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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 illegal.”

“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 becoming permanent.

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 Shirley Douglas.

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 Bush clone.

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 country.

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 a provision

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, N.Y.

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.