Bad News for War Resisters
By HOWARD LISNOFF
October 20, 2008
For those from the U.S. seeking sanctuary from the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan the reelection of Stephen Harper as prime minister of
Canada was bad news (not that the past several months have been any
better when Harper's Conservative Party had a smaller minority in
Parliament). Harper's gains in the election mean that he will
continue to seek the deportation of U.S. military resisters as he
attempts to please George Bush.
Patrick Hart lost his case with Canadian immigration authorities who
found that only people in danger or who face the risk of persecution
are allowed to remain in Canada. War resisters Corey Glass and
Jeremy Hinzman have also both been ordered to leave Canada. Both
Glass and Hinzman's deportation orders are on appeal to Canadian authorities.
In mid July, Robin Long, who lived in Canada for three years, was
forcibly removed from that nation and sentenced to 15 months in
military prison and given a dishonorable discharge. Long left his
unit when he received orders to report for a deployment to Iraq, a
war to which he had strong moral objections. It is estimated that
about two hundred war resisters to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq
remain in Canada.
The Canadian government has generally given greater consideration to
war resisters who have had combat experience in Iraq. Immigration
authorities do not consider objection to the war in Afghanistan to be
worthy of granting of sanctuary status, primarily because Canada
remains a part of coalition forces in Afghanistan. Most Canadians
favor granting sanctuary to war resisters. A majority of Canadians
are also opposed to the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, although
those sentiments have not found expression in Stephen Harper's government.
A February 2006 poll in the Canadian Globe and Mail "found that 62
per cent of Canadians are against sending troops to Afghanistan,
while only 27 per cent are in favor. The latter is quite remarkable
given that Canadian troops are dying in Afghanistan and Harper's
government has indicated a commitment to that war until 2011. The
number of Canadians favoring the war in Iraq is far lower.
Perhaps the majority of the people of Canada know that the amended
Geneva Conventions (1977) states, "…the Parties to the conflict shall
at all times distinguish between the civilian population and
combatants and between civilian objects and military objects"
(Article 48); and, "The presence within the civilian population of
individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians does
not deprive the population of its civilian character" (Article 50-3).
The amending of the Conventions came in response to counterinsurgency
tactics used by U.S. forces in Vietnam, a war to which Canadian Prime
Minister Pierre Trudeau opened the borders of Canada to war resisters
from the U.S.
Of interest to both the governments of the U.S. and Canada might also
be Principle IV of the Principles of International Law Recognized in
the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and Judgment of the Tribunal
(1950). It states: "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of
his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from
responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was
in fact possible to him." International law lists "war crimes" as
"violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not
limited to, murder, ill-treatment of prisoners of war…plunder of
public or private property…wanton destruction of cities, towns, or
villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity." The
Principles go on to describe "Crimes against humanity," as "Murder,
extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts done
against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial
or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions
are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime
against peace or any war crime."
War resisters note the failure of the U.S. government to justify the
war in Iraq by the illusory weapons of mass destruction. Some object
to the killing of civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Others
point to the quest for oil on the part of the U.S. as a primary
objective rather than any imagined democratization of Iraq. Many
object to the torture of civilians and suspected terror suspects at
Guantanamo Bay prison camp and at black sites (secret C.I.A. prisons)
operated around the world. All of the latter are clearly condemned
by The Nuremberg Principles. That the Federal Court ruled that
resister Jeremy Hinzman did not qualify under Nuremberg Principle IV
in 2006 is a decision that flies in the face of the lessons of World
War II and the Nazi terror of that war.
While one reason given for the war in Afghanistan is the terror
attack of September 11, 2001, that war, along with Iraq War are wars
of imperialist aggression to extend the military power of the U.S.
and its control over oil supplies in the Middle East and Central Asia.
U.S. law is also clear on banning torture during wartime. The War
Crimes Act of 1996 and a federal anti-torture statute, United States
Code 2340A, both ban torture. In addition, The Uniform Code of
Military Justice prohibits torture. These laws supplement the ban on
torture and the mistreatment of civilians during wartime encoded into
The Geneva Conventions. The Charter of the United Nations bans wars
War resisters have a well-founded fear of returning to military
custody. As I point out in "When Torture Was Practiced On U.S. Soil"
(CounterPunch, July 26, 2008), military prisons are known for the
mistreatment of those who oppose war.
In an anomaly of international law, The International Criminal Court
established in 2002 to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes
against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression has not seen a
leader of a superpower or other economic and political power in the
dock at The Hague. The U.S. has not joined. Yet prosecutors go to
extreme lengths to bring resisters to account for their
actions. Much is made of the fact that they signed a contract to
enter the military, but little is said or allowed in their defense
when they protest war crimes and crimes of aggression through their actions.
There is absolutely no justification in objecting to war resisters
right to sanctuary solely because a military is a voluntary
force. The rules of war apply equally to wars fought by conscripts
and those fought with volunteers: there is no justifiable distinction
between the two kinds of forces. That many object to war after
joining the military is not surprising. The simple fact of military
training is that it teaches those who were just recently civilians
how to kill. Military training dehumanizes the enemy. The reality is
that in contemporary warfare about 90 per cent of casualties are
innocent civilians. The latter, in and of itself, makes modern
warfare indefensible! "Good" wars are not wars that target civilians
and imprison the innocent and subject the innocent to torture! The
wars that war resisters object to are wars of aggression. Resisters
Howard Lisnoff teaches writing and is a freelance writer. He was a
resister to the Vietnam War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.