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Bad News for War Resisters

by HOWARD LISNOFF

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 of aggression.

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 deserve sanctuary!

HOWARD LISNOFF teaches writing and is a freelance writer.  He was a resister to the Vietnam War.  He can be reached at howielisnoff@gmail.com.

 

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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