Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Gerry Condon, was originally published in ZMagazine, March 23, 2008
When Private Jeremy Hinzman crossed the border into Canada in January 2004, he became the first AWOL GI to seek refugee status there. The U.S. Army had denied his request to serve in a non-combat role as a Conscientious Objector. They forced him into a tour in Afghanistan, and then ordered him to deploy to Iraq. Four years after fleeing the country, Hinzman, his wife and one-year-old son are facing the possibility of deportation back to the United States.
In March 2005 Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board denied Hinzman’s refugee claim. Notoriously conservative in its determinations, the Refugee Board refused to consider the illegality of the Iraq War and declared that the court-martial and imprisonment that awaited Hinzman in the U.S. did not amount to “persecution” for his political beliefs.
Brandon Hughey, the second AWOL GI to seek refuge in Canada, was also denied refugee status, as have at least a dozen other U.S. war resisters—and counting.
Although Canada has never granted refugee status to anyone fleeing persecution in the United States, Hinzman, Hughey, and their Canadian supporters continued undaunted in their quest for political refugee status. Their lawyer, Vietnam War resister Jeffry House, appealed in Canada’s Federal Courts, eventually going all the way to the Supreme Court. But on November 15, 2007 the Supreme Court of Canada announced that it would not hear the war resisters’ appeals.
Seeking refugee status, however, “was never the only arrow in our quiver,” says Lee Zaslofsky, coordinator of the War Resisters Support Campaign, and one of 30,000 Vietnam War resisters who have become Canadian citizens. “We have pursued a two-track strategy from the beginning. Even while we fought in the courts for refugee status, we were working on the political front to build popular support for sanctuary and to win the support of the various political parties.”
The war resisters’ political strategy bore its first fruit last December 6 in Canada’s House of Commons. After hearing eloquent testimony from former U.S. Army Sergeant Phillip McDowell, along with representatives of the Mennonites and Quakers, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration adopted a motion calling on the government to allow war resisters to stay in Canada. The motion, which also calls for a halt to deportation proceedings, passed by a 7-4 vote, with all of the opposition parties united against the ruling Conservatives.
The Committee’s motion, which was broadened to include resisters of all wars not sanctioned by the UN, reads as follows: “The Committee recommends that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already com- menced against such individuals.
The passage of this motion was the first good news they had received in some time. “This shows a willingness of the opposition parties in Canada’s Parliament to come together to ensure that none of these resisters is returned to the U.S. where they face court martials, incarceration, and possible deployment to Iraq,” said Zaslofsky.
Campaign organizer Michelle Robidoux sounded a more cautionary note. “I want to make sure that nobody leaves thinking that this is won. It’s very important that we understand that now the work begins…. [The passage of this motion] does not mean that people can stay immediately. It means that there is a political opening here—it’s a significant poli- tical opening.”
“What we need,” continued Zaslofsky, “is for the Liberal Party as a whole to take a stance on this. Together (the three parties) have a majority and if they act together they can put something through the House of Commons.
Poll Reveals Support
Coming only weeks after the disappointing decision by the Supreme Court, the Committee’s affirmative vote felt like a miracle. But it was no fluke. For four years the War Resisters Support Campaign, comprised of unions, churches, artists, and activists, has been organizing across Canada with the slogan “Let Them Stay.” The war resisters themselves have spoken hundreds of times, collectively, in community meetings and in the media.
Demonstrations were held across Canada and the U.S. in support of war resisters, January 25-26, 2007—photo from www.resisters.ca
The extent of the Campaign’s success was demonstrated in a June 2007 poll showing that nearly two-thirds of the people of Ontario supported the war resisters. Of the 605 Ontarians who responded to the pollsters’ questions, 64.6 percent said U.S. soldiers should be allowed to settle in Canada while only 27.2 percent said they should be sent home. The poll results were broken down by gender, age, location, and party support. Each demographic was supportive of the war resisters, with 74 percent of NDP voters, 71 percent of Liberal voters, and even 53 percent of Conservative voters saying, “Let them settle in Canada.”
Shirley Douglas, a Canadian actor and mother of actor Keifer Sutherland, agreed. “This poll shows that the Canadian tradition of welcoming Americans who dissent from the policies of war is still important to us,” said Douglas. “The Canadian government should move now to make it possible for war resisters to settle in this country as so many did during the Vietnam War.”
