Deserters: We Won't Go to Iraq
Wednesday 08 December 2004
The Pentagon says more than 5,500 servicemen have deserted
since the war started in Iraq.
60 Minutes Wednesday found several of these deserters who left
the Army or Marine Corps rather than go to Iraq. Like a
generation of deserters before them, they fled to Canada.
What do these men, who have violated orders and oaths, have to
say for themselves? They told Correspondent Scott Pelley that
conscience, not cowardice, made them American deserters.
"I was a warrior. You know? I always have been. I've always
felt that way - that if there are people who can't defend
themselves, it's my responsibility to do that," says Pfc. Dan
It was Felushko's responsibility to ship out with the Marines
to Kuwait in Jan. 2003 to prepare for the invasion of Iraq.
Instead, he slipped out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., and
deployed himself to Canada.
"I didn't want, you know, 'Died deluded in Iraq' over my
gravestone," says Felushko. "If I'd gone, personally, because
of the things that I believed, it would have felt wrong.
Because I saw it as wrong, if I died there or killed somebody
there, that would have been more wrong."
He told Pelley it wasn't fighting that bothered him. In fact,
he says he started basic training just weeks after al Qaeda
attacked New York and Washington - and he was prepared to get
even for Sept. 11 in Afghanistan.
But Felushko says he didn't see a connection between the
attack on America and Saddam Hussein.
"(What) it basically comes down to, is it my right to choose
between what I think is right and what I think is wrong?" asks
Felushko. "And nobody should make me sign away my ability to
choose between right and wrong."
But Felushko had signed a contract to be with the U.S. Marine
Corps. "It's a devil's contract if you look at it that way,"
How does he feel about being in Toronto while other Marines
are dying in Fallujah, Najaf and Ramadi?
"It makes me struggle with doubt, you know, about my
decision," says Felushko.
What does he say to the families of the American troops who
have died in Iraq?
"I honor their dead. Maybe they think that my presence
dishonors their dead. But they made a choice the same as I
made a choice," says Felushko. "My big problem is that, if
they made that choice for anything other than they believed in
it, then that's wrong. Right? And the government has to be
held responsible for those deaths, because they didn't give
them an option."
Felushko's father is Canadian, so he has dual citizenship, and
he can legally stay in Canada. But it's not that easy for
other American deserters.
Canadian law has changed since the Vietnam era. Back then, an
estimated 55,000 Americans deserted to Canada or dodged the
draft. And in those days, Canada simply welcomed them.
But today's American deserters, such as Brandon Hughey, will
need to convince a Canadian immigration board that they are
Hughey volunteered for the Army to get money for college. He
graduated from high school in San Angelo, Texas, just two
months after the president declared war in Iraq.
What did he think about the case for going to war? "I felt it
was necessary if they did have these weapons, and they could
end up in our cities and threaten our safety," says Hughey. "I
was supportive. At first, I didn't think to question it."
He says at first, he was willing to die "to make America
safe." And while Hughey was in basic training, he didn't get
much news. But when he left basic training, he started
following the latest information from Iraq.
"I found out, basically, that they found no weapons of mass
destruction. They were beginning to come out and say it's not
likely that we will find any - and the claim that they made
about ties to al Qaeda was coming up short, to say the least,"
says Hughey. "It made me angry, because I felt our lives were
being thrown away as soldiers, basically."
When Hughey got orders for Iraq, he searched the Internet and
found Vietnam era war resisters willing to show him the way
north. In fact, they were willing to drive him there, and a
Canadian television news camera went along.
Hughey had an invitation to stay with a Quaker couple that
helped Americans avoid the draft during Vietnam. From Fort
Hood, Texas, to St. Catherine's in Ontario, Canada, Hughey
crossed the border, duty free.
Pelley read letters about Hughey's desertion that were sent to
the editor of a San Antonio newspaper.
