Sgt. Ricky Clousing went to war in Iraq because, he said, he believed he would simultaneously be serving his nation and serving God.

But after more than four months on the streets of Baghdad and Mosul interrogating Iraqis rounded up by American troops, Clousing said he began to believe that he was serving neither.

He said he saw American soldiers shoot and kill an unarmed Iraqi teenager, and rode in an Army Humvee that sideswiped Iraqi cars and shot an old man’s sheep for fun — both incidents Clousing reported to superiors. He said his work as an interrogator led him to conclude that the occupation was creating a cycle of anti-American resentment and violence.

“My experiences in Iraq forced me to re-evaluate my beliefs and my ethics,” Clousing said, sitting stiff-backed in the witness chair. “I ultimately felt I could not serve.”

Yet the military prosecutors made it clear yesterday that the stakes were high. Although they did not challenge his motives, they said if one young soldier disillusioned by the reality of war could give up the uniform without punishment, what of others?

“A message must be sent,” Capt. Jessica Alexander, the Army’s trial lawyer, said in her closing argument. “There are thousands of soldiers who may disagree with this particular war, but who stay and fight.”

The number of soldiers who go AWOL has declined from 4,597 in 2001 to 2,479 in 2004, said Maj. Tom Earnhardt, a public affairs officer at Fort Bragg. “The vast majority of our soldiers are serving our country admirably,” Earnhardt said.


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