A War Resister Speaks from Prison: Let GI Resisters Stay in Canada
In 2004 when Jeremy Hinzmen applied for refugee status in Canada the Conservative government stepped in at his Refugee Hearing and said that evidence challenging the legality of the war in Iraq can't be used in this case. The U.N. Handbook for Refugees and the Nuremburg Principals say:
A soldier of an army that is involved in an illegal war of aggression has a higher international duty to refuse service. They also have the right to seek refugee protection in any country that is signatory to the Geneva Convention.
By refusing to allow him, and by precedent all other claimants, the right to use the argument that the war was illegal, the decision closed the door on that legal avenue for refugee protection.
The invasion of Iraq was clearly an illegal act of aggression. The U.S. was not under attack or the imminent threat of attack from the nation of Iraq. The action was also not approved by the U.N. Security Council. By taking this stance, the Conservative government is condoning the invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq. Is this what Canadians want? A majority of Americans want it to end and have also realized it to be a mistake. Canadians have long known it to be wrong. Why is the minority Conservative government still holding onto the idea and still deporting war resisters? Why are they separating families and being complicit in the incarceration of morally strong young men and women? What message is this sending?
Parliament voted to let war resisters remain
In June of 2007 Canada's Parliament voted on a non-binding resolution to allow war resisters and their families permanent resident status. The vote passed. In agreement with the vote, a poll of Canadian opinion showed overwhelming support for the resolution. But in defiance of Parliament and the will of the people, the Conservative minority government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Immigration Minister Diane Finley, ignored the bill. The government stated that all refugee claimants are given a fair chance to plead their case at the Refugee Board, and special treatment to these Iraq resisters wasn't fair to the other claimants. The government has also stated in the past that we are not legitimate claimants because we are from the U.S. which they say has a fair and transparent justice system and we wouldn't be singled out for being political.
On July 14th, 2008 in my final attempt to stay in Canada, where my son and community are, Federal Judge Ann Mactavish stated that I didn't prove I would be treated harshly by the U.S. military for being a politically outspoken opponent to the war in Iraq and the Bush administration policy. She predicted that my punishment would be minimal and I'd serve at most 30 days in the brig. (This is probably because less than 10% of AWOL cases are brought to court martial.) She then cleared the way for my deportation.
Convicted of a felony
Less than a month later I was tried in a court martial presided over by a judge who is a colonel in the Army, a person who has the President in her chain of command. (A person late appointed by Bush to Guantanamo Bay no doubt because of her credentials and political position.) The only aggravating evidence the prosecution presented was a 6 minute long video of me stating among other things that "I feel my president lied to me." (A political statement.) The fact that this was found admissible in court for the crime of desertion is beyond me. There were no character witnesses brought against me. The only factor the prosecution wanted shown in determining a sentence was the fact that I was political and exercising my freedom of speech in criticizing the Commander in Chief. It seems like a conflict of interest to have a judge determine my fate when she has to ultimately answer to the President, while I was claiming the President was a domestic enemy. While I was openly saying in my defense that the Bush administration created reasons to go to Iraq, she had superiors to answer to who answer to the President.
The judge came back with a 30 month sentence; that's two and a half years for not showing up for work I thought to be morally objectionable, by far the harshest sentence given to a deserter from the Iraq war. The only thing that saved me was a plea bargain for 15 months. I still received a dishonorable discharge. A dishonorable discharge will keep me from ever having a government job and be at a disadvantage in the civilian sector as well. I will have a hard time ever getting a loan for a house or a car. This conviction is also a felony! A felony will make it hard for me to return to Canada to be with my young family. Then again, Judge Ann Mactavish had already made sure I wouldn't be allowed in for ten years.
People who committed far worse crimes have been getting off with lighter sentences than mine. I refused to participate in killing and got 15 months, but a First Infantry Division soldier, Spc. Belmor Ramos, was sentenced to only seven months after being convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in the case of four Iraqi men. In 2007, he stood guard while others blindfolded and shot in the head four unidentified Iraqi men, afterwards dumping their bodies in a Baghdad canal. During his court martial, Ramos admitted his guilt, stating, "I wanted them dead. I had no legal justification to do this"
Where is the justice? The system is not fair and impartial. Can it really be transparent when you don't know who is influencing the judge from up the chain of command? See how the military justice system works? It gives light sentences for killing, but God forbid someone should call the president a liar and war-monger. In a court martial, a person's words and political opinions - if they are anti-war and critical of the president - seem be far more damaging to his case than someone's illegal actions in an occupied foreign nation.
