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10Aug/083

A response to Rondi Adamson’s anti-war resister op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor

Christian Science Monitor: U.S. military deserters don't deserve refugee status --- They broke their contract. Even Canada gets that, by Rondi Adamson

Also see Rondi Adamson's blog

I am disturbed beyond belief that the Monitor (an otherwise better than average national newspaper in the USA) has chosen to run such a ridiculously offensive op-ed smear piece against the first US soldier to be deported from Canada, after having sought refuge there, since Vietnam.

Thus far, the Christian Science Monitor has not published any of the LTE's that Robin Long's supporters have sent in, so I'm going to publish my own response here on this blog. I also will likely reprint (with the authors' permission of course) the rejected LTE's that the Monitor has refused to run, but I'll give the Monitor another week or two just in case they are planning to still run the LTE's.

Since I'm not limited to the constraints of an LTE, I'm going to respond to Adamson's column below, in the context of what she has said. Also for the sake of fairness, I should admit my bias from the get-go. I am Robin Long's civilian defense attorney and I'm a bi-vocational Mennonite minister. As such, I strongly favor respect for freedom of conscience, and am more than a little biased here . . .

Toronto - American military deserter Robin Long may well have reasons to think he should not serve in Iraq. That said, I was relieved to hear he had been deported from Canada – where he had lived since June 2005 – to the United States on July 15.

The Boomer generation got its wish for a volunteer army after the draft of the Vietnam War. And that is a good thing, for myriad reasons. A volunteer military is more effective and professional, and it certainly makes the matter of deserters an open-and-shut case.

No, it is most definitely not an open-and-shut case. The US may not have a standard draft, but we certainly do have a poverty draft in America (see AFSC.org: The Poverty Draft (PDF download), Soujourners: The Poverty Draft, and Political Affairs Magazine: No Where Else to Go: Latino Youth and the Poverty Draft)

Quaint notions of integrity, duty, and honor aside, cases such as Mr. Long's boil down to a simple contract matter, not one's opinion of a particular war. A volunteer army renders moot the idea that Canadians should provide a haven to those who wish to break their contract with the US military.

Of the many things I disagree with Ms. Adamson on, this paragraph is the one I find most offense with. Let's break it down in more detail.

First, Robin was promised by his recruiter that he would never see combat in Iraq. Robin was a fool for believing his recruiter, but I would say that it is understandable that he would believe his recruiter and understand that his recruiter is an agent of the US military and is tellilng the truth. And in basic contract law (outside of the military context), such statements could very well be interpreted as part of the contract itself, even if those statements aren't in writing.

Second, a basic tenant of contract law is that a contract isn't binding if it forces a party to engage in an immoral, unethical or illegal action. I would argue (as would Robin and millions of other people) that the Iraq war is all three of those things, and as such an enlistment contract should be invalid if it purports to force a party to participate in such a war. (of course, the enlistment "contract" isn't really a "contract," but that's another discussion. It would be fairer to say that it is an agreement to voluntarily become a slave of the state.)

Third, Robin Long left his unit and went to Canada in large part due to his conscience. Throughout history, we as a people (and I'm speaking of all North Americans and really all people of the world), have respected the idea that sometimes one must break the law if it conflicts with conscience. Dr. King, Gandhi, Thoreau, Jesus Christ, they all lived out this ideal. Contemporaries of the civilly disobedient often attack the character of those who refuse to submit to unjust laws, but the history books paint a different story.

And let's also remember that the US and other nations have long argued in favor of the Nuremberg principles, namely that obedience to the law of the state is no excuse for actions that defy international law. Surely you would agree that a deserter from the Nazi Army during WWII would be taking a righteous act? How is it different for Robin Long?

Integrity, duty and honor --- I think those are great words to describe Robin Long.

One could be forgiven for concluding otherwise.

Since 2004, US deserters have been trickling into Canada – today there are about 200 – to praise from aging Vietnam draft dodgers, the chattering classes, Canada's literati, and the overlap of the three. These sympathizers refer to the deserters as "resisters." A stroll through upscale Toronto neighborhoods isn't complete without seeing "War Resisters Welcome Here" stickers in the windows of homes far beyond the financial reach of most of the deserters.

Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) has not been so welcoming. The IRB has turned down applications for refugee status from several American deserters, most of whom are still here, running down whatever legal avenue they can find. Refugee cases in Canada can take years, thanks to an accessible appeals system and a lumbering bureaucracy.

Broadly speaking, refugee status in Canada is reserved for people who have fled from unfree countries and who might reasonably fear for their safety should they be returned home. As the days of the draft are long gone, so are the days of Eddie Slovik the World War II private who was the first deserter since the Civil War to be executed.

With all due respect, the days of Eddie Slovik are not that far in the past. Execution is still on the books as a penalty for desertion in time of war, and the US Supreme Court has not ruled definitively on the matter, so arguably the penalty is still there.

