The Canadian government has reached a decision in the case of the first U.S. Army deserter to seek asylum north of the border.
Last December, reported on a number of American servicemen who, faced with orders to go and fight in Iraq, and asked for protection from the government there.
Jeremy Hinzman, of Rapid City, S.D., is the first deserter to face the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board. He joined the military in January 2001, and was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne.
While at Fort Bragg, Spc. Hinzman said he filled out the forms for conscientious objector status. That would let him stay in the Army in a non-combat job.
While he waited for a decision, Hinzman 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 his savings earned in the military.
"You're in the Army now," Pelley said to Hinzman last December. "You're supposed to follow orders. It's what you signed up to do."
"And I was also told in basic training if I'm given an illegal or immoral order, it is my duty to disobey it," said Hinzman. "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 U.S.?"
But 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," said Hinzman.
Last week, Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board denied Hinzman's bid for asylum, rejecting his argument that he would face unfair persecution if he returned to the United States.
A lawyer representing six other American deserters seeking refugee status estimated that as many as 100 deserters hiding in Canada may now remain underground, rather than file refugee petitions.
Dec. 8, 2004 Broadcast
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 Felushko, 24.
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," he says.
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."
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