"It makes me sad to know that there's that much hate in the
country," says Hughey. "Before I joined the Army, I would have
thought the same way. Anyone who said no to a war, I would
have thought them a traitor and a coward. So, in that essence,
I'm thankful for this experience, because it has opened my
eyes and it has taught me not to take things on the surface."
However, he adds: "I have to say that my image of my country
always being the good guy, and always fighting for just
causes, has been shattered."
Hughey, and other deserters, will be represented before the
Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board by Toronto lawyer
His clients will have to prove that, if they are returned to
the United States, they wouldn't just be prosecuted for what
they did -- they would be also be persecuted. How will House
make that claim?
"People should have a right to say, 'I'm not fighting in that
war. That's an illegal war. There's illegal stuff going on the
ground. I'm not going,'" says House. "And anyone who says
soldiers should go to jail if they don't fight in an illegal
war is persecuting them."
And it's something House has experience with. In 1969, he
graduated from the University of Wisconsin, got drafted, and
spent the rest of his life in Canada.
House's legal strategy will focus on his contention that
President Bush is not complying with international law. But
how will he defend volunteers who signed a contract?
"The United States is supposed to comply with treaty
obligations like the U.N. charter, but they don't," says
House. "When the president isn't complying with the Geneva
Accords or with the U.N. charter, are we saying, 'Only the
soldier who signed up when he was 17 - that guy has to
strictly comply with contract? The president, he doesn't have
to?' I don't think so. I don't think that is fair."
The first deserter to face the Canadian refugee board is
likely to be Spc. Jeremy Hinzman of Rapid City, S.D. He joined
the military in Jan. 2001, and was a paratrooper in the 82nd
He wanted a career in the military, but over time, he decided
he couldn't take a life. "I was walking to chow hall with my
unit, and we were yelling, 'Train to kill, kill we will,' over
and over again," recalls Hinzman. "I kind of snuck a peek
around me and saw all my colleagues getting red in the face
and hoarse yelling - and at that point a light went off in my
head and I said, 'You know, I made the wrong career
But Hinzman said he didn't want to get out of the Army: "I had
signed a contract for four years. I was totally willing to
fulfill it. Just not in combat arms jobs."
While at Fort Bragg, Hinzman says he filled out the forms for
conscientious objector status, which would let him stay in the
Army in a non-combat job.
While he waited for a decision, he went to Afghanistan and
worked in a kitchen. But later, the Army told him he didn't
qualify as a conscientious objector, and he was ordered to
fight in Iraq.
Hinzman decided to take his family to Canada, where he's been
living off savings accumulated while he was in the military.
Wasn't he supposed to follow orders? "I was told in basic
training that, if I'm given an illegal or immoral order, it is
my duty to disobey it," says Hinzman. "And I feel that
invading and occupying Iraq is an illegal and immoral thing to
"But you can't have an Army of free-thinkers," says Pelley.
"You wouldn't have an Army."
"No, you wouldn't. I think there are times when militaries or
countries act in a collectively wrong way," says Hinzman. "I
mean, the obvious example was during World War II. Sure,
Saddam Hussein was a really bad guy. I mean, he ranks up there
with the bad ones. But was he a threat to the United States?
Still, isn't it worth fighting to free the people of Iraq?
"Whether a country lives under freedom or tyranny or whatever
else, that's the collective responsibility of the people of
that country," says Hinzman.
Hinzman and the other American deserters have become
celebrities of sorts in the Canadian anti-war movement.
Only a few of the reported 5,500 deserters are in Canada, but
House says he's getting more calls from nervous soldiers all
Wouldn't the right and honorable thing for deserters to do be
to go back to the United States, and turn themselves in to the
"Why would that be honorable?" asks House. "(Deserters signed
a contract) to defend the Constitution of the United States,
not take part in offensive, pre-emptive wars. I don't think
you should be punished for doing the right thing. What benefit
is there to being a martyr? I don't see any."
