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"Over 5,500 U.S. Deserters Refuse To Go To Iraq"

"Over 5,500 Deserters: We Won't Go To Iraq"


The Pentagon says more than 5,500 servicemen have
deserted since the war started in Iraq.

The CBS TV news program "60 Minutes" Wednesday found several of these deserters
who left the Army or Marine Corps rather than go to
Iraq. Like a generation of deserters before them, they
fled to Canada.

What do these men, who have violated orders and oaths,
have to say for themselves? They told Correspondent
Scott Pelley that conscience, not cowardice, made them
American deserters."I was a warrior. You know? I always have been. I've
always felt that way — that if there are people who
can't defend themselves, it's my responsibility to do
that," says Pfc. Dan Felushko, 24.

It was Felushko's responsibility to ship out with the
Marines to Kuwait in Jan. 2003 to prepare for the
invasion of Iraq. Instead, he slipped out of Camp
Pendleton, Calif., and deployed himself to Canada.

"I didn't want, you know, 'Died deluded in Iraq' over
my gravestone," says Felushko. "If I'd gone,
personally, because of the things that I believed, it
would have felt wrong. Because I saw it as wrong, if I
died there or killed somebody there, that would have
been more wrong."

He told Pelley it wasn't fighting that bothered him. In
fact, he says he started basic training just weeks
after al Qaeda attacked New York and Washington ?— and
he was prepared to get even for Sept. 11 in

But Felushko says he didn't see a connection between
the attack on America and Saddam Hussein.

"(What) it basically comes down to, is it my right to
choose between what I think is right and what I think
is wrong?" asks Felushko. "And nobody should make me
sign away my ability to choose between right and

But Felushko had signed a contract to be with the U.S.
Marine Corps. "It's a devil's contract if you look at
it that way," he says.

How does he feel about being in Toronto while other
Marines are dying in Fallujah, Najaf and Ramadi?

"It makes me struggle with doubt, you know, about my
decision," says Felushko.

What does he say to the families of the American troops
who have died in Iraq?

"I honor their dead. Maybe they think that my presence
dishonors their dead. But they made a choice the same
as I made a choice," says Felushko. "My big problem is
that, if they made that choice for anything other than
they believed in it, then that's wrong. Right? And the
government has to be held responsible for those deaths,
because they didn't give them an option."

Felushko's father is Canadian, so he has dual
citizenship, and he can legally stay in Canada. But
it's not that easy for other American deserters.

Canadian law has changed since the Vietnam era. Back
then, an estimated 55,000 Americans deserted to Canada
or dodged the draft. And in those days, Canada simply
welcomed them.

But today's American deserters, such as Brandon Hughey,
will need to convince a Canadian immigration board that
they are refugees.

Hughey volunteered for the Army to get money for
college. He graduated from high school in San Angelo,
Texas, just two months after the president declared war
in Iraq.

What did he think about the case for going to war? "I
felt it was necessary if they did have these weapons,
and they could end up in our cities and threaten our
safety," says Hughey. "I was supportive. At first, I
didn't think to question it."

He says at first, he was willing to die "to make
America safe." And while Hughey was in basic training,
he didn't get much news. But when he left basic
training, he started following the latest information
from Iraq.

"I found out, basically, that they found no weapons of
mass destruction. They were beginning to come out and
say it's not likely that we will find any — and the
claim that they made about ties to al Qaeda was coming
up short, to say the least," says Hughey. "It made me
angry, because I felt our lives were being thrown away
as soldiers, basically."

When Hughey got orders for Iraq, he searched the
Internet and found Vietnam era war resisters willing to
show him the way north. In fact, they were willing to
drive him there, and a Canadian television news camera
went along.

Hughey had an invitation to stay with a Quaker couple
that helped Americans avoid the draft during Vietnam.
From Fort Hood, Texas, to St. Catherine's in Ontario,
Canada, Hughey crossed the border, duty free.

Pelley read letters about Hughey's desertion that were
sent to the editor of a San Antonio newspaper.

"It makes me sad to know that there's that much hate in
the country," says Hughey. "Before I joined the Army, I
would have thought the same way. Anyone who said no to
a war, I would have thought them a traitor and a
coward. So, in that essence, I'm thankful for this
experience, because it has opened my eyes and it has
taught me not to take things on the surface."

