U.S. Soldier who fled to Canada to avoid war in Iraq deported

By Terri Theodore, The Canadian Press

16 July 2008

VANCOUVER - A U.S. Army deserter who fled to Canada three years ago has been deported to America to face possible court martial or a return trip to Iraq.

The Canada Border Services Agency confirmed Tuesday that Robin Long was removed from British Columbia. He claimed refugee status in Canada, saying he didn't want to take part in an "illegal war of aggression" in Iraq.

Sarah Bjorknas, a co-ordinator for the War Resisters' Support Campaign, said Long is the first Iraq war resister to be deported back to the United States.

About 50 other American war deserters have contacted the support group asking for help to stay in Canada.

Bjorknas isn't worried that Long's deportation will set a precedent for other objectors seeking refugee status.

"Their circumstances are very similar, but they each have their own case," she said. "We don't intend to let his happen again."

Bjorknas said her group is very suspicious of the timing of the deportation so quickly after Parliament passed a resolution saying U.S. war resisters should be allowed to stay in Canada.

That resolution is nonbinding on Stephen Harper's government.

Bjorknas believes the government wanted to indicate where it stood on the war resisters' issue by using Long as an example.

"The timing was convenient for them," she said. "This may be just another attempt to pull the rug out from under us."

On Monday, Federal Court of Canada Justice Anne Mactavish ruled that Long couldn't provide clear evidence that he'll suffer irreparable harm if he's returned to the U.S.

Long will be returned to his unit based in Fort Knox, Ky.

His company commander will decide his punishment.

"Depending on where his unit is right now, he may be deployed to Iraq ... they may court martial him right away and then imprison him," Bjorknas said.

But Mactavish said in her ruling the vast majority of American deserters weren't prosecuted or jailed for being absent without leave and that Long failed to give clear evidence that he would be singled out for harsh treatment.

Long's supporters may have held out hope because of recent decisions involving two other American deserters.

Sgt. Corey Glass, who refused to deploy to Iraq, was granted a last-ditch reprieve from deportation on July 9, when the Federal Court said he could stay in Canada while it decides whether to hear his case.

Glass, 25, was the first Iraqi war dodger to face deportation but like other American soldiers who fled to Canada, his asylum claim to the Immigration and Refugee Board was turned down on the grounds he faced prosecution in the U.S.

In the case of Joshua Key a few days earlier, the Federal Court found the Immigration and Refugee Board had erred in turning down the man's claim for asylum.

Key, 30, served as a combat engineer for eight months in Iraq in 2003, where he said American soldiers committed savage acts against civilians and routinely killed innocent people.

In its decision, the board decided that while Key may have had to violate the Geneva Conventions in Iraq, he could not claim refugee status because he was not required to systematically commit war crimes.

Key, a native of Oklahoma, fled to Canada with his wife and four children after deserting during a leave in November 2003.