Hinzman began his hearing before the Canadian Immigration and
Refugee board last Monday. But there's no telling when he'll
find out if he'll be allowed to stay in Canada - or be sent
back to the United States to face the consequences.
The maximum penalty for deserting in wartime is death. But
it's more typical for a soldier to draw a sentence of five
years or less for deserting in wartime.
Analysis: Discontent Plaguing Military
By Tom Raum
The Associated Press
Friday 10 December 2004
Washington - Soldiers always gripe. But confronting the
defense secretary, filing a lawsuit over extended tours and
refusing to go on a mission because it's too dangerous elevate
complaining to a new level.
It also could mean a deeper problem for the Pentagon: a
lessening of faith in the Iraq mission and in a volunteer army
that soldiers can't leave.
The hubbub over an exchange between Defense Secretary Donald
H. Rumsfeld and soldiers in Kuwait has given fresh ammunition
to critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy.
It also highlighted growing morale and motivation problems in
the 21-month-old war that even some administration supporters
say must be addressed to get off a slippery slope that could
eventually lead to breakdowns reminiscent of the Vietnam War.
For thousands of years, soldiers have grumbled about
everything from their commanders to their equipment to shelter
and food. But challenging a defense secretary to his face is
rare. So is suing the military to keep from being sent back to
a combat zone.
"We are seeing some unprecedented things. The real fear is
that these could be tips of a larger iceberg," said P.J.
Crowley, a retired colonel who served as a Pentagon spokesman
in both Republican and Democratic administrations and was a
White House national security aide in the Clinton
"The real issue is not any one of these things individually.
It's what the broader impact will be on our re-enlistment
rates and our retention," Crowley said.
Several Iraq-bound soldiers confronted Rumsfeld on Wednesday
at a base in Kuwait about a lack of armor for their Humvees
and other vehicles, about second-hand equipment and about a
policy keeping many in Iraq far beyond enlistment contracts.
Their pointed questions were cheered by others in the group.
The episode - the questions and Rumsfeld's testy responses
were captured by television cameras and widely reported - did
not raise new issues. Complaints about inadequate protection
against insurgents' roadside bombs and forced duty extensions
have been sounded for months. But not so vividly.
President Bush and Rumsfeld offered assurances that the issues
of armor and equipment were being dealt with, and that the
plainspoken expression of concerns by soldiers was welcome.
"I'd want to ask the defense secretary the same question,"
Bush said, if the president were a soldier in overseas combat.
"They deserve the best," he added.
The display of brazenness in Kuwait came just two days after
eight U.S. soldiers in Kuwait and Iraq filed a lawsuit
challenging the military's "stop loss" policy, which allows
the extension of active-duty deployments during times of war
or national emergencies.
In October, up to 19 Army reservists from a unit based in
South Carolina refused orders to drive unarmored trucks on a
fuel supply mission along attack-prone roads near Baghdad,
contending it was too dangerous. The Pentagon is still
investigating the incident.
"Tensions obviously are rising," said Anthony Cordesman, a
military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International
Studies and a former adviser to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
"The fact is that you do need now to consider how to change
the force structure: the role of the reserves, the role of the
actives. Troops are being deployed in continuing combat under
what are often high risk conditions for far longer periods
than anyone had previously considered or planned for."
When the war began in March 2003, the troops were
predominantly active duty military. Today, National Guard and
Army Reserve units make up about 40 percent of the force.
The growing restiveness of U.S. troops in the Middle East
echoes a drop in optimism at home that a stable, democratic
government can be established in Iraq. A new poll for The
Associated Press by Ipsos-Public Affairs shows that 47 percent
of Americans now think it's likely Iraq can establish such a
government, down from 55 percent in April.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan on Friday said that Bush
"is committed to making sure our troops have the best
equipment and all the resources they need to do their jobs.
And that's exactly what he expects to happen."
* Tom Raum has covered national and international affairs for
The Associated Press since 1973.