally do this: You could apply for a CO status”? Instead he argued with her?
JAMES BRANUM: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: So she didn’t know the process?
JAMES BRANUM: The chaplain was very, very resolute that Kim—that she needed to stay there, she needed to fulfill her mission, instead of giving her the spiritual counsel she needed at that moment. Instead, this chaplain told her basically, “Suck it up. Continue on.” And that was—that was not the advice she needed at that moment. She needed to know her rights. She needed to know AR 600-43 gives her the right to seek status as a conscientious objector. She didn’t know that.
AARON MATÉ: James, so 10 months in prison—how does this sentence compare to sentences to other resisters? And is there an exception here, by given the fact that she’s pregnant and is due in December? How does that factor in?
JAMES BRANUM: We don’t know. The judge doesn’t really give the rationale for why he made the decision he did. We do know there have been some resistance cases that have received greater sentences. As long as 24 months has been given. But many other resisters receive little jail time or no jail time. And people that desert, generally, over 90 percent do no jail time at all. And so, we feel that Kim was singled out.
Another thing, the prosecutor at trial said that he asked the judge to give a harsh sentence to send a message to the war resisters in Canada. And we feel that was—the Canadian government, in deporting Kim, said she would not face any serious punishment because of her political and conscientious objection to war. And in reality, that’s exactly what happened. That was the prosecution’s argument, that because she spoke out against the war, she therefore should be punished.
AMY GOODMAN: Mario, you live in Colorado, is that right, with your four children?
MARIO RIVERA: No, the four children are in Texas right now. I came up here in March, originally, because that was when the trial was supposed to have been. Unfortunately, my mom fell ill, and it was pushed back until yesterday.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how will you raise the four kids alone? How are you going to do this over the next 10 months?
MARIO RIVERA: I don’t know. It’s going to be difficult. I’m just going to have to do my best and try to keep it together and keep them together and just help them be strong.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, and Mario especially. I know this was very tough for you to come on today. Mario Rivera, Kimberly Rivera’s husband—she serves her 10-month sentence; he becomes the primary caretaker for their four young children. She will be serving that time—where? In California?
JAMES BRANUM: We believe it will be in Miramar. One other critical thing to mention is there is an ongoing campaign to have her released on clemency grounds. Information on that—
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll link to that website at democracynow.org.