But, death is not the only fear that is valid. The military does not properly hear the cases of conscientious objectors (one hero of mine, Jake Malloy, had an iron clad perfect C.O. application and was recommended initially for discharge on the basis of conscience, but his discharge was refused because the command believed that it was impossible for a Baptist to be a conscientious objector. The truth is that the U.S. military's provisions for conscientious objection sound good in paper, but are a cruel joke in practice.

In some cases, it's not clear what the deserters are seeking refuge from. Corey Glass, who faces deportation, was discharged from the US military some time ago, according to ABC News. In other words, he's free to go – but might he miss the sight of those antiwar protesters carrying placards in his defense?

How dare you judge Corey Glass? Did it ever occur to you that maybe the Army discharged him without his knowledge? Weird things do happen in the miliatry. There is a reason that the phase SNAFU (Situation Normal, all f***ed up) was birthed by rank and file GI's.

There has also been a sea change in attitudes and behavior toward veterans themselves. Try to imagine the reaction to someone spitting on a soldier returning from Iraq or calling him or her a "baby killer." Public condemnation has been replaced with public sentimentality, even, oddly enough, from those who claim to abhor the policies that the soldiers they now "support" have been carrying out.

I encourage you to read the book, The Spitting Image - Myth, Memory and the legacy of Vietnam or the movie Sir, No Sir!, as those sources demonstrate the fallacy of the "spitting" myth.

With desertion rates up significantly since 2003, one imagines the US Army won't risk being mired in more battles at home. Indeed, a cursory look at the punishments meted out to deserters who have voluntarily faced military justice reveals relatively mild prison sentences. Most have run from two to 15 months, along with dishonorable, bad-conduct, or other-than-honorable discharges.

On what planet is 15 months is prison a "mild sentence"? If you are the one being sent to prison, I bet you would feel differently. Many people convicted of very serious crimes in some US states (sexual assault, drug distribution, even manslaughter) are given less than 15 months in prison.

And a dishonorable discharge is a slap in the face to many combat veterans (which some of the resisters in Canada are) who would be forever denied access to VA assistance for the PTSD that will stalk them for the rest of their lives. Also this discharge will take away their constitutional rights to own a firearm and in many states the right to vote.

This is a very big deal.

Whether their desertion was motivated by ideology or fear, these men and women have accepted the consequences of their decisions. Most of us would consider that more honest than running away. Not to mention that having the courage of one's convictions merits respect, even from opponents. Deserter Jeremy Hinzman, in Canada since 2004, is not Muhammad Ali.

But staying in Canada has its benefits. Attention, fundraising concerts, book deals (in the case of Joshua Key, in Canada since 2005), fawning interviews on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and pundits bandying your name about. In June, a nonbinding resolution that would allow "conscientious objectors ... to apply for permanent resident status" passed in the House of Commons.

Here's the rest of the story --- war resisters seeking refuge in Canada are seperated from their family, friends and their country. I have had clients tell me that they missed the funerals of dear loved ones and big moments in their siblings' lives because they were in Canada. Resisters also have to live in constant fear that they could be deported or worse (many receive death threats from chickenhawk "patriots.")

It's a symbolic poke in the eye of President Bush, but it's hardly meaningful legislation. After all, there's a big difference between conscientious objectors and deserters. The former have long been accommodated by US law – but the key word is "conscientious."

As the US Selective Service asserts: "...a man's reasons for not wanting to participate in a war must not be based on politics, expediency, or self-interest. In general, the man's lifestyle prior to making his claim must reflect his current claims." If the deserters don't meet that test, why should Canada welcome them?

Many of these soldiers would meet the test, but the US military will not give their beliefs a fair hearing.

Others would flunk the test because they object to the morality of this war, but not to all wars. US law currently requires soldiers to check their beliefs at the door and to participate in wars that they believe are immoral, unless the servicemember can prove that they are actual opposed to all wars.

I think the US is wrong. Dead wrong.

Many faith traditions recognize the importane and validity of Selective Conscientious Objection, but I think the folks from Catholic Peace Fellowship do the best job of explaining it. (also see the academic paper, Integrity and Selective Conscientious Objection by Paul Robinson

In a sense, that has already happened. In October, 2006, deserter Darrell Anderson, who spent nearly two years availing himself of Canadian naiveté, returned home – where he faced no prison time, no court martial, and only an other-than-honorable discharge. In an impressive display of ingratitude, he took the time before leaving to harshly criticize Canadian involvement in Afghanistan.

• Rondi Adamson is a Canadian writer

Please note that the case of Darrell Anderson was very, very atypical. And how is it a "display of ingratitude" for Darrell to criticize Canada for engaging in the same sins that the US is engaged in. I think Darrell is consistent in his opposition to war if anything. This in no way negates his gratitude towards the people of Canada who helped him.