What about the contract I signed?
Often, people have argued that I signed a contract I'd like to quote from a letter one of the Founding Fathers wrote to George Washington on his thoughts about contracts:
When performance, for instance, becomes impossible, non- performance is not immoral. So if performance becomes self-destructive to the party, the law of self preservation overrules the laws of obligations to others. For the reality of these principles I appeal to the true fountains of evidence, the head and heart of every rational man. --Thomas Jefferson, April 1793
For me to continue in my military contract would have been destructive to me as a person with my views, morals, and ideals. The contract I signed was to support and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies foreign and domestic, and to obey the lawful orders of the President and those officers appointed over me. I did not sign to be the strong arm for corporate interests of oil. The so-called "liberation" of Iraq has turned into nothing more than a constant and protracted struggle for the people, against the forces that are trying to impose their will upon them for power and profit. True freedom is the ultimate expression and condition of a people to control their own destiny, not the manufactured, force-fed variety being offered to the people of Iraq. True democracy is not found at the end of the end of a gun barrel. It rises up from within the masses.
The government manufactured pretenses for the war
The invasion of Iraq wasn't about WMDs, or else we would have found some. It wasn't about regime change, or else we would be in Darfur, or Indonesia. (Besides, regime change is not a legitimate reason to go to war.) It wasn't about 9/11 terrorists because most of those were from Saudi Arabia. It didn't say anywhere in my contract that I'd be going to foreign soil halfway around the world, to invade a country that was no threat to the U.S. It didn't say in my contract that I would be called upon to risk my life, not defending the people or the Constitution of the United States, but creating more enemies for our country by being an occupier. The invasion of Iraq has made the world a much more dangerous place.
Iraq was never a real threat. And now the destabilized nation of Iraq has become a breeding ground, an awesome recruiting center, for al Qaeda. And it has exacted a great price from the American people. I'm not talking about the huge monetary price, but the human cost of war, the deaths of so many of our brave youth, the missing limbs, the PTSD, the suicides.
The order for me to go to Iraq was not a lawful one. It violated the Constitution. Article VI of the Constitution states that any treaty to which the U.S. is a signatory shall be the supreme law of the land. The last time I checked, the U.S. was a signing party to the Geneva Conventions. There are certain rules in that treaty for declaring war, and the last time I checked, regime change was not one of them. A country must be under attack or be under threat of imminent attack. Neither was true in the case of Iraq. Former President Bush had no right to interpret the Constitution or the Geneva Conventions simply as he saw fit, and the 107th Congress had no right to pass H.J. Res. 114 which "allowed" the president to invade Iraq. The Constitution was being ignored by the whole lot of them and they were derelict in their duty to uphold it.
The stand that the Conservative government of Canada has taken has separated a family - an act totally un-Canadian. I have a young son, a Canadian citizen. My partner, also a Canadian citizen, has multiple sclerosis and has been left to raise our son alone while I'm locked in the brig for refusing to participate in a war that Canada itself wouldn't even send troops to. In 2003 the then Liberal government saw the holes in Bush's intelligence and refused to participate in the invasion. The Canadian government not only deported me, but barred me from entering Canada again for ten years! My flesh and blood is there!
Uphold Canada's humanitarian tradition
The Conservatives are destroying Canada's tradition of being a refuge from militarism and an asylum for those escaping injustice - a tradition that goes back to the times of slavery. Are they truly representing the people? Who are they working for really? The days of Bush have ended. This new Obama administration has a different view and different policies. It's time for Mr. Stephen Harper to change his view. He should listen to what his Parliament and a majority of Canadians are saying.
Please support the movement to allow war resisters to stay in Canada and to pardon those in the U.S. Please help me to return to Canada to be with my son. I want only to live in peace and be in this life. Stop the war!
NAVCON Brig Miramar