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Robin Long, War Resister Deported from Canada, Faces Trial This Week

The first war resister to be deported from Canada since the Vietnam War faces court-martial and three years in jail. Who is next?
 
 
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Three years ago, Robin Long fled to Canada rather than fight a war in Iraq he deems immoral. Just over a month ago, the Canadian government forcibly returned Long to U.S. military custody, making him the first war resister deported from Canadian soil since the Vietnam War.

Long now faces court-martial and the possibility of three years in prison. Meanwhile, another war resister living in Canada, Jeremy Hinzman, received a deportation notice a few days ago, and other war resisters in Canada wonder if they will be next.
The Canadian government's actions flaunt its long-standing tradition of providing safe haven for U.S. war resisters and ignore widespread grassroots efforts in that country to protect U.S. soldiers seeking sanctuary.

Long is a part of a growing movement of GI resistance against the Iraq War, and his case has been met with widespread support from friends and allies throughout the United States and Canada.

Who is Robin Long?

Born in Boise, Idaho, Robin Long was raised in a military family, playing with G.I. Joes and dreaming of one day joining the service. Upon enlisting in the Army in June 2003, the recruiter promised that Long would not be sent to Iraq. Long was excited about this chance to serve his country and finally make something with his life, and he headed off for basic training feeling he had made the right decision. "When the United States first attacked Iraq, I was told by my president that it was because of direct ties to al Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction," Long told Courage to Resist in an interview in January. "At the time, I believed what was being said."

Over the next few months, Long's enthusiasm began to wane. His drill sergeant repeatedly referred to Iraqi people as "ragheads" and led the troops in racist cadences. When Long protested, he was punished by senior officers and alienated by his peers. At this point, Long began to suffer a crisis of conscience. "I was hearing on mainstream media that the U.S. was going to Iraq to get the weapons of mass destruction and to liberate the Iraqi people, yet I'm being taught that I'm going to the desert to, excuse the racial slur, 'kill ragheads.'"

After basic training, Long was transferred to the nondeployable base at Fort Knox. Upon meeting soldiers returning from Iraq, Long was horrified by their stories of violence and brutality. Soldiers bragged about their "first kills" and showed pictures of people they shot or ran over with tanks. "I had a really sick feeling to my stomach when I heard about these things that went on," he said.

In 2005, Long received orders to go to Iraq. The only soldier to be deployed from his unit, a nondeployable unit, Long received a month's leave to check out of Fort Knox and report to Fort Carson, Colo. He was scheduled to report to Iraq a few weeks later.

While on leave, Long educated himself about the "behind the scenes" story of the Iraq invasion. He talked to friends about whether to go through with his deployment. By his scheduled departure day, Long had made the decision not to go. He skipped his flight and stayed in a friend's basement in Boise over the next few months. From there he caught a ride to Canada. "I knew that my conscience couldn't allow me to go over there (to Iraq)," he said.

Long spent the next three years building a life for himself in Canada. He met a woman, had a child and established contact with other war resisters in Canada. Long applied for refugee status on the grounds that he was being asked to participate in an illegal war and would suffer irreparable harm if he returned to the United States. Not only was his bid rejected, but Canadian authorities responded by mandating that Long report his whereabouts every month. He eventually settled in Nelson, a small town in British Columbia.

Deportation Orders

Robin Long found his new life in Canada to be increasingly precarious.

He was issued a warrant for arrest by the Canadian Border Services Agency on July 4 of this year, on the grounds that he did not adequately report his whereabouts to the authorities, and he was told a few days later that he would be deported to the United States. Long appealed the order, and his supporters rallied throughout the United States and Canada, urging Canadian authorities to let him stay. Despite these efforts, Long was deported on July 15, after the judge ruled that he would not suffer irreparable harm if returned to the United States.

