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U.S. Soldiers Flee to Canada to Avoid Service in Iraq

U.S. Soldiers Flee to Canada to Avoid Service in Iraq

Charles Laurence, Telegragh (U.K.)

American Army soldiers are deserting and fleeing to Canada rather than
fight in Iraq, rekindling memories of the thousands of draft-dodgers who
flooded north to avoid service in Vietnam.

An estimated 5,500 men and women have deserted since the invasion of Iraq,
reflecting Washington's growing problems with troop morale.Jeremy Hinzman, 26, from South Dakota, who deserted from the 82nd
Airborne, is among those who — to the disgust of Pentagon officials — have
applied for refugee status in Canada.

The United States Army treats deserters as common criminals, posting them
on "wanted" lists with the FBI, state police forces and the Department of
Home Security border patrols.

Hinzman said last week: "This is a criminal war and any act of violence in
an unjustified conflict is an atrocity. I signed a contract for four years,
and I was totally willing to fulfil it. Just not in combat arms jobs."

Hinzman, who served as a cook in Afghanistan, was due to join a fighting
unit in Iraq after being refused status as a conscientious objector.

He realised that he had made the "wrong career choice" as he marched with
his platoon of recruits all chanting, "Train to kill, kill we will".

He said: "At that point a light went off in my head. I was told in basic
training that if I'm given an illegal or immoral order, it is my duty to
disobey it. I feel that invading and occupying Iraq is an illegal and
immoral thing to do.''

Pte Brandon Hughey, 19, who deserted from the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort
Hood, Texas, said that he had volunteered because the army offered to pay
his college fees. He began training soon after the invasion of Iraq but
became disillusioned when no weapons of mass destruction were found.

"I had been willing to die to make America safe," he said. "I found out,
basically, that they found no weapons of mass destruction and the claim that
they made about ties to al-Qaeda was coming up short. It made me angry. I
felt our lives as soldiers were being thrown away."

When he was ordered to deploy to Iraq, Hughey searched the internet for an
"underground railroad" operation, through which deserting troops are helped
to escape to Canada.

He was put in touch with a Quaker pacifist couple who had helped Vietnam
draft-dodgers and was driven from Texas to Ontario.

The Pentagon says that the level of desertion is no higher than usual and
denies that it is having difficulty persuading troops to fight. The flight
to Canada is, however, an embarrassment for the military, which is suffering
from a recruiting shortfall for the National Guard and the Army Reserves.

The deaths of 18 American soldiers in a suicide bomb attack in Mosul,
northern Iraq, last month, was a further blow to morale. Soon after, the
number of American soldiers killed since President Bush declared that
large-scale combat operations were at an end passed the 1,000 mark.

Lt Col Joe Richard, a Pentagon spokesman, said that the US government
wanted the deserters to be returned from Canada. "If you don't want to
fight, don't join," he said.

"The men in Canada have an obligation to fulfil their military contracts
and do their duty. If and when they return to this country, they will be

The penalty for desertion in wartime can be death. Most deserters,
however, serve up to five years in a military prison before receiving a
dishonourable discharge.

In order to stay in Canada, deserters must convince an immigration board
that they would face not just prosecution but also "persecution" if they
returned to America. Hinzman's hearing has begun in Toronto and a decision
is expected next month.

During the Vietnam war an estimated 55,000 deserters or draft-dodgers fled
to Canada. There were amnesties for both groups in the late 1970s under
President Jimmy Carter, but many stayed.

One who did so is Jeffrey House, a Toronto-based lawyer, who represents
some of the deserters. He said that at least 25 had reached Canada in recent
months with the help of "railroad" organisations, and believed that the
immigration board would back his clients.