Will Canada Change its Mind?

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This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," March 25, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: A U.S. paratrooper turned Iraq-war-deserter is seeking refuge north of the border; Canada's denying him political asylum, rejecting his claim that he would face persecution and cruel and unusual punishment if he returned to the U.S.

Heather Nauert has more.

HEATHER NAUERT, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Well, Specialist Jeremy Hinzman (search), has been hiding out in Canada for more than a year now. He left the United States just days before his unit, the 82nd Airborne, deployed to Iraq. Once in Canada, he tried to get refugee status, saying that he felt the war in Iraq was illegal but, also, he feared persecution if he were sent back to the United States. The Canadian judge, however, did not buy his arguments.

Joining me now is Jonathan Kay, the managing director at The National Post newspaper in Canada. Jonathan, what happens to Specialist Jeremy Hinzman now that his asylum request has been denied?

JONATHAN KAY, "NATIONAL POST": Well, Canada has a very generous appeal process for refugee applicants. His case will probably now go to the federal court, which is roughly equivalent to a U.S. district court in the United States. And the case could drag on for years.

NAUERT: OK. So he could be hanging out up in Canada for years while the 82nd Airborne, of course, is going to have to deploy back to Iraq one of these days.

Last we had heard, when we had talked with you and followed the case, he was being treated like a big celebrity in Canada. People were getting together and throwing fundraisers for him. Has his star faded at all?

KAY: It's faded a little bit. You know, he's got a job as a bicycle courier now. He sort of has a regular working life.

There are still a lot of artists and left-wing activist who support his cause. But because the war in Iraq has been slightly more successful than a lot of people in Canada anticipated, at least in recent months, with the Iraqi election, I think there's generally a move away from large-scale opposition to America's presence in Iraq. And that has meant a lessening of support for people like Hinzman.

NAUERT: So he has a job there now. Is he going to be allowed to maintain his job? What is his actual status as he appeals his case to the judge?

KAY: Well, like I said, Canada has very generous policies. Something like 50 percent of refugee applicants make it into Canada. And of the remaining 50 percent, it's very common for them simply to stay in Canada in legal limbo as they again go to the courts to try and overturn the decision. And eventually what happens is they find a loophole. They have another child in Canada or they develop such strong economic ties that courts decide that, for humanitarian and economic reasons, they should be allowed to stay in Canada anyway.

And there are thousands of people who simply disappear, as well, who there are extradition orders out for them and the orders are never actually implemented.

NAUERT: And as we've been told, the U.S. government doesn't just go after these guys because they are in Canada. So if they come back to the United States that is when they could potentially be detained. And the possible sentence, if he was court-martialed, could be a year to five years in jail there, in the United States.

KAY: Yes. My suspicion would be that he's going to be in Canada for a long, long time. This is the pattern that has played out with other failed refugee applicants in Canada. We typically sort of just let them blend into the woodwork. And it's very rare that we actually extradite them.

NAUERT: Now other deserters are going to be watching this case very, very carefully. I understand that there are as few as eight but possibly as many as dozens of U.S. soldiers and Marines who basically did the same thing?

KAY: That's right. And this was the first very high profile one. Given the precedent this sets, I doubt very much that any of the others will be successful in their applications.

NAUERT: And briefly, let me just ask you. He claimed the war was illegal. He said if he was deployed, he believed he would be taking part in war crimes, as he said it. What was the judge's reaction to that, because that might surprise some folks?

KAY: Yes, I was actually surprised a little bit by it myself. Because the judge went to some length to say yes, there have been some atrocities committed in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, and he sort of went through the report that Human Rights Watch and the Red Cross had compiled.

But then, in fairly strong language, he said, look, there are always going to be things that happen in war. It's part of warfare, but the United States has not been engaged in any systematic campaign against civilians. It has investigated episodes in which civilians were hurt. And, by and large, the United States has conducted itself according to the rules of war.

And the language in that part of decision was actually very strong. And as a Canadian, and I'm used to Canadian judges beating up on the United States a little in their language, I was actually pleased to see that in the decision.

NAUERT: All right, Jonathan Kay from The National Post. Thanks a lot, John.

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