Resister sought refuge in Ottawa but returned to U.S. earlier this year

Jul 17, 2008
Nick Kyonka
Staff Reporter

An American army deserter who took refuge in Canada before returning to the U.S. voluntarily was given a dishonourable discharge yesterday and sentenced to nine months in jail, a close supporter said.

James Burmeister, 22, was sentenced by a military judge in Fort Knox, Ky., after a four-hour court martial hearing, said Carol Rawert-Trainer, of the American non-profit group Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

"It's quite a shock to everybody," said Rawert-Trainer from Louisville, Ky. "We all thought they were going to take it easy on him because he turned himself in, but it doesn't look that way."

Originally from Eugene, Ore., Burmeister went to Ottawa in May 2007 after he was injured in Iraq when he was thrown from his military vehicle by the force of aroadside bomb earlier that year.

While living in Ottawa, Burmeister suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and had other continuing medical problems that stemmed from the attack, said Lee Zaslofsky of the War Resisters Support Campaign.

Burmeister returned to the U.S. in March to be closer to his family, Zaslofsky added.

After returning home, Burmeister turned himself in to the army to face charges of desertion and was taken to the military prison in Fort Knox, where he has remained since.

Yesterday's ruling will likely stand up as a felony conviction, meaning Burmeister won't be allowed back into Canada, and will likely lose his right to veterans' benefits, Zaslofsky told the Star last night.

"In that case, his post-traumatic stress disorder and some of the other problems that he has won't be dealt with properly," he noted. "I just hope this isn't an ill omen for some of the other (resisters)."

One of those other resisters is 25-year-old Robin Long.

Long became the first American war resister deported from Canada Tuesday, and could also potentially face a court martial.

Yesterday, Long was transferred from Whatcom County Jail in Bellingham, Wash., to the nearby Fort Lewis military base.