I am glad that you do not speak for all Canadians. And I am grateful that most resisters (including one from my own home state, Joshua Key) have received a warm welcome from your country.

But it was a tragic shame that Robin Long was deported. Canada bears the guilt for the persecution he is currently undergoing. I and others are fighting like hell to get him the best deal possible, but currently he is sitting behind bars in a county jail in Colorado Springs. He is stuck in a horrific, inhumane facility where he doesn't get to see the outdoors and is deprived of the most basic elements of liberty and dignity.

But, Robin did the right thing (because morality trumps legality), and that's more important than anything. I am proud of him as are many in both the US and Canada.

I wish you could see past your prejudice and see the truth of Robin's witness for peace. I know I've expressed a lot of anger here, but part of me feels sadness for you, because I once was where you are now.

Tenyears or so ago, I would have stood in agreement with your attacks on Robin and other war resisters, but for me, I had to change my views after being confronted with the peace teachings of Jesus Christ (namely the Sermon on the Mount). I don't know your religious/philosophical background, but I hope that you hear the message of peace from whatever source is right for you. The power of conscience is that it is universal and that it speaks to everybody. My hope and prayer is that your conscience will speak to you.

Comments (3) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Good luck fighting Robin’s case. Canada shouldn’t have extradited him and a lot of us are pulling for him.

  2. Your client has a very nebulous sense of ethics if he feels he should be allowed to enlist in an all volunteer army, receive payment, and then desert during wartime (actions which do not merit comparisons with Gandhi or Dr. King). Armies are traditionally tasked with destroying other armies as deemed necessary by the government it represents; if he has a moral compunction with killing people in opposing armies he should have pursued a career in another field not the military. More to the point to say that he has no legal obligation to serve in Iraq is absurd. Congress approved the war and on that basis the United States military and everyone who signed the enlistment contract (whether reserve or regular) has an obligation to serve in Iraq regardless of whether they agree with the war. (The contract explicitly states that expected duties and service are subject to change; presumably, a declaration of war falls under this provision.) From a legal standpoint the Nuremberg Principles are irrelevant in dealing with deserters; an enlisted man cannot declare the actions of his government illegal, particularly when the U.N. has not made an official declaration pertaining to the legality of the Iraq Invasion.

    Was the Iraq War wrong? Quite possibly. However, from the standpoint of the United States government that has no bearing on whether soldiers should be allowed to desert. If the government is not allowed to discipline its own employees for defying orders, how can it possibly maintain its authority?

  3. Thanks for your comment WillyT. I’ll respond to your post (marked in quotes) below…

    “Your client has a very nebulous sense of ethics if he feels he should be allowed to enlist in an all volunteer army, receive payment, and then desert during wartime (actions which do not merit comparisons with Gandhi or Dr. King).”

    Why not? Gandhi and King both advocated for peace and for breaking laws if one must because of conscience.

    “Armies are traditionally tasked with destroying other armies as deemed necessary by the government it represents; if he has a moral compunction with killing people in opposing armies he should have pursued a career in another field not the military.”

    I agree that a CO shouldn’t enlist, but he wasn’t opposed to all war when he enlisted. If he had, he would be guilty of fraudulent enlistment, but since his views crystalized AFTER enlistment the law recognizes that he would be eligible for CO discharged, based on the change he experienced in his beliefs.

    I would also add in Robin’s case, that he told his recruiter he objected to the Iraq war but was ok with being in the military. His recruiter promised that he would never have to go to Iraq. Robin was foolish to believe anything that a recruiter says, but he isn’t the first soldier to make that mistake.

    “More to the point to say that he has no legal obligation to serve in Iraq is absurd. Congress approved the war and on that basis the United States military and everyone who signed the enlistment contract (whether reserve or regular) has an obligation to serve in Iraq regardless of whether they agree with the war. (The contract explicitly states that expected duties and service are subject to change; presumably, a declaration of war falls under this provision.)”

    I would argue that the Iraq war violates International law. And a contract that purports to unilateraly allowe one party to change the terms at any time is not a valid contract. But againt the enlistment contract isn’t really a contract (because again it would be unenforceable under contract law principles), but rather is an agreement to voluntarily become a slave. Of course, the US Constitution’s 13th amendment prohibits slavery, except as a punishment for a crime, but thus far SCOTUS is ignoring the plain reading of the Amendment.

    “From a legal standpoint the Nuremberg Principles are irrelevant in dealing with deserters; an enlisted man cannot declare the actions of his government illegal, particularly when the U.N. has not made an official declaration pertaining to the legality of the Iraq Invasion.

    Was the Iraq War wrong? Quite possibly. However, from the standpoint of the United States government that has no bearing on whether soldiers should be allowed to desert. If the government is not allowed to discipline its own employees for defying orders, how can it possibly maintain its authority?”

    I want to write a separate blog post on this topic in the next day or so, so I’ll wait to address this point.


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