Judge Declines to Punish Army Officer in First-Ever COVID Court-Martial

A U.S. Army officer has been convicted in a first-ever court-martial for violating COVID-19 protocols, however, the judge overseeing the case declined to impose punishment.

First Lt. Mark Bashaw was convicted last week for refusing orders imposed on unvaccinated troops at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, reports the Army Times. The conviction is the latest as the military continues to grapple with fallout over its COVID mitigation measures.

Bashaw, who formerly served as the Army Public Health Center's headquarters company commander at Aberdeen, faced three charges for allegedly refusing to work remotely or submit to testing requirements and refusing to wear a mask while indoors. Additionally, Bashaw was alleged to have stayed at work despite not having a negative COVID test.

Soldiers Prepare for Vaccination
The U.S. Army's first-ever court-martial conviction for failure to obey lawful orders of COVID-19 mitigation has ended in the judge declining to impose a punishment. Pictured, soldiers file paperwork before being administered COVID vaccinations by Army Preventative Medical Services in Fort Knox, Kentucky, on September 9, 2021. Jon Cherry/Getty Images

The Army facility at the time required all onsite workers to provide proof of being vaccinated against COVID or submit to regular testing. Bashaw's charges were the first case the Army referred for court-martial, according to an Aberdeen spokesperson.

"After a careful consideration of the evidence, a military judge exercised lawful authority not to adjudge punishment," Amburr Reese, a service spokesperson, told Military.com.

While Bashaw won't be punished, the court-martial could still haunt him. Reese told Military.com that "a court-martial conviction carries lifelong collateral consequences of a federal conviction, beyond punishment imposed by the court."

"Some examples may include social consequences and difficulty in obtaining future employment, as criminal convictions are generally public information and frequently reported in federal and state criminal and licensing databases," she said.

The charges came as the Army said in February it would begin a separation process for soldiers who refused to comply with the Pentagon's vaccination requirements.

It's not clear if Bashaw will remain in the Army following the conviction, according to the Army Times.

"Proud of the prosecution team at Aberdeen Proving Ground," Col. Yevgeny Vindman, a military lawyer said on Twitter. "Secured a first in the nation conviction at court-martial of a lieutenant who failed to obey lawful orders re COVID mitigation measures. Guilty on all 3 counts."

The Army said it has separated a total of 426 soldiers as of April 27 for refusing the vaccine. Of the Army's active personnel, 97 percent is fully vaccinated, while 88 percent those in the reserves have completed vaccination. Another 3,381 service members have been issued official reprimands.

The Army has also approved 22 medical exemptions out of 723 requests, and six religious exemptions out of 4,237.

Federal COVID mandates have continued to be a subject of litigation. Last month the Supreme Court ruled against an Air Force Reserve lieutenant colonel who was relieved of duty for refusing the vaccine for religious reasons.

Newsweek has reached out to the Army and Aberdeen Proving Ground for comment.