HINZMAN'S REFUGEE HEARING
day began early, with a demonstration in the snow outside 74 Victoria
Street, where the Immigration and Refugee Board is located. About 50
people turned out. There were banners from the CAW, from the Steelworkers,
there was a group of Ryerson students, a rep from the Labour Council of
Toronto, OPSEU, and of course the War Resisters Support Campaign. A
special treat was a sign from the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center
which read: South Dakotans Are Proud of Jeremy Hinzman. (Jeremy is from
Rapid City, SD).
about 9:00 AM we went inside to the hearing room, where we saw a huge
assembly of media people with cameras, microphones, and tape recorders.
They surrounded Jeremy, his spouse Nga and their 2 year old son Liam,
flashing away for about 20 minutes.
Adjudicator, Brian Goodman, came in at 10:00, and the cameras left. The
first two hours or more were taken up with laying the groundwork for the
rest of the hearing. Documents were prsented and listed as exhibits;
several decisions were made as to what would be admitted as evidence, and
Mr. Goodman set out the way the hearing would proceed. He is a soft
spoken, careful and seemingly fairminded man. Too bad he ruled that the
illegality of the Iraq war is not relevant to Jeremy's case.
It was decided that Nga and Liam could stay or leave as they wished,
Jeremy being their spokesman. There seems to be no provision at all for a
room or other place where a parent can go with a small child(ren) when the
child begins to get bored etc. This is a serious oversight in a place
where many families must go for refugee hearings.]
surprise visitor to the hearing was Randy White MP, a BC Conservative with
right wing views. He stayed all morning.]
the admin issues were dealt with, it was time for the Refugee Protection
Officer (RPO), Christina Dragaitis (?) to question Jeremy. Her job is to
be a neutral agent of the Board, clarifying the details of the refugee
claim. She spent the rest of the day (about 5 hours) doing so.
did a great job of answering the endless stream of questions,. He is
intelligent, with occasional flashes of dry wit.
RPO started her questions with Jeremy's decision to enlist in the US Army
-- he said it was on his own
initiative, he was not approached by recruiters. He was strongly motivated
by the offer of about $50,000 for university tuition on completion of his
4-year enlistment. He also wanted to be part of what he understood to be a
noble institution committed
Jan. 17, 2001, Jeremy enlisted and was flown to Fort Benning, GA, where he
went through Basic Training. He chose to be in the infantry -- what he
called the "essence of the Army".
At Ft. Benning he also attended Airborne school, where, as he put
it, he learned to "fall out of planes" (with a parachute of
in Basic Training, Jeremy began to have strong reservations about the way
the new soldiers were desensitized, through tough discipline, hard
physical effort, and chants
like "Trained to Kill, Kill We Will!" and "What Makes the
Grass Grow? Blood! Blood! Blood!" He began to understand the real
purpose of the infantry: to kill and destroy.
was a good soldier.. He won an Expert Infantry Badge and was promoted more
quickly than usual. But his
Aug.2, 2002, Jeremy, applied for Conscientious Objector (CO) Status. He
and Nga had discussed his doubts about the Army, and his growing interest
in Buddhist principles. They attended local Quaker meetings, . He wanted
to stay in the Army, but in a noncombat role.. He was willing to defend
his unit, but could not in conscience participate in offensive action. He
considered it immoral to kill human beings.
CO application was processed when Jeremy's unit was in Kandahar,
Afghanistan, where he spent a year working long hours in the mess hall.
His application was denied.
this time, the US had invaded Iraq. By summer 2003, Jeremy realized that
the invasion's "justifications" had all been exposed as
fraudulent. In December, he learned (via CNN) that his unit was about to
be sent to Iraq. Jeremy and Nga discussed his options. He would not go to
Iraq as an infantryman. A new CO application would probably be denied. He
would not be permitted to change from an infantryman to some other job.
There remained two possibilities: to go AWOL (Absent Without Leave) and
try to hide somewhere in America; or try Canada.
February 2004, Jeremy and Nga came to Canada. By doing so, Jeremy lost his
$50,000 for university. He faces immediate arrest if he returned to the
US, a probable court martial, and time in a military prison followed by a
Dishonourable Discharge and the career difficulties that brings. But he
and Nga agreed that he could not participate in a combat role in an
illegal, unjustified, and criminal war.
