Army deserter tells of his time behind bars

Robin Long, released from Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, said the hardest part of his 12 months in the brig was being away from his young son. He had fled to Canada in opposition to the Iraq war.

By Tony Perry
July 11, 2009

Tony Perry / Los Angeles Times
Instead of waking up to his son, he woke up to "... high fences and razor wire."
Reporting from San Diego -- Army deserter and antiwar activist Robin Long said Friday that the most difficult part of his 12 months behind bars was being away from his young son.

Long, 25, released Thursday from the brig at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, said he missed celebrating Christmas and other special occasions with his 3-year-old son, Ocean.

Meeting reporters outside the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center in San Diego, Long said he wished every morning that he could see his son running toward him and hear his voice.

"Instead I woke up to reveille and I saw high fences and razor wire," said Long, from Boise, Idaho. "This punishment was for having a moral opposition to the Iraq war."

Long enlisted in 2003 and was trained as a tank crewman but fled to Canada in 2005 when his unit was on the verge of deploying to Iraq. He said his views about the war had changed since his enlistment.

Long said that, like much of the American public, he began to doubt the wisdom of the war when the U.S. was unable to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Long said he was influenced by a quotation attributed to Voltaire: "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

In Canada, Long sought refugee status but was turned down. The decision by the Canadian government to deport him to the U.S. for court-martial caused a political furor in Canada. He is considered the first U.S. deserter to be deported by Canada during the Iraq war.

Long said he plans to enroll in a school in San Francisco to learn massage therapy. He also plans to reunite in Seattle with his wife, Renee, and their son and to continue speaking out against the Iraq war. His wife, a Canadian citizen, has remained in Canada to receive care for multiple sclerosis.

As a convicted felon, Long may be barred from reentering Canada, but he said he plans to appeal. Although he was sentenced to a dishonorable discharge from the Army, he is still on active duty but not being paid.

Long said he had no major complaints about his treatment in the brig. "The food was horrible and it was a filthy place to be," he said. "But I was treated pretty well."