War and punishment, crime and peace

| September 12, 2008
History proves wars are always the same; the toll too cruel to be measured in verbs and nouns, numbers and figures. Every war demands it gets paid in its weight in blood and shell casings, as if human life can be reduced to such economics.

A simple military calculation of how many bodies are needed to man this checkpoint, that operating room, this flight deck, that ramp ceremony.

A complex personal calculation of how much a soldier can give and a soldier can take; when haunted by doubts about questionable orders, military selective amnesia of international law and the story of human heads being used as soccer balls.

When morality whispers louder than barked orders, when the reasons not to deploy scream louder than the automatic shouts of Semper Fi, some soldiers refuse to fight. They become resisters.

Some of these men and women chose to remain in the United States. Some have come to Canada. Currently, the Harper government chooses to honour their acts of humanity and resistance by deporting them back to the U.S. to face consequences such as prison terms.

This despite a majority vote in Parliament on June 3 allowing them to stay.

Resister Jeremy Hinzman, who along with his family faces a September 23 deportation order, will be the second resister deported from this country; the first being Robin Long on July 15 of this year. On August 22, Robin Long was sentenced to fifteen months in prison and received a dishonourable discharge (equal to a felony conviction in the United States). Now Hinzman faces a similar fate.

When asked about his refugee claim being rejected by the Department of Citizen and Immigration on August 13 âe" partly because the judge felt Hinzman would not face unduly harsh punishment if returned to the United States - Hinzman stated, âeoeItâe(TM)s pretty devastating but all I can say is that Iâe(TM)d proudly serve jail time rather than kill and displace innocent people.âe

The reality of war

Let us remember that the Iraq War as a war that Canadians forced Jean Chrétien to abstain from, a war that 82 per cent of Canadians currently oppose. According to the War Resister Support Campaign (WRSC), 64 per cent of Canadians support the war resistersâe(TM) right to remain here. History is proving that Canada is better off having stayed out of the conflict.

As of 2007, the number of, âeoeU.S. army desertions are up 80 per cent since the Iraq conflict began in 2003, and is at its highest since 1980,âe according to a CBS News report. Some leave for personal reasons, some political. I am not one to judge.

Regarding the situation in Canada, the WRSC estimates there are roughly 200 resisters currently residing here.

Excuse me if I do not call them deserters, as these men and women did not run away screaming from their posts, but took a principled stand against what they considered to be unjust orders and an illegal war.

Their decision was not a simple teenage twitch, change of mind. Trust me, there were many sleepless nights, fights with family, false starts, Chaplin visits, hesitation and feelings of guilt for leaving their brothers-in-arms behind.

The military is a family that grips you tightly, but individual morality has a powerful magnetism all its own.

For the resisters who find their way to Canada, itâe(TM)s a fellowship of sorts. And a new start, from a life once consumed by the formality of acknowledging rank and the chaos of keeping yourself alive to a life of 9 to 5 jobs, cooking for yourself and trips to the immigration office.

There is a peace to this banality, grace in the mundane existence of being able to kiss your kids goodnight, every night. And, by refusing to kill, allowing another family to do the same.

The consequences

According to Article 85 and Article 86 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ-United States), the maximum punishment for desertion are as follows:

Desertion:

  • In time of war âe" Death
  • With intent to avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service âe" Dishonourable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for five years.
  • Terminated by apprehension âe" Dishonourable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for three years.
  • Terminated otherwise âe" Dishonourable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for two years.

    If convicted, both Long and Hinzman will be separated from their families. More severely, in both cases - since both have Canadian born children âe" neither will be in a position to visit Canada again unless they can get a Ministerâe(TM)s override of the U.S. felony charge.

    Speaking of her desire to keep her family united and in Canada, Hinzmanâe(TM)s wife Nga Nguyenâe(TM)s request was simple. âeoeAll we want to do is raise our kids in a society that would not imprison their father for doing the right thing, for choosing not to kill.âe

    Punishment for speaking publicly

    In Hinzmanâe(TM)s appeal of the negative immigration decision, lawyer Alyssa Manning will present âeoenew evidenceâe countering the notion that Hinzman wonâe(TM)t face harsh consequences if returned for speaking out. âeoePeople who speak out publicly against the war in Iraq are treated differently and more severely for having made those public statements,âe she said.

    Article 88 âe" Contempt Towards Officials - of the UCMJ states, âeoeAny commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President âe¦ shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.âe (While this Article is supposed to only apply to Commissioned Officers, the scope has apparently been broadened).

    Manning explains this is the snare that caught resister James Burmeister, even though the Federal Court had determined there was no evidence that the United States would inflict harsh punishment on resisters.

    Burmeister fled to Canada from hospital in Germany after being wounded by a road-side bomb in Iraq. On March 4 of this year he voluntarily returned to the United States for personal reasons where he was immediately thrown into pre-trial confinement.

    Despite voluntarily returning to the U.S. and pleading guilty to all charges against him, he was sentenced to nine months in military prison and a Bad Conduct Discharge âe" the equivalent of a felony conviction. He was charged with being Absent Without Official Leave (AWOL).

    In Burmeisterâe(TM)s case, Manning explains that to prove why the maximum punishment was warranted, âeoethe prosecution admitted into evidence articles from Canadian media such as the CBC and stated that these articles demonstrated aggravating factors in his face.âe She fears similar prosecution tactics could be used against other war resisters, such as Corey Glass and Jeremy Hinzman, if they are deported.

    Honour Guard

    It takes a rare type of courage âe" a courage that patriotism cannot even touch âe" to stand up to the largest military in the world.

    Iâe(TM)m not saying that this courage comes easy, or that it doesnâe(TM)t waver from time to time as homesickness and survivor guilt seeps in. I merely wish that the Canadian government should honour them not for a heroâe(TM)s decision, but for a profoundly human one.

    But if there was a medal I could give, Iâe(TM)d rather we honour these former soldiers by pinning a Permanent Resident card to their chests.

    What makes their decision even more profound, according to Jane Orion Smith of the Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers), is that: âeoeit was American soldiers themselves calling their country to account and saying there is a line in the sand for soldiers, there are things you cannot ask us to do âe¦ that are not just legally wrong but morally wrong; you cannot ask this because you take down our whole country when you demand this of us.âe

    Orion believes that the resister movement is the most important dimension of the anti-war movement today.

    âeoeWe need to [support Iraq war resisters], not just for them, for all people who object to war, especially [for] every soldier who feels now is the time that I need to lay my weapon down.âe

     

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