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Germany

US Soldier Seeks Asylum in Germany Over Iraq War

A US soldier is seeking asylum in Germany after deserting to avoid re-deployment in Iraq. The case could have major political ramifications for Germany.

Andre Shepherd

Shepherd said he worries about being punished by the US army

A US army deserter will go before German officials to request political asylum on Wednesday, Feb. 4. Andre Shepherd, 31, said he went absent without leave (AWOL) after being told he would be deployed to Iraq for a second time.

Shepherd said he deeply opposes the US-led invasion of Iraq and that he could not continue to serve in what he called a "completely illegal war."

It is the first time that a US soldier has claimed asylum in Germany, making it a landmark case with far-reaching political and legal ramifications.

The hearing takes place in the western German city of Karlsruhe at the Federal Immigration Office -- part of Germany's interior ministry.

"Wednesday is my chance to tell my side of the story," Shepherd told AFP news agency.

Avoiding an "illegal war"

Two soldiers stand next to helicopters

Shepherd said he didn't want to serve in an "illegal war"

Shepherd will argue that the war is illegal and that he would be unfairly prosecuted if handed over to US authorities.

Shepherd, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, served in Iraq for five months starting in September of 2004, where he serviced Apache helicopters as part of the 412th Aviation Support Battalion. He spent 19 months on the run before applying for asylum in November of 2008.

Tim Huber from the Military Counseling Network, which has been working with Shepherd, told AFP that the potential legal precedent of a positive ruling would have a "huge impact."

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

Huber pointed out that Germany's law -- set up by the US military at the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal after World War II -- says that soldiers must take responsibility for their own actions.

"Just following orders is not an excuse. What we have here is a case of a soldier following his sense of personal responsibility," he said.

Politically tricky case

Soldier stands between a US and a German flag

The case could complicate US-German relations

The ruling could put Germany in a politically uncomfortable position, said Shepherd's lawyer, Reinhard Marx.

"Legally, it's an open-and-shut case. Politically, we don't know," Marx told AFP. He added: "It's of course a very politicized case. There's a very fine line between politics and the law."

Marx said that the government will make a final decision about whether to allow Marx to stay in the country.

The hearing will last half a day and is closed to the public. A decision could take up to four months, Marx said.

Shepherd promised to appeal in the courts if his application is rejected.

"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 told AFP.

He said if asylum is granted he would "definitely settle in Germany" and has "absolutely no desire" to return to the US, despite the change of power in the White House.

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