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As more GIs resist
Supporters wrestle with courts in U.S., Canada
Published Nov 21, 2007 10:51 AM
Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse deployment
to the Iraq war, won a big victory on Nov. 10 when a federal judge issued an
injunction blocking the U.S. Army from conducting a second court-martial
against him. The judge said a second trial would violate Watada’s
constitutional rights by trying him twice for the same charges.
Resister Ehren Watada
has won a court victory.
In February, Watada’s first court-martial ended in a mistrial just before
he was to take the stand in his own defense. Immediately before the mistrial
was declared, Watada told the court that to him, leading soldiers into battle
in Iraq “means to participate in a war that I believe to be
“This is an enormous victory, but it is not yet over,” said Kenneth
Kagan, one of Watada’s attorneys. The charges against 29-year-old Watada
remain in effect, and Army officials said they would file briefs in U.S.
District Court to try to prevent the injunction blocking a new trial from
Canadian ruling against resisters
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Canada dealt U.S. war resisters there a setback
on Nov. 15, announcing it will not hear appeals for refugee status by Jeremy
Hinzman and Brandon Hughey. These two Iraq war resisters have been in Canada
since going AWOL from the U.S. Army in 2004.
The ruling was met by demonstrations the same day in cities across Canada,
including Toronto, Ottawa, Sudbury, Nelson and Vancouver, organized by the War
Resisters Support Campaign. The campaign has the support of the Canadian Labor
Congress, the United Church of Canada, peace organizations and thousands of
individuals and families. Nearly two-thirds of Canadians say resisters should
be allowed to stay in Canada, according to a June 2007 poll.
The fate of hundreds of U.S. war resisters living in Canada now rests with the
Canadian Parliament. “Following today’s decision we call on
Parliament to take a stand by enacting a provision that would allow U.S. war
resisters and their families to stay in Canada,” said actor and activist
Lee Zaslovsky, a Vietnam-era military deserter and coordinator of the War
Resisters Support Campaign, said the proposed provision has the support of two
parties in Parliament—the New Democrats and the Bloc Québecois.
Pressure is now focused on the largest opposition party, the Liberals. If the
three parties unite to support the provision, they could override the refusal
of the minority Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a
Zaslovsky said the campaign has generated massive Canadian media coverage and a
“heavy wave” of e-mails and phone calls to Parliament from across
The attorney for Hinzman and Hughey, Jeffrey House—himself a Vietnam-era
war resister—said, “We’re not giving up on any of the legal
cases” of other U.S. war resisters in Canada. He said the current case
means “we can’t use international law [as our legal basis], but we
have other things.” Zaslovsky said there are another 25 to 30 refugee
status appeals pending.
In the U.S., the organization Courage to Resist has organized a letter-writing
campaign to Canadian government officials. The letter asks them “to make
for sanctuary” for U.S. war resisters, and cites Vietnam-era Canadian
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s statement that “Canada should be a
refuge from militarism.” (To sign, go to CourageToResist.org.)
AWOL GI with PTSD arrested
As if to illustrate the claim that war resisters face persecution in the United
States, on Nov. 13 Sgt. Brad Gaskins was arrested by Army officials and local
police as he was preparing to turn himself in at Ft. Drum, near Watertown,
Sgt. Gaskins had traveled almost 300 miles with his mother from his home in
East Orange, N.J., to the Different Drummer Internet Café near Ft. Drum.
He was waiting there while his attorney Todd Ensign telephoned the base to
arrange for his return. When the MPs and local police grabbed him, his mother
screamed at them, “Why are you grabbing him?” “Because
he’s a deserter,” they yelled.
Ensign said that Gaskins is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress disorder and
severe depression after two tours in Iraq. He has been hospitalized for
psychiatric problems and should be discharged from the Army for medical
reasons, Ensign said. Following legal pressure and media attention, Gaskins was
taken to a veterans’ hospital in Syracuse after his arrest. On Nov. 16,
he was transferred to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington.
PTSD is reaching epidemic proportions among active-duty GIs and veterans of the
U.S. imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. An Army report released
Nov. 15 estimates that one in five active-duty soldiers, and as many as 40
percent of reservists, are in need of treatment for PTSD. It adds that soldiers
suffer even more mental distress in the transition to life at home than they
show on leaving Iraq.
According to the Army, more than 10,000 U.S. soldiers have deserted since the
Iraq invasion started. Every year, the number has gone up. Official statistics
say 3,196 went AWOL last year, compared to 2,543 the year before. But Iraq
Veterans Against the War says the calls it receives suggest the real numbers
are 10 times the official figures.
A large network of military counselors and lawyers across the United States is
ready to help active-duty and AWOL GIs who need help. They can call the GI
Rights Hotline at 877-447-4487. Also, a growing network of churches and
community organizations offers sanctuary for soldiers who refuse to fight in
the illegal U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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