Are They Just Deserters?; U.S. Soldiers Argue For Assylum Before T.O. Judge
(By Sarah Green, originally published in The Toronto Sun, February 9 2006)
Two U.S. army deserters took their fight to stay in Canada to federal court yesterday, arguing that the Immigration and Refugee Board was wrong to deny them political asylum.
Jeremy Hinzman, 27, and Brandon Hughey, 20, both now living in Toronto, left the U.S. before they were to be deployed to Iraq in 2004, arguing they were conscientious objectors to the war.
WAR IS ILLEGAL
Their lawyer, Jeffry House, told federal court Justice Anne MacTavish the refugee board should have allowed him to argue the war in Iraq is illegal.
"There will be many people from many countries who object to many wars," House said outside court.
"It's important Canada not take a position: 'This is political.'"
Hinzman, who enlisted in the army in 2000, faces a court martial after deserting in January 2004. Hughey, who joined the army as a Texas high school student, deserted in March 2004 after receiving orders to go to Iraq.
'SHOT FOR NO REASON'
"I couldn't come back and live with myself if I went over there and shot somebody for no reason," Hughey said outside court.
House argued the former soldiers face persecution if they're sent back home where U.S. law does not see them as conscientious objectors. They oppose the Iraq war, but not all war.
"It would be to ask them to throw themselves into the fire," House said.
While reports of abuse at Abu Ghraib and other U.S. prisons had yet to surface when the two men deserted, House said they were concerned about the attitudes of other soldiers.
"The idea was to jack up some terrorists," House said, referring to the other soldiers' attitudes.
"Everybody was going to be treated as a terrorist unless they proved otherwise."
Federal immigration lawyer Marianne Zoric argued the refugee board rulings for both men should stand.
To disagree with the rationale for the war is not grounds for refugee status, she said. "They are entitled to their views but not refugee status as a result," Zoric said.
The question of the legality of the Iraq war is "irrelevant," she said.
"An individual soldier is not responsible for a crime against peace."
Justice MacTavish reserved her decision.
If the former soldiers are successful, the case goes back to the refugee board.