However, he adds: "I have to say that my image of my
country always being the good guy, and always fighting
for just causes, has been shattered."

Hughey, and other deserters, will be represented before
the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board by Toronto
lawyer Jeffry House.

His clients will have to prove that, if they are
returned to the United States, they wouldn't just be
prosecuted for what they did — they would be also be
persecuted. How will House make that claim?

"People should have a right to say, 'I'm not fighting
in that war. That's an illegal war. There's illegal
stuff going on the ground. I'm not going,'" says House.
"And anyone who says soldiers should go to jail if they
don't fight in an illegal war is persecuting them."

And it's something House has experience with. In 1969,
he graduated from the University of Wisconsin, got
drafted, and spent the rest of his life in Canada.

House's legal strategy will focus on his contention
that President Bush is not complying with international
law. But how will he defend volunteers who signed a

"The United States is supposed to comply with treaty
obligations like the U.N. charter, but they don't,"
says House. "When the president isn't complying with
the Geneva Accords or with the U.N. charter, are we
saying, 'Only the soldier who signed up when he was 17
— that guy has to strictly comply with contract? The
president, he doesn't have to?' I don't think so. I
don't think that is fair."

The first deserter to face the Canadian refugee board
is likely to be Spc. Jeremy Hinzman of Rapid City, S.D.
He joined the military in Jan. 2001, and was a
paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne.

He wanted a career in the military, but over time, he
decided he couldn't take a life. "I was walking to chow
hall with my unit, and we were yelling, 'Train to kill,
kill we will,' over and over again," recalls Hinzman.
"I kind of snuck a peek around me and saw all my
colleagues getting red in the face and hoarse yelling
— and at that point a light went off in my head and I
said, 'You know, I made the wrong career decision.'"

But Hinzman said he didn't want to get out of the Army:
"I had signed a contract for four years. I was totally
willing to fulfill it. Just not in combat arms jobs."

While at Fort Bragg, Hinzman says he filled out the
forms for conscientious objector status, which would
let him stay in the Army in a non-combat job.

While he waited for a decision, he went to Afghanistan
and worked in a kitchen. But later, the Army told him
he didn't qualify as a conscientious objector, and he
was ordered to fight in Iraq.

Hinzman decided to take his family to Canada, where
he's been living off savings accumulated while he was
in the military.

Wasn't he supposed to follow orders? "I was told in
basic training that, if I'm given an illegal or immoral
order, it is my duty to disobey it," says Hinzman. "And
I feel that invading and occupying Iraq is an illegal
and immoral thing to do."

"But you can't have an Army of free-thinkers," says
Pelley. "You wouldn't have an Army."

"No, you wouldn't. I think there are times when
militaries or countries act in a collectively wrong
way," says Hinzman. "I mean, the obvious example was
during World War II. Sure, Saddam Hussein was a really
bad guy. I mean, he ranks up there with the bad ones.
But was he a threat to the United States?

Still, isn't it worth fighting to free the people of
Iraq? "Whether a country lives under freedom or tyranny
or whatever else, that's the collective responsibility
of the people of that country," says Hinzman.

Hinzman and the other American deserters have become
celebrities of sorts in the Canadian anti-war movement.

Only a few of the reported 5,500 deserters are in
Canada, but House says he's getting more calls from
nervous soldiers all the time.

Wouldn't the right and honorable thing for deserters to
do be to go back to the United States, and turn
themselves in to the Army?

"Why would that be honorable?" asks House. "(Deserters
signed a contract) to defend the Constitution of the
United States, not take part in offensive, pre-emptive
wars. I don't think you should be punished for doing
the right thing. What benefit is there to being a
martyr? I don't see any."

Hinzman began his hearing before the Canadian
Immigration and Refugee board last Monday. But there's
no telling when he'll find out if he'll be allowed to
stay in Canada — or be sent back to the United States
to face the consequences.

The maximum penalty for deserting in wartime is death.
But it's more typical for a soldier to draw a sentence
of five years or less for deserting in wartime.