U.S. war resisters in Canada are very encouraged by this showing of popular and parliamentary support. The Committee’s motion must now be put before the entire House of Commons where it is hoped that the opposition parties will once again unite to pass it.
In the meantime, Jeremy Hinzman has received his Pre-Removal Risk Assessment. His case is being reviewed and within months he may be given an order to leave Canada. On yet another track, Hinzman is appealing to the Immigration Minister to allow him to remain in Canada on “Humanitarian and Compassionate” grounds, along with his wife, Nga Nguyen, and their son, Liam, now five, who has spent most of his life in Canada.
“It’s great that people all across Canada and the U.S. are coming out to show support for the war resisters,” said Patrick Hart, a former sergeant in the U.S. Army who came to Canada in 2005 with his family. “My family could be told we have to go back to the States anytime now. My wife Jill and I just want to be able to live here in peace and raise our son, Rian. We hope that the politicians will let us do that.”
Hart and fellow resisters Robin Long and Corey Glass have all received their Pre-Removal Risk Assessments, a step toward deportation.
While a majority of Conservative party voters in the Ontario poll were sympathetic to the plight of U.S. war resisters, that is not the position of the minority Conservative government. In 2003, Stephen Harper, Canada’s current prime minister, was a vocal proponent of Canada joining the U.S. war against Iraq. Fortunately, a sizable majority of the Canadian people saw things differently and the Liberal government at the time declined President Bush’s invitation to join the “Coalition of the Willing.” Harper now denies he ever supported the Iraq War.
But Canada’s Conservative prime minister is an ardent advocate for the U.S.-initiated war in Afghansistan, where Canadian soldiers are an important part of the NATO deployment. The previous Liberal government first sent troops to Afghanistan in 2001 and Harper’s Conservatives have extended that mission until February 2009 and are pursuing an additional extension, while exhorting the European members of NATO to send additional troops.
With more and more Canadian troops dying in Afghanistan, and a scandal raging over the torture of prisoners captured by Canadians and handed over to Afghan (and possibly U.S.) forces, the majority of Canadians are against this war. In fact, opposition to the Afghanistan War may be a major factor in forcing a federal election, possibly as early as this spring. Ultimately, it may take a change at the top of the Canadian government to ensure a safe haven for war resisters. With the Liberal Party in disarray, however, progressive Canadians worry that the Conservatives might return to power.
U.S. Antiwar Movement Joins Sanctuary Campaign
So it was with a mixture of optimism and urgency that the War Resisters Support Campaign organized a “pan-Canadian” day of action on Saturday, January 26, two days before the Parliament would reconvene. Events were held in at least 11 Canadian cities—from Victoria, British Columbia to Halifax, Nova Scotia. People listened to speeches, watched antiwar films, and wrote letters to government officials and party leaders. In several cities, they marched to the post office and made a show of mailing the letters.
In Toronto, the Bloor Street United Church filled up with hundreds of supporters. When Jeremy Hinzman was introduced, the crowd greeted him with a prolonged standing ovation. He then reminded listeners of the reasons he came to Canada in the first place and thanked the Canadian people for their tremendous support.
In the U.S., the war resister advocacy group Courage To Resist coordinated solidarity actions on Friday, January 25 to coincide with the pan-Canadian actions. Vigils were held outside Canadian Consulates in New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC. Delegations met with Consular officials and delivered copies of thousands of names of people in the U.S. who have signed petitions and letters to the Canadian government.
Significantly, the January 25 vigils and delegations were the first nationally coordinated actions in the U.S. in support of our war resisters in Canada. Groups that joined Courage to Resist and the War Resisters Support Campaign in making this a successful day included Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, War Resisters League, Iraq Veterans Against the War, DECOI, Veterans for Peace, Raging Grannies, Project Safe Haven, Twin Cities Peace Campaign, Truth in Recruiting, Payday men’s network, Global Women’s Strike, North Texas for Justice and Peace, United for Peace and Justice, and others.
United For Peace and Justice promoted these actions via email to its entire national membership. Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) did the same, and IVAW members were front and center at many of the vigils around the country.