2 - DECEMBER
were two main segments to today's hearing: Jeremy's questioning by the
Minister of Immigration's representative, Janet Chisholm; and the
appearance of Jimmy Massey as a witness for Jeremy.
again the media were out in force, taking many photos of Jeremy, his
spouse Nga and his son Liam; and later barraging Jimmy Massey with flashes
and video cameras. The dry warmth and bright light in the room contrasted
with the thick fog that hung over the city in the morning and the heavy
rain that fell most of the day.
Chisholm started off by asking Jeremy about his unit in the Army, the 82nd
Airborne Division. Earlier he had stated that a major reason for his
deserting the Army was his concern about his possible complicity in war
crimes that might be committed there. (His unit had been ordered to go to
Iraq.) He later said that in his unit it was a common belief that all
Iraqis are terrorists, unworthy of having their rights respected. He said
he often heard that his fellow soldiers wanted to "jack up the some
terrorists" -- i.e. kill them.
Chisholm asked whether Jeremy had heard of war crimes being committed in
Iraq. He said he had -- especially from Jimmy Massey, a former Marine
Staff Sergeant who witnessed war crimes and is speaking out about what he
saw. She then asked whether Jeremy knew of war crimes committed by the
82nd Airborne itself.
line of questioning seems to be based on the idea that maybe Marines
commit war crimes, but the 82nd Airborne can be relied on not to do so.
Given that the conditions in Iraq are similar for all infantry units, this
is pretty illogical.)
then asked Jeremy some hypothetical questions: what if the Security
Council had approved the invasion of Iraq? Would you have gone then?
(Jeremy -- It didn't approve. There were no grounds for the war, not WMD,
no Al Qaeda connection.)
if there were WMD in Iraq? (Yes, then I would have gone.) What if you had
been able to go as a noncombatant -- if your Conscientious Objector
application had been approved? (Yes -- I would not have had to take part
in offensive action.
whole series of similar questions followed, probing to see whether there
were conceivable conditions under which Jeremy might have gone to Iraq;
or, alternatively, whether he might have found some other way of getting
out of the Army without deserting. Jeremy handled this barrage of
hypotheticals with his typical honesty and clarity. He made it clear that
desertion was the only realistic way of avoiding complicity in a war he
believes is immoral and illegal.
Chisholm then moved on the questions about the likelihood that Jeremy
would suffer cruel and unusual punishment if he returned to the Army to
(in the words of Globe & Mail columnist Margaret Wente) "face the
music". She claimed that deserters receive relatively mild punishment
if they return -- Camilo Mejia received a 1-year prison sentence, for
example. Jeremy stated that "even one day is too long when you
haven't done anything wrong." He also pointed out that there was no
guarantee he would get a "light" sentence.
made an important point when he stated that the current regime in the US
treats dissent more harshly than past administrations. He pointed to the
concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, where prisoners rights and dignity
are ignored. He mentioned the popular culture now prevalent in the US,
which would regard him as "treacherous". He has received threats
via his website, and according to some reports (not Jeremy's) a bounty has
been placed on his head by some gangsterish former Navy SEALs. Jeremy
expressed fear of how he might be treated in a military prison, by the
authorities and by other inmates of a "patriotic" bent.
"I'd be worried something might happen in the shower room or
something," he said.
questions from the Adjudicator, Brian Goodman, showed the isolation Jeremy
and Nga experienced as his opposition to the Iraq War grew. He did not
communicate with anyone but Nga about this -- hs fellow soldiers would
have rejected him, his chaplain would report him.
stated that he has told his story publicly in part as a safety mechanism:
he knows many people regard a refugee claim by a US citizen as
reaching out for public support he is trying to assure himself of fair
consideration and deal with
the question: "You're an American, what the hell are you doing?"
