admits that more than 5,500 servicemen have deserted
Won't Go to Iraq
CBSNews.com, Wednesday 08
The Pentagon says more than 5,500 servicemen have deserted since the war
started in Iraq.
60 Minutes Wednesday found several of these deserters who left the Army or
Marine Corps rather than go to Iraq. Like a generation of deserters before
them, they fled to Canada.
What do these men, who have violated orders and oaths, have to say for
themselves? They told Correspondent Scott Pelley that conscience, not
cowardice, made them American deserters.
"I was a warrior. You know? I always have been. Iíve always felt
that way - that if there are people who canít defend themselves, itís
my responsibility to do that," says Pfc. Dan Felushko, 24.
It was Felushko's responsibility to ship out with the Marines to Kuwait in
Jan. 2003 to prepare for the invasion of Iraq. Instead, he slipped out of
Camp Pendleton, Calif., and deployed himself to Canada.
"I didnít want, you know, 'Died deluded in Iraq' over my
gravestone," says Felushko. "If I'd gone, personally, because of
the things that I believed, it would have felt wrong. Because I saw it as
wrong, if I died there or killed somebody there, that would have been more
He told Pelley it wasn't fighting that bothered him. In fact, he says he
started basic training just weeks after al Qaeda attacked New York and
Washington - and he was prepared to get even for Sept. 11 in Afghanistan.
But Felushko says he didn't see a connection between the attack on America
and Saddam Hussein.
"(What) it basically comes down to, is it my right to choose between
what I think is right and what I think is wrong?" asks Felushko.
"And nobody should make me sign away my ability to choose between
right and wrong."
But Felushko had signed a contract to be with the U.S. Marine Corps.
"It's a devil's contract if you look at it that way," he says.
How does he feel about being in Toronto while other Marines are dying in
Fallujah, Najaf and Ramadi?
"It makes me struggle with doubt, you know, about my decision,"
What does he say to the families of the American troops who have died in
"I honor their dead. Maybe they think that my presence dishonors
their dead. But they made a choice the same as I made a choice," says
Felushko. "My big problem is that, if they made that choice for
anything other than they believed in it, then that's wrong. Right? And the
government has to be held responsible for those deaths, because they
didnít give them an option."
Felushkoís father is Canadian, so he has dual citizenship, and he can
legally stay in Canada. But itís not that easy for other American
Canadian law has changed since the Vietnam era. Back then, an estimated
55,000 Americans deserted to Canada or dodged the draft. And in those
days, Canada simply welcomed them.
But todayís American deserters, such as Brandon Hughey, will need to
convince a Canadian immigration board that they are refugees.
Hughey volunteered for the Army to get money for college. He graduated
from high school in San Angelo, Texas, just two months after the president
declared war in Iraq.
What did he think about the case for going to war? "I felt it was
necessary if they did have these weapons, and they could end up in our
cities and threaten our safety," says Hughey. "I was supportive.
At first, I didn't think to question it."
He says at first, he was willing to die "to make America safe."
And while Hughey was in basic training, he didn't get much news. But when
he left basic training, he started following the latest information from
"I found out, basically, that they found no weapons of mass
destruction. They were beginning to come out and say it's not likely that
we will find any - and the claim that they made about ties to al Qaeda was
coming up short, to say the least," says Hughey. "It made me
angry, because I felt our lives were being thrown away as soldiers,
When Hughey got orders for Iraq, he searched the Internet and found
Vietnam era war resisters willing to show him the way north. In fact, they
were willing to drive him there, and a Canadian television news camera
Hughey had an invitation to stay with a Quaker couple that helped
Americans avoid the draft during Vietnam. From Fort Hood, Texas, to St.
Catherine's in Ontario, Canada, Hughey crossed the border, duty free.
Pelley read letters about Hughey's desertion that were sent to the editor
of a San Antonio newspaper.
"It makes me sad to know that there's that much hate in the
country," says Hughey. "Before I joined the Army, I would have
thought the same way. Anyone who said no to a war, I would have thought
them a traitor and a coward. So, in that essence, I'm thankful for this
experience, because it has opened my eyes and it has taught me not to take
things on the surface."
However, he adds: "I have to say that my image of my country always
being the good guy, and always fighting for just causes, has been
Hughey, and other deserters, will be represented before the Canadian
Immigration and Refugee Board by Toronto lawyer Jeffry House.
His clients will have to prove that, if they are returned to the United
States, they wouldn't just be prosecuted for what they did -Ė they would
be also be persecuted. How will House make that claim?
"People should have a right to say, 'I'm not fighting in that war.
That's an illegal war. There's illegal stuff going on the ground. I'm not
going,'" says House. "And anyone who says soldiers should go to
jail if they don't fight in an illegal war is persecuting them."
And itís something House has experience with. In 1969, he graduated from
the University of Wisconsin, got drafted, and spent the rest of his life
House's legal strategy will focus on his contention that President Bush is
not complying with international law. But how will he defend volunteers
who signed a contract?
"The United States is supposed to comply with treaty obligations like
the U.N. charter, but they donít," says House. "When the
president isnít complying with the Geneva Accords or with the U.N.
charter, are we saying, 'Only the soldier who signed up when he was 17 -
that guy has to strictly comply with contract? The president, he doesnít
have to?' I donít think so. I donít think that is fair."
The first deserter to face the Canadian refugee board is likely to be Spc.
Jeremy Hinzman of Rapid City, S.D. He joined the military in Jan. 2001,
and was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne.
He wanted a career in the military, but over time, he decided he couldní
t take a life. "I was walking to chow hall with my unit, and we were
yelling, 'Train to kill, kill we will,' over and over again," recalls
Hinzman. "I kind of snuck a peek around me and saw all my colleagues
getting red in the face and hoarse yelling - and at that point a light
went off in my head and I said, 'You know, I made the wrong career
But Hinzman said he didnít want to get out of the Army: "I had
signed a contract for four years. I was totally willing to fulfill it.
