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Grilled Cheese and War Crimes

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Section: Features Geography: Canada, USA Iraq Topics: migration, Iraq war

November 8, 2006

Grilled Cheese and War Crimes

US soldier who refuses assignment in Iraq claims refugee status in Canada

by Chris Arsenault

Corey Glass is hoping Canada will let him eat grilled cheese sandwhiches in peace. photo: Shasta MacNasy
Corey Glass seems like a regular 23-year-old; he likes skateboarding, grilled cheese sandwiches and Quentin Tarantino movies; he doesn't enjoy illegally occupying Middle Eastern countries.

Glass spent five months in Iraq as a sergeant with the United States National Guard, before becoming a 'war-resister.' He left the army, lived underground in the US for eight months and then came to Canada in August, claiming refugee status.

"When I joined the National Guard, they told me the only way I would be in combat is if there were troops occupying the United States," said Glass in a phone interview from Toronto, where he is searching for an apartment. "I signed up to defend people and do humanitarian work filling sandbags if there was a hurricane; I should have been in New Orleans, not Iraq."

There could be upwards of 200 American soldiers who refuse to fight in Iraq clandestinely living in Canada, according to Lee Zaslofsky, co-ordinator of War Resisters Support Campaign, the group trying to secure status for conscientious objectors.

"None of the hearings at the immigration and refugee board have gone well," says Zaslofsky, who came to Canada in the 1970s after refusing to fight in Vietnam.

The central argument being used by war resisters is that the war in Iraq is illegal and if they remain in the US, they'll be forced to fight in an illegal and immoral war or face the consequences.

"In every case, the immigration board has decided they won't listen to arguments about the legality or illegality of the war in Iraq, which obviously undermines us," says Zaslofsky.

"The US-led invasion of Iraq was an illegal act that contravened the UN charter," said UN Chief Kofi Annan during a 2004 interview with the BBC.

Being the custodian of International law, Annan's opinion is worth noting.

If the war was and is illegal, then Canada has a moral duty to provide sanctuary for people who won't participate in criminal activities; a 'responsibility to protect', to use the rhetoric of the powerful.

Zaslofsky thinks the Supreme Court will eventually decide whether or not the resisters can stay here rather than fight, if Parliament doesn't get involved first.

"We aren't just treating this as a legal matter, but also a political matter," said Zaslofsky. "We think Canada has an obligation to protect these people who are coming north because they are taking the same position that Canada did: opposing the war." His group has gathered 35,000 signatures on petitions demanding Canada treat Iraq War objectors the same way we treated Vietnam War resisters.

Thus far, the immigration and refugee board, whose mandate is different from the courts, has ruled that rank and file soldiers are not liable for participating in an illegal war because they weren't the ones who decided to launch an invasion.

Glass never personally witnessed human rights violations during his service but he "heard stories from people coming back from duty." Recently, The Lancet, one of the world's most respected medical journals, published a study showing the death toll among Iraqis as a result of the US-led invasion has now reached an estimated 655,000 people. The figures were quickly condemned by the Bush administration for inaccuracy, although they were nevertheless compiled by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore and validated by four separate, independent experts.

"Although such death rates might be common in times of war, the combination of a long duration and tens of millions of people affected has made this the deadliest international conflict of the 21st century and should be of grave concern to everyone," write the study's authors.

In an international context, there isn't much anyone can do about the accusations of America's conduct in Iraq. The US refused to ratify the international criminal court, so the army can continue violating the law without prosecution. Humans developed law to protect the weak from the strong. When the powerful are above the law, the whole foundation of decent society collapses.

After the Second World War, at the famous Nuremberg trials for German war criminals, the four judges of the tribunal (American, British, French and Russian) wrote a famous passage declaring the crime of aggressive war to be, "the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."

Glass doesn't compare America to the Nazis, but an illegal war is an illegal war. According to the former sergeant, "In Germany some members of the Third Reich probably said this was a bad idea and didn't want to participate and that's what I have decided."

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