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Iraq War Deserters Speak Out

Three young U.S. servicemen currently living in Canada explain why they refused to return to Iraq.
 
 
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Jeremy Hinzman, 26

My name is Jeremy Hinzman. I was a specialist with the 82nd Airborne division.

I'm from South Dakota, from an area where there were not many jobs. I went through school believing that you got to be part of something bigger than yourself. I was also looking for structure and a sense of focus in my life. I didn't just want to make money; I wanted to do something meaningful, and the Army fit the bill on all of those accounts.

I thought that I might be sent to places like Grenada, Honduras or Panama. I knew that something else could happen, and that I maybe would be sent to war. I wasn't naïve in that respect. What I didn't know -- or understand at the time -- was how deeply repulsed I am by the prospect of taking somebody else's life. Even after going through the Army training, all those systematic processes put in place to make you overcome your moral barriers and kill another person, no matter how hard I tried -- and I assure you I tried very hard -- I couldn't bring myself to believe that killing could ever be justified.

I really liked the Army, the people I worked with, and I wanted to be a part of it all. I was really disappointed with myself that I couldn't be part of it. I applied first for conscientious objector status. The Army turned me down based on my answers to questions that they were not even supposed to ask. They asked me if I would help defend our camp in Kandahar -- at the time of my application I was serving in Afghanistan -- if it came under attack by the Taliban. "Would you help immobilize a burglar if you discovered that your house is being burglarized?" I answered.

In my mind these were two different situations. Preparing an attack requires a different logic. You don't just happen to carry out a raid on enemy positions. You start preparing well ahead of the action, first on white screen, then on a model of the terrain, and then you drill your action in the camp over and over again, sometimes for weeks. But they used my answer about the burglary as a reason for rejecting my request.

After that, I applied for non-combatant status. You see, I didn't want to leave the Army. But that application was denied, too. So I was left with the prospect of going to Iraq, to continue killing in another country, and this based on a false pretense. There were not weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; there was not a connection between the Baathist Party, al-Qaeda and other Islamic fundamentalists. And the notion of going in to establish a government friendly toward the U.S. didn't seem to me to be very much like fighting for democracy.

I was faced with arbitrary military justice and the possibility of going to Iraq to take part in acts of human rights violations. In a series of long, painful discussion, my wife and I decided to seek refugee status in Canada, a country that has a history of welcoming war resisters. It was a momentous decision that may mean that we will never be able again to go back to America.

Now we're waiting for the result of our appeal to Canadian Federal Court to overturn the decision to reject my application for refugee status taken by Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board. They decide based on the Geneva Convention on Refugees. The convention establishes that a soldier can refuse to participate in a war condemned by the international community and deemed illegal, which I think is the case with the war in Iraq.

Daryl Anderson, 22

I'm from Lawton, Ky. I was stationed in Eastern Germany with the Army. On Jan. 15, 2004, my contingent was sent to Iraq. We stayed in Baghdad for seven months, where I was wounded and awarded a Purple Heart. After that I was sent back to Germany, where I trained for six months for another tour of duty in Iraq. On Christmas, on leave in the U.S., I decided that I couldn't go back to Germany and from there to Iraq. If I went back to Baghdad I would have been asked again to kill people, civilians, and I just couldn't do that anymore.

I got in the Army to get an education, to get out of a bad neighborhood. Yes, I eventually got it, but at a great price.

First steps you take in Baghdad, you realize that there's death and destruction all over the place. No weapons of mass destruction in sight. We're fighting people that we're supposed to help, but in fact they hate you and every time you walk down the street they shoot at you because you occupy their country. You're asked to get in their houses, in their businesses, block the roads, but you're an occupying power, you're messing up their daily life. You're not a liberator. You raid their houses and kill their family.

If I was in their position, if a foreign power had occupied the U.S., I would do the same. I don't mean to say that they should kill American soldiers, but if I were an Iraqi I would be fighting alongside my neighbor to free my country and to defend my family, my house.

Because you're in Iraq in a kind of war situation and unable to distinguish friends from foe, you adopt these drastic measures. You commit these crimes, these acts that you would never do under normal conditions. And even though in your unit everybody is against what you're doing, nobody can say anything because you'll end up in jail. That's not what I had imagined when I enlisted.

Ivan Brobeck, 19

I was in the Marines. I joined in June 2003, and after boot camp in March of 2004 I was sent directly to Iraq. This wasn't at all unsettling to me. You see, I went into the Army because I wanted to fight the bad guys. In school during history classes I learned that the Army and the Marines had done all these wonderful things, and it all sounded so patriotic and I wanted to do the same. I wanted to fight for freedom.

I didn't care, and I still don't care, if I died fighting for a good and noble cause, which is what I wanted to do.

In Iraq, I found myself being the problem instead of the solution. A problem in a normal town, in the life of normal people, like the people here in Toronto, trying to go about their life and risking getting shot at by me. Innocent people getting killed for misunderstandings, and for even more trivial things. I found myself in situations with my partners where we had to shoot at speeding cars, at people that probably were just trying to get out of our way.

All these insurgents, as they call them -- they're not. They're people who have nothing left. There was this guy who was mad at us because we had killed his family. Wife, children; everybody but him had been killed. He was seeking some kind of retribution. That is not an insurgent -- that's a desperate man.

My ethnic background is Salvadoran; my mom is from El Salvador. So the fight against tyranny is something that is dear to me, considering the history of El Salvador. I believed that the war in Iraq was a just war, and it was not. Now, before I get involved again, I really have to see somebody overcoming my country with weapons in hand.

Pacific News Service contributor Paolo Pontoniere is a correspondent for Focus, Italy's leading monthly magazine.