Just not in combat arms jobs."
While at Fort Bragg, Hinzman says he filled out the forms for
conscientious objector status, which would let him stay in the Army in a
While he waited for a decision, he went to Afghanistan and worked in a
kitchen. But later, the Army told him he didnít qualify as a
conscientious objector, and he was ordered to fight in Iraq.
Hinzman decided to take his family to Canada, where heís been living off
savings accumulated while he was in the military.
Wasn't he supposed to follow orders? "I was told in basic training
that, if I'm given an illegal or immoral order, it is my duty to disobey
it," says Hinzman. "And I feel that invading and occupying Iraq
is an illegal and immoral thing to do."
"But you can't have an Army of free-thinkers," says Pelley.
"You wouldn't have an Army."
"No, you wouldn't. I think there are times when militaries or
countries act in a collectively wrong way," says Hinzman. "I
mean, the obvious example was during World War II. Sure, Saddam Hussein
was a really bad guy. I mean, he ranks up there with the bad ones. But was
he a threat to the United States?
Still, isn't it worth fighting to free the people of Iraq? "Whether a
country lives under freedom or tyranny or whatever else, that's the
collective responsibility of the people of that country," says
Hinzman and the other American deserters have become celebrities of sorts
in the Canadian anti-war movement.
Only a few of the reported 5,500 deserters are in Canada, but House says
he's getting more calls from nervous soldiers all the time.
Wouldn't the right and honorable thing for deserters to do be to go back
to the United States, and turn themselves in to the Army?
"Why would that be honorable?" asks House. "(Deserters
signed a contract) to defend the Constitution of the United States, not
take part in offensive, pre-emptive wars. I don't think you should be
punished for doing the right thing. What benefit is there to being a
martyr? I donít see any."
Hinzman began his hearing before the Canadian Immigration and Refugee
board last Monday. But there's no telling when he'll find out if he'll be
allowed to stay in Canada - or be sent back to the United States to face
The maximum penalty for deserting in wartime is death. But it's more
typical for a soldier to draw a sentence of five years or less for
deserting in wartime.
By Tom Raum The Associated Press, Friday 10 December 2004
Washington - Soldiers always gripe. But confronting the defense secretary,
filing a lawsuit over extended tours and refusing to go on a mission
because it's too dangerous elevate complaining to a new level.
It also could mean a deeper problem for the Pentagon: a lessening of faith
in the Iraq mission and in a volunteer army that soldiers can't leave.
The hubbub over an exchange between Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld
and soldiers in Kuwait has given fresh ammunition to critics of the Bush
administration's Iraq policy.
It also highlighted growing morale and motivation problems in the
21-month-old war that even some administration supporters say must be
addressed to get off a slippery slope that could eventually lead to
breakdowns reminiscent of the Vietnam War.
For thousands of years, soldiers have grumbled about everything from their
commanders to their equipment to shelter and food. But challenging a
defense secretary to his face is rare. So is suing the military to keep
from being sent back to a combat zone.
"We are seeing some unprecedented things. The real fear is that these
could be tips of a larger iceberg," said P.J. Crowley, a retired
colonel who served as a Pentagon spokesman in both Republican and
Democratic administrations and was a White House national security aide in
the Clinton administration.
"The real issue is not any one of these things individually. It's
what the broader impact will be on our re-enlistment rates and our
retention," Crowley said.
Several Iraq-bound soldiers confronted Rumsfeld on Wednesday at a base in
Kuwait about a lack of armor for their Humvees and other vehicles, about
second-hand equipment and about a policy keeping many in Iraq far beyond
enlistment contracts. Their pointed questions were cheered by others in
The episode - the questions and Rumsfeld's testy responses were captured
by television cameras and widely reported - did not raise new issues.
Complaints about inadequate protection against insurgents' roadside bombs
and forced duty extensions have been sounded for months. But not so
President Bush and Rumsfeld offered assurances that the issues of armor
and equipment were being dealt with, and that the plainspoken expression
of concerns by soldiers was welcome.
"I'd want to ask the defense secretary the same question," Bush
said, if the president were a soldier in overseas combat. "They
deserve the best," he added.
The display of brazenness in Kuwait came just two days after eight U.S.
soldiers in Kuwait and Iraq filed a lawsuit challenging the military's
"stop loss" policy, which allows the extension of active-duty
deployments during times of war or national emergencies.
In October, up to 19 Army reservists from a unit based in South Carolina
refused orders to drive unarmored trucks on a fuel supply mission along
attack-prone roads near Baghdad, contending it was too dangerous. The
Pentagon is still investigating the incident.
"Tensions obviously are rising," said Anthony Cordesman, a
military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and
a former adviser to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
"The fact is that you do need now to consider how to change the force
structure: the role of the reserves, the role of the actives. Troops are
being deployed in continuing combat under what are often high risk
conditions for far longer periods than anyone had previously considered or
When the war began in March 2003, the troops were predominantly active
duty military. Today, National Guard and Army Reserve units make up about
40 percent of the force.
The growing restiveness of U.S. troops in the Middle East echoes a drop in
optimism at home that a stable, democratic government can be established
in Iraq. A new poll for The Associated Press by Ipsos-Public Affairs shows
that 47 percent of Americans now think it's likely Iraq can establish such
a government, down from 55 percent in April.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan on Friday said that Bush "is
committed to making sure our troops have the best equipment and all the
resources they need to do their jobs. And that's exactly what he expects
Tom Raum has covered national and international affairs for The
Associated Press since 1973.