“As veterans of the Iraq war, we have a special role to play in supporting our war resisters,” said Chanan Suarez-Diaz, president of the Seattle chapter of IVAW. “Whether they are in Canada, Germany, or the U.S., whether they are AWOL, in the brig, on active duty, or in legal limbo like Lt. Ehren Watada, they need and deserve all of our support.”
Many of the resisters are, of course, also Iraq veterans themselves. They survived one tour but went AWOL when ordered back a second time. IVAW members have made several trips to Canada to visit their fellow veterans and they are making arrangements for some of them to testify via satellite television at the Winter Soldier hearings being organized for March 13-16 in Washington, DC. Iraq veterans are also mobilizing members and supporters to reach out to active duty GI’s, including at Fort Lewis, Washington.
War Resisters Still Coming To Canada
Estimates of the number of U.S. war resisters in Canada range from 200-300. Approximately 50 of them have applied for refugee status.
AWOL GIs continue to make the trek north. They can still enter Canada as visitors and then apply for refugee status, which gives them immediate legal status in Canada as long as their refugee claim is pending, possibly a year or more. Refugee claimants are eligible for social assistance in some provinces and for Canada’s free national healthcare.
War resisters thinking of coming to Canada are advised to call the War Resisters Support Campaign so that Canadian supporters know they are on their way. This is increasingly important because Canadian border guards at some points of entry are reportedly profiling AWOL soldiers and discouraging them from entering, even putting them on the phone with their commanding officers. In such a case, a war resister can claim refugee status right at the border, and the Canadian authorities will respect this. Otherwise, it is preferable to enter Canada and see a Canadian lawyer before making a refugee claim.
“This is a complicated business,” says Zaslofsky. “Actually, the first thing we tell people who call for advice is to call the GI Rights Hotline and find out all their options.”
Some AWOL GIs may actually be eligible to be discharged from the military without further punishment, and experienced counselors can help them do that. Such an outcome is arguably preferable to an uncertain future in Canada without the ability to travel home to the U.S. to visit family or friends.
In case Canada does deport war resisters back to the U.S., the antiwar movement must be prepared to defend them, legally and politically. Some might call it amnesty. Some might call it justice or human rights or solidarity. The bottom line is that nobody should be punished for refusing to fight in an unjust war. By energetically supporting all war resisters, we can help bring an end to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and make it more difficult to launch such wars in the future. That should be our goal.
Iraq and Afghanistan Soldiers Testify at "Winter Soldier 2008", Day One
Posted, by Elaine Brower, to Op Ed News, March 13, 2008
In 1971 Viet Nam Veterans’ Against the War (VVAW) conducted a testimonial based on the atrocities and horrors they participated in during their time “In Country.” They called it Winter Soldier, inspired by Revolutionary War hero Thomas Paine’s call for patriots to act for their country in times of crisis.
Some of us remember the days when revolution was in the air, when we had a civil rights movement, women “burning” their bras, a sexual revolution, and a very powerful anti-war movement. Events such as the assassinations of prominently outspoken Americans, as well as students being shot at during Kent State protests, moved the masses of people into a state of upheveal.
Veterans returning from the war in “Nam” were joining in the loud voices to end the war. They did it by forming a strong organization, using their anger and throwing their medals over
Then came Detroit when they converged to speak about the horrors of the war. The testimonials were graphic, real and heartwrenching, but it went almost unnoticed. The pro-war right called them liars and cowards, and succeeded in almost destroying the validity of the statements made by returning vets.
Now, 37 years later, Iraq Veteran’s Against the war (IVAW) has decided to recreate in a style that is all their own, new and hip, a Winter Soldier II shining a light once again on the horrors and atrocities of war.
Today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., 6 veterans spoke to a room packed with cameras and reporters from every outlet, politically left to right. The announcement was to kick-off the next 3 days of testimonials from over 200 veterans and GI’s from around the country who will be recounting a particularly personal misery that they witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The media was gentle on the panel, considering what the next few days would uncover. One particular reporter asked about IVAW’s connection with CodePink and A.N.S.W.E.R. and if those particular organizations had sponsored the work of IVAW. Kelly Doherty, former MP in Iraq, and Executive Director of IVAW, stood up at the microphone with her serious stare, calm demeanor and beautiful porcelin skin and green eyes, and eloquently told the reporter that from the inception of the organization, VFP had helped support them in their fledging moments in 2004. She, along with 3 other Veterans, had stood on a stage in Boston, denouncing the war. Some members did protest alongside anti-war groups such as those mentioned, and many others, but their closest affiliation and allies were groups such as Veterans for Peace, Military Families and VVAW.
