Robin Long was the first Iraq war resister to be deported from Canada in July, 2008. He sought refuge in B.C., refusing to fight in what he still considers an illegal and immoral war.
The twenty-five year old from Idaho was given a dishonourable discharge from the US military and sentenced by court marshal to fifteen months in prison; the longest desertion sentence since the beginning of the Iraq war. He is likely to be released in July 2009. As conditional to his deportation, Long cannot re-enter Canada to visit his girlfriend or son for the next ten years.
Then Pvt. Daniel Sandate, who lived in Canada for almost two years before alerting the Canadian government of his presence after a suicide attempt. He did not leave the army for reasons of conscience, but because he suffered from a debilitating metal illness. Pvt. Sandate received an eight month sentence and a bad conduct discharge, stripping him of any veterans' benefits. Sandate completed his sentence and was released from the brig at Ft. Sill on January 20, 2009.
Then Cliff Cornell, a specialist in the U.S. Army, who was ordered deported from Canada in February 2009, after being denied refugee status. He crossed the border and turned himself in at Fort Stewart. He had deserted his unit, he said, because he couldn't follow through on military training orders to shoot civilians and armed combatants alike. Cornell faces the possibility of two different court marshal scenarios, either a trial to determine the merit of the charges against him or a sentencing hearing.
Now they're coming for Kim Rivera and her family, the Conservative government dispatching the CBSA like Harper's personal henchmen to snatch another war resister living peacefully in Canada, emboldened by Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney's current opinion he's expressed to the media, stating that war resisters are "bogus refugee claimants."
Kim Rivera was an Army Private from Texas where she grew up proud of the American way of life. It was her experiences in the Iraq theatre that began a radical change in consciousness, leading her to purposefully miss her unit's plane trip back to the Middle East. She is the first female Iraq war resister to seek refugee status in Canada in February 18, along with her husband and family. Having exhausted all appeals through the Federal Courts to halt her Immigrant and Refugee Board (IRB) ordered deportation, she must now leave Canada willingly by Thursday March 26, 2009, or be forcibly removed from the country.
Canadian sanctuary under siege
The government won't stop at Kim Rivera. Despite intense political lobbying and a June 2008 motion in Parliament allowing resisters to stay, the Conservative government seems hell-bent on deporting every Iraq war resister until the problem goes away.
Some of these men and women are still fiercely proud of their branch of service and miss their jobs while others act like they'd throw up if they ever had to don their camis again. In Canada, they become civilians, standing out in a crowd only if you were to notice a certain straightness to their shoulders or the way they stand at rest. Old habits die hard.
Here, they practice the art of disarmament, guided by the patience of the anti-war community. The process will probably take years for some to soften the etchings of severe PTSD. There should be a special Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds immigration application category for that.
Contrary to Kenney's view, there is nothing "bogus" about a refugee claimant who is haunted by the memory of the decapitated heads of Iraq soldiers being kicked around like soccer balls; who remembers the smell of burning flesh from their post at a Coalition Forces hospital in Germany; who remembers the way Iraqi women eyed them as a foreign invaders, with the intensity of someone simultaneously wishing them dead and asking them why.
I don't know how to make these memories go away. But I can try and keep these former soldiers safe here. Safe from re-deployement. Safe from court marshals and prisons terms. How screwed up is a society that's willing to send someone to prison for refusing to kill?
Resistance to war is the affirmation of life
If anti-war activists can keep Kim and the other resisters in Canada, they are saving Iraqis lives, both enemy combatants and civilians.
The month of January 2009, brought the highest rate of suicide among all branches of the U.S. military and had the highest rates since 1980. It's frightening to think that perhaps they are also saving these soldiers from themselves. The formula the military uses to dehumanize the enemy blows back on their own recruits, and the first people really dehumanized are the soldiers themselves.
Sandate drafted a statement in solidarity with other resisters in Canada, in which he explains the failure of the U.S. military to properly case manage his physical and mental wounds upon returning home. It could be easy to write him off as the stereotypical "crazy vet," if you couldn't push past the veil of patriotism to see the bare face of Sandate's pain.
He writes, "Irrepairable harm has been done ... As it is, presently, I am a prime example of the Army's failure to return quality service to the ones that do serve and have valiantly served it ... To return a soldier (or any service member) to the impersonal machine that does not care for its own is, in my opinion wrong and morally irresponsible. Therefore I ask that those who feel the same reach out to support these soldiers [war resisters] in any way they can."
Deserting the military was a better third option in a two-choice solution, deploy or go to prison.
Activists can halt the U.S. military machine by educating soldiers of their rights such as Courage to Resist and Coffee Strong and by stopping the flow of personnel willing to deploy; lessons learned from the anti-Vietnam war campaign.
Yes, it's true there is no military draft this time around. But they have what I'd call a promisary draft; the good looking military recruiter stationed in U.S. schools, dressed in a crisp and impressive uniform promising good paying jobs, health care benefits and to turn every kid into a hero. You can't fault a seventeen year old kid who just wants to be someone special one day for getting mesmerized by an army recruiter promising the world.
The Army Times reported that desertions from the US Army in 2007 are at their highest rates since 2001, at roughly nine in every thousand soldiers. While not yet at rates similar to the Vietnam war, military leaders still acknowledge the problem as a result of military overextension.
The War Resister Support Campaign estimates there are roughly 200 war resisters living in Canada.
If encouraging active resistance to the U.S. military causes the military machine to break down, I personally think we're on the right track. I would like to bring an end to manipulative recruitment tactics, the use of white phosphorus and cluster bombs and restore veterans' benefits to all U.S. soldiers regardless of their discharge status. For resisters who come to Canada, they should be allowed to stay here; we need to keep the Harper government from picking them off one by one.
I am fighting to dismantle the war machine for Robin, Daniel, Cliff and Kim and for the other resisters living peacefully in Canada who face deportatin in the coming months. I am protecting them and in a way saving myself, breaking free from my imperialist and racist culture that screams for blood and oil.
krystalline kraus is a Toronto-based writer.
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