TORONTO – A U.S. Army paratrooper who fled to Canada to avoid serving in Iraq was denied political asylum Thursday, dealing a blow to other deserters here who argue such duty would force them to commit atrocities against civilians.
An immigration board ruled that Jeremy Hinzman (search) had not convinced its members he would face persecution or cruel and unusual punishment if returned to the United States.
Seven other American military personnel have applied for refugee status, and Hinzman's lawyer estimated dozens of others are in hiding in Canada waiting to see how the government ruled. The attorney, Jeffry House (search), said Hinzman would appeal the ruling.
House said at a news conference that the Immigration and Refugee Board had not allowed him to argue that the war in Iraq is illegal and would make that complaint before a federal appeals court.
He said there were many problems with the ruling, describing it as filled with "deference" to the United States.
Immigration and Refugee Board member Brian Goodman, who wrote the ruling, said Hinzman might face some employment and social discrimination. But "the treatment does not amount to a violation of a fundamental human right, and the harm is not serious," he wrote.
Canada has long opposed American wars; former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (search) declared his homeland "a refuge from militarism" during the Vietnam War and allowed the 30,000 to 50,000 American draft dodgers to settle here. Ottawa also opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, but is also seeking to ease badly strained relations between the two governments.
Hinzman could face charges of desertion if sent home and would face up to five years in prison. He and seven other U.S. military deserters are being represented by House, a Wisconsin native who came to Canada in 1970 to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War.
The Pentagon has urged the deserters to return to the United States and take up their concerns at their respective military bases.
"We are an Army serving a nation at war," the Army said in a statement after Thursday's ruling. "Each of us volunteered to serve, and the vast majority serve honorably. AWOL and desertion are crimes that go against Army values, degrade unit readiness and, in a time of war, may put the lives of other soldiers at risk."
Hinzman, 26, lives with his wife and young son in Toronto, where Quakers and the War Resisters coalition of anti-war groups have taken on his cause and provided some shelter.
Currently a bicycle messenger, Hinzman told an anti-war rally after the announcement that he would continue to fight for his right to remain in Canada, as well as the seven other young men seeking refugee status.
"Canada has a history for being a haven for people of conscience," he said. "Hopefully that legacy will continue."
He fled from Fort Bragg (search), N.C., in January 2004, weeks before his 82nd Airborne Division was due to go to Iraq. He had served three years in the Army, but had applied for conscientious objector status before his unit was sent to Afghanistan in 2002.
Hinzman argued before the board in December that he would have had to take part in war crimes if he went to Iraq, saying the war there is illegal. He said he would be persecuted if forced to return to the United States.
Hinzman also testified he had been willing to fulfill his full four-year obligation to the Army, but not to participate in combat.
"I find Mr. Hinzman's position to be inherently contradictory," Goodman said in the ruling. "Surely an intelligent young man like Mr. Hinzman, who believes the war in Iraq to be illegal, unjust and waged for economic reasons, would be unwilling to participate in any capacity, whether as combatant or noncombatant."
Hinzman's lawyer estimated as many as 100 American war resisters are hiding in Canada, waiting to see how Hinzman's case is played out before coming forward.
During the Vietnam era, young American men could be drafted into military service, but now enlistment in U.S. military is voluntary. The military attracts many young recruits with job skills training and programs that help pay for university.
Five of the eight men publicly seeking asylum in Canada attended an anti-war rally, where two dozen protesters shouted anti-American slogans across from the U.S. Consulate in downtown Toronto. They were Hinzman; Joshua Key, 26, of Oklahoma City; Dave Sanders, 20, a Navy deserter who had been underground in Canada since March of 2003; Cliff Cornell, 24, from Mountain Home, Arkansas; and Darrell Anderson, an Army soldier who served seven months in Iraq last year.
"I was faced with situations where, if I followed orders, I would have killed innocent people," Anderson, 22, told the crowd. "I refused to do that."