In the evening, live broadcasting took place and a panel discussion with some of the “oldies but goodies” took place. Barry Romo, original founder of VVAW and union organizer for the last 39 years, David Cortwright, author and historian of the GI resistance in Viet Nam, Tod Ensign, longtime veteran’s rights activist and Gerald Nicosia, friend of Ron Kovic, author of “Born on the 4th of July” and wounded in Viet Nam.
Ron Kovic’s statement was read to the crowd and his passion for supporting this new group of resister’s was overwhelming. He said that by stepping forward “they were not just saving lives, they were saving the life of our nation.” Kovic expressed his disbelief that he is now seeing all over again what happened back when he was fighting an illegal and immoral war, and that the empire must be broken with this new generation of resistance fighters.
David Cortwright author of “Soldiers in Revolt,” agreed that only with resistance from within the military who “listen to their conscience” would end this war, as this resistance ultimately did that in Viet Nam.
Tod Ensign, Director of Citizen Soldier, author and supporter of the Different Drummer Café (www.differentdrummer.com) in upstate New York formed to replicate the coffee houses of the 60’s, passionately spoke of the young breed of soldiers he is meeting who eerily remind him of the past. He spoke of the similiarities between the anti-war candidate Richard Nixon, and his “secret plan” to end the war and those 2 democratic candidates who also have a plan to end the occupation of Iraq, but he says “who the hell knows what that is!”
Of course Barry Romo, being a labor organizer for 35 years, was much less eloquent in his speech, but had the audience riveted in the stories of the past. He witnessed the war in “Nam”, testified in the first Winter Soldier, and can only be described as a great colorful character. One story he recounted was the patch that signifies the VVAW, an upside-down rifle with a helmet on top, on red fabric. He remembered when they created that patch and had them made in East Asian countries such as Japan and the Philippines. The patches were “churned out by the thousands” and were worn by soldiers “in country.” He mentioned that in 1968 the North Vietnamese issued a statement, which is little know today, that “if any NV soldier sees an upside-down rifle patch on any soldier’s uniform, they will not shoot them.”
What Winter Soldier could mean to the current political situation in this Country is a complete unknown. All the testimonials will be broadcast live, and also streaming on the internet (see schedule at www.IVAW.org/wintersoldier). The members of IVAW are prepared for having their stories attacked, belittled and turned against them, as happened in 1971. However, these next few days could represent a turning point that we have all been waiting for.
It is up to those of us in the anti-war movement, and there are millions of us who are against this occupation of Iraq, and escalating rhetoric of war with Iran, to promote the events of the next few days in a way that we have never done before. Word must get out to the impenetrable wall of the corporate media, to those on the street who don’t even know what IVAW is, and to the young men and women in this country who are on the verge of walking up to that recruiter and signing on the dotted line.
We are ready for Day 2, the full testimonials.
"To stop this war, for the soldiers to stop fighting it, they must have the unconditional support of the people. ...
How do you support the troops but not the war? By supporting those who can truly stop it; let them know that resistance to participate in an illegal war is not futile and not without a future." (Lt. Ehren Watada, first US officer to refuse to go to Iraq - facing 7 years in prison. His court-martial ended in a mistrial but he is still in legal limbo).
The Winter Soldier hearings are modeled on the 1971 event of the same name organized by anti-war veterans who galvanized the movement that ended the Vietnam war.
Wherever we are, we all suffer from war: the utter theft of our lives and resources. Our survival often depends on soldiers saying “No”!
Soldiers – women and men – who refuse to kill, maim, rape and torture are jailed, assaulted and forced underground. But they have the right and the duty to obey their conscience rather than military orders. With supporters and campaigns, so often organized by women, more and more are determined not to be commanded into killing.
Tune in, come to our public showing or organize yours in houses, community centres, places of worship, trade-union branches, Post your event on IVAW’s website and tell us so we can put it on our website too.
Write a statement of support for the hearings on IVAW’s website. Send a copy to Payday for our website. If you are a conscientious objector/refusenik or relative of someone in the military tell about your experience. Let Winter Soldier know that the world supports them!