Denies Refugee Status for U.S. Deserter
A soldier who opposed the war in Iraq, saying it was illegal, will take his asylum claim to court.
From Reuters, Los Angeles Times, 25 March, 2005
TORONTO - A U.S. soldier who deserted because he opposed the war in Iraq does not qualify as a refugee and would not face excessive punishment if sent home, Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board said Thursday.
Jeremy Hinzman, 26, was the first of several U.S. deserters to file asylum claims in Canada. He fled from the 82nd Airborne Division two years ago.
Hinzman maintained that the U.S.-led war in Iraq was illegal and that he feared he would have to commit atrocities if he was sent there. His case was undercut by the refugee board's refusal to consider the legality of the war.
The ruling said Hinzman's reasons for refusing to fight in Iraq were "inherently contradictory" because he was willing to serve in a noncombat role.
"Surely an intelligent young man like Mr. Hinzman, who believed the war in Iraq to be illegal, unjust and waged for economic reasons, would be unwilling to participate in any capacity, whether combatant or noncombatant," the refugee board said.
"The Federal Court . clearly sets out that one cannot be a selective conscientious objector."
The ruling also noted that Hinzman was not opposed to war in general, given that he supported U.S. actions in Afghanistan.
The refugee board said Hinzman had not given enough evidence to indicate that he would be denied due process if sent back to the United States or face especially harsh treatment because he was a deserter.
Hinzman's lawyer immediately said he would appeal the decision to the federal courts.
The soldier, who could face five years in prison if he is returned to the United States, will be allowed to remain in Canada during the appeal. The tribunal also rejected the asylum claims of Hinzman's wife and young son.
Hinzman, who served in a noncombat role in Afghanistan, said he decided to leave after military officers ignored his requests to be registered as a conscientious objector.
The soldier, born in Rapid City, S.D., enlisted in 2000 to get college funds. In a December refugee hearing, he said he refused to go to Iraq because he was "unwilling to kill babies."
The U.S. Army has said a decision on whether to court-martial Hinzman or grant him an administrative discharge could be reached only after he returned. His appeals could take several years.
It is believed that about 100 U.S. soldiers have deserted and gone to Canada since the start of the Iraq war two years ago.