SEATTLE – Shortly after returning from Iraq last year, Army Sgt. Ricky Clousing gathered a few belongings and sneaked out of Fort Bragg, leaving only a note quoting late civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King.
After six months spent seeing the "daily physical, psychological and emotional harassment of civilians," the 24-year-old Clousing said he was confused and disenchanted with the United States' role in the war.
On Friday evening, he turned himself in to military officials at Fort Lewis, said attorney David Miner, who accompanied Clousing.
"I stand here before you today about to surrender myself, which was always my intention," Clousing told several dozen friends, family members and war veterans who gathered earlier Friday at the University of Washington campus.
If military police find that Clousing is either a deserter or absent without leave, he will be sent back to Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the post he walked away from, Fort Lewis spokesman Joseph Hitt said.
Officials at Fort Bragg did not return an Associated Press call for comment Friday.
Speaking earlier from a friend's home in Seattle, Clousing said he won't participate in what he considers to be a "war of aggression" that has "no legal basis to be fought."
Clousing sneaked out of Fort Bragg in June 2005. Beginning last fall, his lawyers said, they contacted Fort Bragg and later Fort Lewis to try to negotiate a discharge. But neither installation claims responsibility for him, attorney Lawrence Hildes said. Finally, Clousing decided to just show up at Fort Lewis.
His planned return comes just ahead of a hearing scheduled next week at Fort Lewis for an officer charged last month with conduct unbecoming an officer and missing troop movement after he refused to deploy to Iraq. First Lt. Ehren Watada, 28, has said that his research convinced him that the war was illegal.
Watada could face nearly eight years in prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted, his attorney has said.
Clousing, who was trained as an interrogator with the 82nd Airborne Division, deployed to Baghdad in December 2004 and was in Mosul when he said he witnessed the killing of a young Iraqi man.
His convoy had stopped to help another unit when the man came up in a vehicle, Clousing said.
"He slowed his car down, took his hands off the steering wheel and braked immediately," Clousing recalled. As the man started turning the vehicle around, another soldier "fired off four to five rounds into the side of the vehicle."
Clousing rested his head in his hands as he described helping a medic pull the injured man from the vehicle, then watching as soldiers tried to stanch his bleeding.
"The boy, looking up at me, was literally dying in front of my eyes as I looked down at him," he said.
Clousing said he approached unit leaders about the shooting but was treated as an inexperienced soldier who "needed to shut up."
Upon returning to Fort Bragg in April 2005, Clousing said he talked with military chaplains and counselors, stressing that although he did not want to be discharged from the service, he felt he could no longer support the Iraq war.
Clousing said he's not opposed to all war and because of that chose not to apply as a conscientious objector.
"My intent was solely to learn how to come to grips with what I was a part of and what had happened and what is happening," he said.
He sneaked out of Fort Bragg in the middle of the night, taking books, clothes and a surfboard.
He left a note on his door, with King's quote: "Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' But conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but because conscience tells one it is right."