Service members know the consequences of going absent without leave (unauthorized absence in the Navy) — a maximum penalty of five years confinement, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and a dishonorable discharge. The maximum penalty for desertion in a time of war is death.
“If everything else fails, people should desert, just as George W. Bush did during the Vietnam War.” —Carl Rising-Moore Yet some military personnel are going AWOL or deserting to avoid returning to Iraq.
“I definitely don’t want to go back there,” a Florida National Guardsman told CBS News. “I think most people — if not all people who are there — don’t want to be there.”
That Guardsman missed his flight back to Iraq on Oct. 18. According to the Washington Post, the soldier has not returned to duty and may be on the run. According to Natalie Granger of the Army Public Affairs Office, 3,800 soldiers deserted in 2002. Three thousand two hundred fifty-five were returned to military control. In 2001, 5,065 deserted and 4,966 were returned.
“This is something that we have to deal with regularly,” Granger said.
Granger said she could not say whether the Army would execute a deserter today as each case is judged on an individual basis. “Obviously it’s an option,” she said.
Army spokesman Joe Burlas said the Army would probably not pursue execution. He said the last execution for desertion was during World War II. “[The penalty for desertion is] basically five years confinement if there’s an intent to avoid hazardous duty,” he said.
The GI Rights Hotline, a national soldiers’ support service, told the New York Post that they’ve received more than 100 calls inquiring about the penalties associated for going AWOL. Some of the calls have come from soldiers home on leave, others have come from soldiers in the war zone. Some callers have said they will not return to Iraq.
The consequences of this action can be harsh. In a recent case, Marine Stephen Funk was acquitted of desertion but convicted of unauthorized absence, according to occupationwatch.org. Funk, a conscientious objector, was sentenced to six months in the Camp Lejeune brig (military prison), reduction in rank to private, forfeiture of two-thirds pay for six months and a bad-conduct discharge.
The penalty is harsher for desertion. After a service member is AWOL for more than 30 days, he or she is dropped from the rolls and administratively classified as a deserter.
When a soldier is classified as a deserter, a federal arrest warrant is issued. Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies may apprehend the deserter. The next of kin is contacted by letter after 10 days and asked to urge the member to return voluntarily to military control.
Harboring a deserter is illegal. According to Claudia Cummings, public affairs officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Indianapolis, the maximum penalty is three years in a federal prison.
Some people, however, think it is worth the risk.
“When I hear about these women and men that would kill themselves to escape, my duty as a veteran and a loyal American is to fight my government in whatever nonviolent manner is appropriate,” Carl Rising-Moore said in an e-mail to anti-war activists in Indianapolis.
According to USA Today, 11 soldiers and three Marines have killed themselves in the past seven months in Iraq. Several other deaths are being investigated as suicides. In addition, the Army has sent 478 soldiers home from Iraq for mental health reasons.
Rising-Moore, an Army veteran, served during the Vietnam War. While he volunteered for duty in Vietnam, he was stationed stateside. When he was discharged, he was supportive of people who were fleeing to Canada to avoid serving. He said the current Iraq situation is similar to Vietnam.
“If everything else fails, people should desert, just as George W. Bush did during the Vietnam War,” he said.
There is a gap in Bush’s military service record from May 1972 to October 1973. Critics have charged he deserted.
Rising-Moore said people all over the country are willing to harbor deserters and help them escape to Canada.
“The Canadian people are up for the task,” Rising-Moore said.
Under Canadian law, political asylum cases are handled on a case-by-case basis by an immigration officer at the border. Canada follows the United Nations guidelines on granting political asylum.
Rising-Moore also said Sweden and Norway might grant political asylum to deserters.
Some countries definitely will not.
“There is no way they can come to Switzerland,” said a spokesperson from the Consulate of Switzerland in Indianapolis. “We are a neutral country. We don’t get involved in the affairs of other peoples.”
Rising-Moore is currently in Canada to gather support for what he called the “Freedom Underground.” He will visit all the major cities, including Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax and Ottawa.
Rising-Moore said some people think he has gone over the top, but he believes the Nuremberg principle applies. According to the Nuremberg principle, individuals have a responsibility to choose to follow the higher moral code when it conflicts with laws and orders.
“I would hope the American people would stand up against this fascist regime of George W. Bush, the un-elected military dictator of the United States of America,” he said.
“It is better to go through the proper channels to leave the military, but if one is willing to die rather than go through the process, than I recommend that they leave right away,” Rising-Moore wrote in e-mail communication. “I reiterate that a better solution to this option is to become a war resister within the military and tell your commanding officer that you do not wish to kill any more. It may take a few months, but eventually they will let you out. You may wish to also refuse to be assigned to Iraq because even if you are in a noncombatant role, you are still supporting this illegal and immoral war.”
Rising-Moore said that two weeks ago, 30 military personnel refused to report for duty in Iraq.
Just deserts... • In 1971, Abbie Hoffman described how to desert in Steal This Book. Hoffman recommended Sweden and Canada.
• According to its government Web page, Canada received between 30,000 and 40,000 deserters and draft dodgers during the Vietnam War. Many went to Toronto, which still has a heavy American presence.
• According to the History Channel, the last execution for desertion was in 1945, when Army Pvt. Eddie Slovik was shot by a firing squad.
• The Army’s Deserter Information Point (USADIP) is in Indianapolis. USADIP is the Army’s information control center for absentees and deserters.