A former U.S. marine testified yesterday that the U.S. military "murdered" civilians in Iraq and that he pumped 500 rounds of bullets into vehicles that failed to stop at military checkpoints.
Jimmy Massey, a former marine staff sergeant, told an immigration and refugee board hearing in Toronto that he and his fellow marines shot and killed more than 30 unarmed men, women and children and even shot a young Iraqi who got out of his car with his arms in the air.
We were told to consider all Arabs as potential terrorists . . . to foster an attitude of hatred that gets your blood boiling.
"We killed the man. We fired at a cyclic rate of 500 bullets per vehicle," testified Mr. Massey, a marine for 12 years who was honourably discharged last year. "The company gunnery sergeant came running over and began yelling, 'You just shot a guy with his hands up.' "
Mr. Massey testified in the refugee claim of U.S. army deserter Jeremy Hinzman, 26, who sought asylum in Canada after his application to be a conscientious objector was rejected. Mr. Hinzman said he did not want to be deployed to Iraq with his 82nd Airborne Division because he feared he would be forced to commit war crimes and atrocities in a conflict he considered illegal.
IRB member Brian Goodman has said he won't consider evidence about the legality of the U.S. military campaign in Iraq, but yesterday Mr. Massey was permitted to testify about the killing of civilians.
The former marine said none of the Iraqis they shot had suicide bombing materials in their vehicles. He speculated that they didn't understand the hand signals and signage indicating they should stop.
On another occasion, marines reacted to a stray bullet by killing a small group of unarmed protesters and bystanders, said Mr. Massey, who said he has nightmares and posttraumatic stress disorder. "I was deeply concerned about the civilian casualties," he said. "What they were doing was committing murder."
His testimony bolstered that of Mr. Hinzman, who said earlier the Iraqi conflict was considered "a new kind of war" and soldiers believed they were "going to Iraq to jack up [kill] some terrorists."
U.S. Army Private Jeremy Hinzman (L) his two year old son Liam await the start of their Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board hearing to argue that they should be permitted to stay in Canada as refugees in Toronto, December 6, 2004. If the court rules against him, Hinzman will face deportation back to the U.S. where he will be tried as a deserter. REUTERS/Mike Cassese
"We were told to consider all Arabs as potential terrorists . . . to foster an attitude of hatred that gets your blood boiling," said the former paratrooper, adding he did not want to be involved in capturing Iraqis who would not be afforded the rights of due process or of the Geneva Conventions.
Mr. Hinzman said he went public with his asylum bid and requested that the board hearing be open because he feared that otherwise Canadians would find his claim to be a "preposterous proposition."
"I didn't know how it would be dealt with. I thought they would say, 'You're an American, what the hell are you doing? Go home," Mr. Hinzman said. "By being public, I could ensure it would be handled openly and fairly."
After his application to be considered a conscientious objector was rejected, Mr. Hinzman fled the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, N.C., in January, 2004, and sought asylum in Toronto with his wife and two-year-old son.
Mr. Hinzman said he requested conscientious-objector status and not a discharge from the army because he wanted to keep his commitment to serve, and exercise the option of being declared a non-combatant. Although he now understands he could have appealed his conscientious-objector application all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, he didn't know this at the time.
Mr. Hinzman's case is the litmus test for four other U.S. army deserters who have made similar claims.
Jeffry House, Mr. Hinzman's lawyer, says it will be difficult to prove his client would be persecuted in the United States, where he could face a court-martial and one to five years in a military prison for deserting. "Wrongful prosecution is persecution," he said. "It would be wrong to prosecute someone who doesn't want to participate in atrocities or in an illegal war. A conscientious objector should not be forced to fight."
Janet Chisholm, a government lawyer, said her research shows that eight U.S. army deserters between 1990 and 2000 were treated leniently, receiving on average one-year sentences in military prison. In May, 2004, Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia Castillo of the Florida National Guard was sentenced to one year for desertion.
Mr. Hinzman said it would be unjust to serve even one day in a military prison for refusing to participate in an illegal conflict. He said although he doesn't condone violence, he didn't object to the U.S.'s military invasion of Afghanistan, because it was in retaliation for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
© Copyright 2004 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc