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Germany

German Court Hears US Army Deserter's Case for Asylum

A US army deserter who went AWOL to avoid redeployment to Iraq is confident his application for asylum in Germany will be approved, his lawyer said Thursday, Feb. 5.

Andre Shepherd

Andre Shepherd says he has no intention of returning to the US

Andre Shepherd, 31, attended a nine-hour hearing on Thursday in the German city of Karlsruhe to explain why he deserted upon being recalled to service in Iraq. Shepherd says his decision was based on a profound moral objection to the US-led invasion which he called a "completely illegal war."

Shepherd's lawyer, Reinhard Marx, said after leaving the court that the hearing was just a "fact-finding exercise."

"So Mr. Shepherd was questioned about his situation as a soldier, about his motivation to join the army and how he decided to leave the army."

Marx said his client was also quizzed about the grounds on which a US soldier could claim conscientious objector status.

Shepherd was posted in Iraq between September 2004 and February 2005. He worked servicing Apache helicopters attached to the 412th Aviation Support Battalion. After the five-month stint he was relocated to a US army base in southern Germany.

In spring 2007 the US army recalled Shepherd, who then took the decision to desert rather than be sent back to the Middle East. He then spent the next 19 months evading US army officials before seeking asylum from the German government in November last year.

Shepherd 'had no choice'

US soldiers on patrol on the Tigris river near Baghdad before handing over control to Iraqi soldiers

Shepherd calls the Iraq invasion 'completely illegal'

An immigration office in Nuremberg is to examine Shepherd's case, with Germany's Interior Ministry to deliver a verdict on the matter in three to four months' time, Marx said.

"It is in their hand now … we are very confident," he said. "I found it was very clear that he was in a situation where he had no other choice: he had to go to Iraq or he had to leave the army illegally."

Shepherd has said he would appeal any decision that went against him. "I will definitely fight on, as I don't believe I or anyone else should be prosecuted for doing what they think is right," he said prior to the Karlsruhe hearing.

The Interior Ministry, meanwhile, would not elaborate on events during the hearing, saying only that Shepherd's case would be broadly examined.

US wary of precedent

The Cleveland, Ohio, man is the first US army deserter to seek asylum in Germany. The political ramifications that could follow if Shepherd is successful in his claim are cause for concern for the US as the country has some 80,000 troops stationed in Germany.

Tim Huber from the Military Counseling Network, a non-military organization advising soldiers of their rights, said the case could set a precedent for other US soldiers unwilling to return to Iraq.

"There would not be a whole lot stopping US soldiers walking off their bases," to claim asylum, he said.

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