He said he strongly believes
his claim is justified, and that he will receive fair consideration from
the Refugee Board.
lunch, former Marine Staff Sergeant
Jimmy Massey came in to answer questions. Mr. Massey lives in North
Carolina with his spouse, Jackie. Both are intelligent and articulate,
speaking with a southern accent that Jimmy is sometimes self-conscious
about. He was in the Marines for 12 years, having joined in 1992. He rose
to the rank of Staff Sergeant, and commanded anywhere from 25 to 55
Marines. He had planned to make the Marines his career until he went to
spoke about several incidents that occurred as his unit took part in the
told of being ordered to set up a checkpoint
north of Naziriya. The Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) was to park
the unit's Humvees in such a way as to be able to fire on anyone who
failed to stop at the checkpoint. A "Green Zone" was
established. If a car entered it, it was ordered to halt, and a warning
shot was fired. If it stopped, it was searched, and any suspicious people
would be taken into custody. Closer to the checkpoint, a "Red
Zone" was set up, marked by a sign in Arabic (possibly incorrectly
vehicle entered the checkpoint. The driver was waving a white flag. In the
rear seat was a small apparently dead body -- a child -- wrapped in linen.
The father indicated he was going to bury the child, who had been wounded
by US bombs. When Jimmy looked more closely, he saw that the child was
still alive, just barely. But soon the boy died. The Marine medic said he
had probably bled to death internally. He was less than 7 years old.
Jimmy's platoon set up another checkpoint. They were told that there was
intelligence that fedayeen and Republican Guard troops -- in civilian
clothes -- were in the area,
that suicide bombers were active. Near the checkpoint a peaceful
demonstration by a few civilians was going on, with shouts of "Go
Home!" Over a period of hours, four different cars approached the
checkpoint. None stopped when warned. All were fired upon by the Marines.
All occupants of the cars were killed. When checked, none had any weapons,
there was no evidence of connection to terrorists. One man who jumped out
of his car with his hands up was killed. Jimmy regards these killings as
protesters continued their demonstration near an underpass some distance
away from the checkpoint, to its front. Suddenly a bullet whizzed
overhead, crossing above the Marines from somewhere to their right.
Immediately they opened fire on the demonstrators, killing all of them. On
checking, it was found that none were armed. More murder. The origin of
the stray bullet was never found.
this another Marine company was told to take over the checkpoint. Jimmy's
Company was moved away. Soon another car approached -- the new Company
opened fire, killing five people -- no weapons were found.
Baghdad, the "Red KIA
incident" took place. A red KIA approached the checkpoint, failed
to stop, and was fired upon. Three passengers were fatally wounded; the
driver, unscathed, ran around literally pulling his hair out, lamenting
his brother's death. Again, no weapons were found.
all, Jimmy estimates that in a 48
hour period, he witnessed the killing of 30 to 40 civilians, none of
whom posed a threat to the Marines, but all of whom seem to have been
confused by the checkpoint, failing to stop when "warned".
Later, he learned that the gestures and warning shots the Marines used to
get drivers to stop meant completely different things to the average
Iraqi. The "sign in Arabic" was probably not copied correctly by
the Marines, who had mass-produced them while waiting in Kuwait for the
invasion to start.
spoke about the mentality of the
Marines, trained to kill and destroy. He esplained terms like
"Free Fire Zone" and "Weapons Free Zone" -- in which
Marines are at liberty to open fire on anyone, armed or not. The
"Dead Check" is when Marines check out a prone body to see
whether the person is really dead. Often, as in a video recently shown on
TV, a Marine will "place a rounds in the head of someone who is
playing possum". Actually, Marines are supposed to check for booby
traps by looking carefully, talking to see if there is an answer, and
patting down apparently injured enemy fighters. Often they don't bother.
In all this they are protected by the Marine saying that "What
happens on the battlefield stays on the battlefield" -- a code of
silence Jimmy compared to the Mafia code of Omerta.
witnessing this orgy of killing, Jimmy became agitated, couldn't sleep,
tried to express his concerns to his fellow Marines. Eventually he was
relieved of duty, examined by a psychiatrist who diagnosed major
depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He received an Honourable
Discharge for Medical Disability. Last Saturday, at a public meeting where
Jimmy and his spouse Jackie spoke, Jackie told of his difficulty sleeping, his
shouts in the night, and other symptoms that have changed their life
together. Luckily, their love for each other has not changed.
5:00 PM the day's hearing ended. It will start again tomorrow at 9:00 AM,
and probably conclude a few hours later.