Canada hands US Iraq war resister over to Pentagon for punishment

Canada’s Border Services Agency turned Iraq war resister Robin Long over to US authorities Tuesday morning. Long, who fled the US Army in 2005 after learning he was to be deployed to Iraq, was immediately sent to a Bellingham, Washington county jail. He has since been transferred to the US Army base in Fort Carson, Colorado where he will be subject to military discipline for “desertion”—an offense for which US military personnel can be court-martialed, jailed and, in time of war, executed.

A US military spokesman told Canwest News Service that “the unit commander will look at the facts” and make a recommendation “about what disciplinary actions will ensue.”

The 25-year old Long had been in the custody of Canada’s border and immigration police, the CBSA, since last October. He had sought political refugee status in Canada, arguing that the 2003 US invasion of Iraq was illegal, that were he deployed to Iraq he would be complicit in war crimes, and that he would suffer irreparable harm if deported to the US.

Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board, courts, and Conservative government have callously rejected the appeals of Long and other US war resisters for refuge in Canada. Making a mockery of Canada’s treaty commitments to uphold international law and to provide political asylum, Canadian authorities have refused to entertain arguments concerning the legality of the US’s unprovoked, “pre-emptive” war against Iraq, dismissed evidence concerning the atrocities perpetrated by the US occupation force, and pooh-poohed the severity of the penalties meted out to “deserters” asserting that they do not constitute “persecution” or “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Long, who is from Boise, Idaho, joined the US military in 2003 at the age of 19. In March 2005, he received orders to go to Iraq. But he refused to report to his new military unit and instead made his way to Canada in June 2005, where he soon after applied for asylum.

Long has explained his actions by saying that the Bush administration’s justifications for the war have proven to be false and that he was not prepared to be a “tool of destruction.” He told one interviewer, “These people came back [from Iraq] and were telling these horrific stories and our superiors were egging people on. Some people were actually volunteering to go over there and it just seemed like justified homicide. It didn’t sit right in my stomach. I morally couldn’t do it.”

Long is the first war resister Canada has handed over to US authorities. But the CBSA, with the full support of the Conservative government, is well-advanced in the process of turning many of the estimated 200 war resisters in Canada over to the US government and possible criminal prosecution for their refusal to participate in an illegal war that has led to the death of more than a million Iraqis. According to Michelle Robidoux of the War Resisters Support Campaign, at least nine other war resisters, in addition to Long, have been ordered deported by the end of this summer.

The CBSA was slated to deport Corey Glass, a former sergeant in the California National Guard, to the US last week. But on July 9, the day before he was to be expelled from Canada, a Federal Court judge ruled that the immigration board had violated Glass’s rights by refusing to accord him two hearings routinely granted failed refugee-claimants—a “humanitarian and compassionate review” and a “pre-removal risk assessment.”

Canada’s highest judicial body, the Supreme Court, gave its explicit sanction to the deportation of the war resisters and implicit support for their prosecution by the US military when it refused last November to hear the appeals of conscientious objectors Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey. Hinzman’s and Hughey’s claims for refugee status had been rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board and two lower level federal courts had confirmed the board’s decisions. (See “Canada’s Supreme Court opens door to deportation of US ‘war resisters’”)

As for the Canadian government, in 2005 when the Liberals held office, it took the highly unusual step of intervening at Hinzman’s refugee hearing—the first for an Iraq war resister—to successfully urge the Immigration and Refugee Board to exclude any arguments concerning the legality of the US’s invasion of Iraq. The pretext invoked by the government was that only the International Court of Justice at the Hague has the authority and jurisdiction to adjudicate on the legality of a war. (See “Canada denies asylum to US soldier who refused to serve in Iraq”)

During the Vietnam War more than 50,000 US draft-dodgers and “deserters” found refuge in Canada. Today, however, the Canadian judiciary, immigration board, and government are determined to ensure that the country not become a safe haven for those in the US military who refuse to be party to the US’s wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is not just because Canada’s elite does not want to rile the Bush administration and US military. The Canadian ruling class is determined to jettison the myth of Canada as a peace-keeping nation—a myth closely bound up with Pearson and Trudeau Liberal governments’ attitude toward the Vietnam War and decision to allow Vietnam war resisters to apply for landed immigrant status in Canada—because they see it as cutting across their efforts to revive Canadian militarism and use the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) as a means to assert their predatory interests on the world stage.

Popular feeling in Canada, however, is strongly against the Bush administration and the Iraq war and supportive of the war resisters. An Angus Reid poll, conducted at the beginning of last month, found that two thirds of Canadians favor granting permanent residence status to US Iraq war resisters. In the case of the Afghan War, in which the CAF is a major participant with 2,500 troops stationed in Kandahar, public opinion is more divided. Despite the strong support accorded the war by Canada’s principal political parties and the media, polls have, nevertheless, consistently shown that a majority of Canadians favor the withdrawal of Canadian troops.

In an attempt to curry favor with the public, the opposition parties combined at the beginning of June to pass a non-binding resolution urging the minority Conservative government, one of Washington’s most fervent allies, to allow Iraq war resisters to remain in Canada. The resolution, which was co-sponsored by Bob Rae, the erstwhile social-democrat and Liberal foreign affairs critic, and by Olivia Chow, the wife of NDP leader Jack Layton, was adopted by 137 to 100. It read: “That the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.”

The reference to a “war not sanctioned by the United Nations” served a double purpose. It avoided the politically explosive question of the patently illegal character of the US’s invasion of Iraq and denied legitimacy to, and support for asylum for, Afghan War resisters, whether in the US or Canada.

The Liberals’ support for the motion was very much a means for it to try to put some distance between itself and the Conservatives, after it had combined forces with the government to extend the CAF’s leading role in the counter-insurgency war in Afghanistan until at least the end of 2011. Nor should it be forgotten that it was under the Liberal government of Paul Martin that the Canadian state initiated the drive to expel the war resisters and that the Liberal government intervened at the very first refugee hearing to make clear its support for their being returned for punishment in the US, when it successfully argued for the exclusion of all arguments relating to the war’s illegality.