(By Shelly Murphy, originally published in the Boston Globe , September 26 2006)
The US Army paid $184,000 for Mary Hanna to go to Tufts University School of Medicine for four years, and in exchange she agreed to serve four years of active duty and another four in the reserve after becoming a doctor.
But just before Christmas, as she was nearing the end of her anesthesiology residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Hanna, 30, of Somerville notified the Army that her religious beliefs were now "incompatible with military service."
Describing herself as a devout Coptic Orthodox Christian, Hanna, an Army Reserve captain, urged the Army on Dec. 23 to grant her discharge as a conscientious objector, writing, "I cannot participate in war in any form."
This month, the Army refused Hanna's request after considering conflicting opinions from priests, a psychiatrist, and military brass about whether Hanna was opposed to war or trying to evade service.
But yesterday, the day before Hanna was scheduled to report for duty at Fort Bliss, Texas, a federal judge stepped in and prohibited the Army from forcing Hanna into service, at least until Oct. 10.
US District Judge Nancy Gertner scheduled an Oct. 5 hearing on Hanna's assertion that the Army violated her constitutional rights by denying her conscientious objector status. Hanna is urging the judge to order her release from the Army.
It's at least the second conscientious objector case to be filed in US District Court in Boston in the past year and one of a handful pending around the country. Under military regulations, conscientious objectors may seek release from duty or ask to serve in noncombatant situations if they are sincerely opposed to war.
Hanna, who attended yesterday's hearing, refused to discuss her case.
"She will pay back the money," said Hanna's lawyer, Louis Font, who argued that Hanna's beliefs prevent her from even treating soldiers on American soil.
In her application for conscientious objector status, Hanna said she had a strong religious upbringing, but had no convictions about war when she enlisted in the Army in 1997. After her father, a former Egyptian military officer, died in 2003, Hanna said she was again drawn to God and rekindled her faith.
She wrote, "I knew that to live the rest of my life with integrity, in harmony with God's nature of love and compassion, I could not participate in military service."
An Army hearing officer and several high-ranking officers concluded she was a conscientious objector. A brigadier general wrote, "The solemnity of her convictions is clear . . . and they do not appear to have been born of a desire to avoid service," according to reports filed in court.
But an Army review board voted 2-1 to reject Hanna's discharge, and the board's president wrote that her statements "lack passion and sincerity" and "appear as repetitions rather than personally held beliefs."
The Army was also skeptical of the timing of Hanna's request, according to documents. She was one of two anesthesiologists who filed conscientious objector applications in December, shortly after another anesthesiologist was granted a discharge on the same grounds.
Assistant US Attorney Anita Johnson, who represents the Army, argued that Hanna failed to prove she was sincere and that releasing her from service would cause an immediate hardship, because the Army has only 75 of the 95 required anesthesiologists it needs.
Still, Johnson said the Army "can guarantee she will not be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan or any other combat situation."
Hanna was assigned to Beaumont Army Medical Center, a major teaching hospital and regional trauma center at Fort Bliss, Texas, that treats military members, their families, and retirees, according to Johnson.
But Font argued that Hanna could be deployed anywhere, including Iraq, once she's activated.