Asylum Denied To Army Deserter

Canadian Gov't Reached Decision In Case Of Spc. Jeremy Hinzman


Felushko's father is Canadian, so he has dual citizenship, and he can legally stay in Canada. But it's not that easy for other American deserters.

Canadian law has changed since the Vietnam era. Back then, an estimated 55,000 Americans deserted to Canada or dodged the draft. And in those days, Canada simply welcomed them.

But today's American deserters, such as Brandon Hughey, will need to convince a Canadian immigration board that they are refugees.

Hughey volunteered for the Army to get money for college. He graduated from high school in San Angelo, Texas, just two months after the president declared war in Iraq.

What did he think about the case for going to war? "I felt it was necessary if they did have these weapons, and they could end up in our cities and threaten our safety," says Hughey. "I was supportive. At first, I didn't think to question it."

He says at first, he was willing to die "to make America safe." And while Hughey was in basic training, he didn't get much news. But when he left basic training, he started following the latest information from Iraq.

"I found out, basically, that they found no weapons of mass destruction. They were beginning to come out and say it's not likely that we will find any -- and the claim that they made about ties to al Qaeda was coming up short, to say the least," says Hughey. "It made me angry, because I felt our lives were being thrown away as soldiers, basically."

When Hughey got orders for Iraq, he searched the Internet and found Vietnam era war resisters willing to show him the way north. In fact, they were willing to drive him there, and a Canadian television news camera went along.

Hughey had an invitation to stay with a Quaker couple that helped Americans avoid the draft during Vietnam. From Fort Hood, Texas, to St. Catherine's in Ontario, Canada, Hughey crossed the border, duty free.

Pelley read letters about Hughey's desertion that were sent to the editor of a San Antonio newspaper.

"It makes me sad to know that there's that much hate in the country," says Hughey. "Before I joined the Army, I would have thought the same way. Anyone who said no to a war, I would have thought them a traitor and a coward. So, in that essence, I'm thankful for this experience, because it has opened my eyes and it has taught me not to take things on the surface."

However, he adds: "I have to say that my image of my country always being the good guy, and always fighting for just causes, has been shattered."

Hughey, and other deserters, will be represented before the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board by Toronto lawyer Jeffry House.

His clients will have to prove that, if they are returned to the United States, they wouldn't just be prosecuted for what they did -– they would be also be persecuted. How will House make that claim?

"People should have a right to say, 'I'm not fighting in that war. That's an illegal war. There's illegal stuff going on the ground. I'm not going,'" says House. "And anyone who says soldiers should go to jail if they don't fight in an illegal war is persecuting them."

And it's something House has experience with. In 1969, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin, got drafted, and spent the rest of his life in Canada.

House's legal strategy will focus on his contention that President Bush is not complying with international law. But how will he defend volunteers who signed a contract?

"The United States is supposed to comply with treaty obligations like the U.N. charter, but they don't," says House. "When the president isn't complying with the Geneva Accords or with the U.N. charter, are we saying, 'Only the soldier who signed up when he was 17 -- that guy has to strictly comply with contract? The president, he doesn't have to?' I don't think so. I don't think that is fair."