Yesterday, February 22nd Spc. Mark Wilkerson was sentenced to 7 months in prison with a Bad Conduct Discharge. Mark was charged with an Article 85 (desertion) and an Article 87 (missing movement) after failing to return from block leave on January 3rd, 2005. In December he signed a plea bargain admitting to his guilt and lessening his sentence from a maximum of 6 years to a maximum of 10 months.The Court Martial room was filled to capacity with family, friends, and supporters including members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and approximately 15 active duty soldiers.
The Court Martial began with a formal review of the charges and then proceeded to witness testimony. Six people testified on Mark’s behalf including his mother, wife, brother (who is presently active duty and appeared in uniform), a Sergeant, Sergeant First Class and Staff Sergeant, two of whom served with Mark in Iraq. None of the witnesses were cross-examined by the prosecutors, nor did the prosecution present witnesses testifying on their behalf.
Mark’s Platoon leader described his performance as a soldier in Iraq as “outstanding.” The Sergeant First Class described him as “a good person,” as a soldier who was capable of successfully completing a myriad of missions. The Staff Sergeant described him as reliable, and hard working. He went on to describe how he had been influential in persuading Mark’s Command to grant him off-base and leave privileges after his surrender.
Taking the stand, Sarah Wilkerson, Mark’s wife, described in great detail the letters she received and phone conversations she had with Mark while he was in Iraq. She described how his initial honor to serve turned into concern and finally disgust. How Mark witnessed the changing perception by Iraqis of American Soldiers from liberators to occupiers. How when an RPG was fired at a police station he was guarding he could not fire back although the person who launched the RPG was in clear site. And finally, how he had not been the same person since returning and the toll flashbacks and nightmares had taken on him.
Mark made the decision to plead guilty because to claim innocence would require an argument against the legality and justness of the war in Iraq. Although personally this may be what Mark believes, the process would be lengthy, costly, practically impossible for him to defend in a Court Martial and would incur a punishment upwards of 6 years.
Despite the overwhelmingly positive evidence of Mark’s character, the fact that Mark did not maliciously abandon his fellow soldiers and made every attempt to be discharged from the military through official means and then sought reassignment to a non-combat rear detachment, and the accolades and respect shared by his fellow soldiers, he was still given seven months confinement. Why? Because he was honest, and stood up for his beliefs. But more importantly, for the government to let Mark off with anything less would be an admission of the unjustness of their war.