Pablo Paredes' name will be invoked by antiwar veterans and activists at Memorial Day events in the Bay Area and elsewhere this weekend, but not because he was sentenced to three months of hard labor and busted down to the Navy's lowest rank for refusing to board a ship bound for the Persian Gulf.
Instead, supporters see a pinprick of hope in the no-jail-time sentence that the 23-year-old Paredes received this month -- hope that the military's attitude is softening toward dissenters, or at least that the relatively light sentence will encourage other active-duty soldiers to speak out.
Antiwar veterans groups say they have seen an uptick in the number of inquiries from active-duty veterans since Paredes was convicted by a military judge May 11 in San Diego for refusing to board the Persian Gulf-bound amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard in December. He has 10 months left in his enlistment but is seeking to be discharged as a conscientious objector.
This week, antiwar activists are watching upcoming court-martial at Fort Stewart, Ga., of Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Benderman, a 10-year-veteran who refused to redeploy to Iraq after his first tour in 2003 and said he was a conscientious objector.
"We've been seeing an extraordinary amount of searching by active duty people looking for ways to avoid deployment or redeployment," said Dennis O'Neil of the antiwar group Bring Them Home Now. The Paredes case, he said, "is planting a seed."
That was the fear that Navy prosecutor Lt. Brandon Hale expressed in court. Paredes "is trying to infect the military with his own brand of disobedience," Hale said. "Sailors all over the world will want to know whether this will be tolerated. Sailors want to know whether what he did is a good way to get out of deployment."
Other dissenters and legal advocates see the case has having more of a cultural impact than legal one.
"I don't think (the sentence) is going to set any sort of legal precedent, and the military isn't going to let everybody out who says, 'This war sucks, and I want to go home,' " said Luke Hiken, an attorney with the Military Law Task Force. The San Francisco resident has been advising conscientious objectors since 1970.
"But what you do see is people looking at him as an example, and you see the signs of a groundswell of people saying, 'Hey, I could do that, too,' " Hiken said.
Any such development would be welcome news to a shriveled antiwar movement. Street demonstrations have dwindled in number and attendance, and national organizations such as United for Peace and Justice and Not in Our Name have seen financial contributions diminish.
But antiwar organizers are encouraged by a growing number of smaller events headlined by active-duty and recently discharged soldiers. Organizers at a 6 p.m. antiwar rally Sunday at King Middle School in Berkeley will broadcast a three-minute video message from Paredes as a centerpiece of a lineup that includes dissenters, military family members and a former guard at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. A similar event is being held today in Los Angeles.
"We've marched in the streets and told people how bad (the Iraq invasion) was going to be," said Jeff Paterson, an organizer with Not in Our Name who served three months in military prison after refusing to be deployed to Iraq in the first Gulf War. "But now we're hearing from people who have been there and can tell you how bad it is over there.
"And having someone who has served in the military talk about it can carry more moral weight with a lot of people than a college kid carrying a sign."
Michael McPhearson, executive director of Veterans for Peace, said Paredes was a role model for soldiers who might be reconsidering their commitment, not only because of his "heartfelt" position but because his working-class background is typical of many in the military.
Paredes grew up in the Bronx, his mother a Puerto Rican, his father an Ecuadoran who put his son through Catholic high school by driving a cab in Manhattan.
Paredes enlisted in the Navy soon after high school and rose to the rank of third class petty officer. In recent years, he began reading the works of MIT linguistics professor and war critic Noam Chomsky and other liberals who questioned the Iraq war's legal and moral justification.
In Dec. 6, 2004, the day he was scheduled to sail to the Persian Gulf, he showed up at the pier wearing a T-shirt that read, "Like a cabinet member, I resign," then held a press conference.
The Navy charged him with missing ship movement and unauthorized absence and sought a punishment of nine months' confinement, a bad conduct discharge and reduction in rank to E-1, the Navy's lowest.
Paredes explained to the military judge, Lt. Cmdr. Bob Klant, that he thought the war was "random, unprovoked illegitimate violence," and that "any soldier who knowingly participates in a war can find no haven in the fact that they were following orders, in the eyes of international law."
While Klant didn't side with Paredes' legal reasoning, he didn't slap nearly as harsh a penalty on the sailor as the Navy had sought. Activists have been buzzing about a statement he made from the bench after allowing testimony from Marjorie Cohn, a law professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, and an outspoken war critic.
Cohn testified that U.S. involvement in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia had no justification under international law, a position Navy prosecutors did not challenge on cross-examination. Afterward, according to published accounts, Klant said, "I think that the government has successfully proved that any service member has reasonable cause to believe that the wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq were illegal." The Navy has not released a trial transcript.
Several people in the courtroom thought the judge was scolding prosecutors for not challenging Cohn. Nonetheless, said former Army Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia, who was sentenced to a year in jail and given a bad conduct discharge last year for refusing to return to Iraq after a two-week leave, it was important to "have an open debate about the immorality and illegality of this war."
As for Paredes' sentence, Mejia said, "It's too early to be a trend -- it's just one person. But it was a huge moral boost.