Long now sits in the El Paso County Jail near Colorado Springs, Colo., awaiting a court-martial for desertion "with intent to remain away permanently," a charge that carries a maximum of three years of confinement, forfeiture of pay and dishonorable discharge. His trial is set for Friday, Aug. 22, and it is expected to move quickly, with his unit command hoping to convict him as rapidly as possible. Despite these grim prospects, Long remains in good spirits, according to Buff Whitman-Bradley, a volunteer with Courage to Resist who regularly corresponds with him. "He feels more strongly now than ever that he is right," said Whitman-Bradley, "and he is willing to accept the consequences, whatever they might be."

Long's family remains in Canada, and he worries about the separation, which could last a number of years. "I have a son I wouldn't be able to see. It's kind of hard to think about that," he told Courage to Resist.

Grassroots Support for Iraq War Resisters

The government's policy of deporting U.S. soldiers is unpopular with the Canadian people. Canada is home to an estimated 200 U.S. soldiers who have refused to serve in the Iraq War, and 64 percent of Canadians favor granting them permanent residence, according to a June 27 Angus Reid Strategies poll. The Canadian House of Commons passed a resolution on June 3 calling for a halt to the deportation of U.S. war resisters and allowing them to apply for permanent residency in Canada. The ruling came after months of organizing by grassroots and political supporters of Long and other war resisters.

However, the resolution amounted to nothing more than a recommendation; it was nonbinding, and it did not prevent Canadian authorities from deporting Long -- and also moving to deport Hinzman, who was the first U.S. soldier to seek refugee status in Canada. Corey Glass, another war resister living in Canada, is also fighting a deportation order issued last month. Glass won a stay of reprieve while his case moves through the Canadian courts after his supporters held rallies at 14 Canadian consulates throughout the United States.

Critics regard the flurry of deportations and threats as an effort by Canada's right-wing Harper government to appease the United States. Since his conservative government won election in 2006, Stephen Harper has established a cozy relationship with the U.S. government and shown sympathy to U.S. policy in Iraq.

"Canada is supposedly not participating in the war against Iraq," said Whitman-Bradley. "Yet, by sending soldiers back, they are supporting the war."

"The deportation of Robin Long is a gift from Harper to the Bush administration," said Gerry Condon, a Vietnam War resister and active supporter of the GI movement against the Iraq War. "This is one neo-conservative supporting another."

The Harper administration's policies have been devastating to Robin Long. It has been difficult, too, for his friends and allies, who remain determined to support him and other Iraq War resisters. "None of us should have to go to jail for standing up for what we believe in and refusing to fight in an immoral war," said Ryan Johnson, a friend of Long's and himself an Iraq War resister living in Canada. "He is the first one of us to be deported to the United States, and that has a lot of significance up here in Canada."

A Growing Movement Against the War

The high profile of Long's case is also a sign of the growing significance of the GI movement against the Iraq War. As the war effort becomes increasingly unpopular, more and more soldiers are speaking publicly against the invasion and refusing to serve out their contracts, with high-ranking military officials like Ehren Watada publicly denouncing military atrocities, despite facing harsh penalties for doing so.

Meanwhile, Iraq War veterans are teaming up with war resisters and other civilian and veteran supporters to build the GI movement against the war. Iraq Veterans Against the War, whose membership consists of people who have served in the U.S. military since 9/11, has been active in supporting Long and other war resisters. Several other groups, such as Courage to Resist and the War Resisters Support Campaign (Canada), have risen to support soldiers willing to take a stand. The orders for Long's deportation were met with protests throughout the United States and Canada.

"Veterans and war resisters are beginning to see that they are in the same boat, that they are brothers and sisters, and it is one struggle," said Condon. "The fact that people are showing this kind of solidarity with each other is really profound. Resistance within the military is certainly growing."

Despite the steep punishments he faces, Long says he wouldn't have it any other way. "Regardless of what hardships I go through, I could have easily put a family or someone else in that country through way more hardship," he said. "I have no regrets."

Sarah Lazare is the project director of Courage to Resist , an organization that supports military war resisters.