"We were being told that it was a new kind of war, that these were evil people and they had to be dealt with," Pfc. Jeremy Hinzman, 26, told the Immigration and Refugee Board on the second of his three-day hearing for political asylum.
"We were told that we would be going to Iraq to jack up some terrorists," said Hinzman, who fled from Fort Bragg, N.C., on Jan. 2 and now lives in Toronto with his 31-year-old wife, Nga Nguyen, and 2-year-old son Liam.
He said U.S. military training since Sept. 11 is designed to "foster an attitude of hatred. It gets your blood boiling to carry out the mission."
Hinzman is arguing that the war in Iraq is illegal and fighting in it would have made him a war criminal. He also said he would face persecution if forced to return to the United States because he likely would be court-martialed and sentenced to an Army jail.
Some 5500 U.S. soldiers have deserted since the invasion started. It is an offense punishable by death in wartime.
Immigration and Refugee Board officials noted that others who had deserted from the military typically spent only one year in jail.
"Serving one day in prison for refusing to comply with an illegal order is one day too long," Hinzman told the tribunal, which likely will take several weeks to reach its decision.
Hinzman said he enlisted for four years in 2000 to experience the Army, believing it would give him guidance and maturity. But he fled the 82nd Airborne Division about two weeks after learning his outfit would be sent to Iraq.
Hinzman had served three years in the Army and applied for conscientious objector status before his unit was sent to Afghanistan in 2002, but the Army told him it lost his application. He said he wanted to fulfill his service obligation but not to participate in combat.
"The military is to fight justified wars," said his lawyer Jeffrey House, an American who first came to Canada as a draft dodger during the Vietnam War. "I don't think he joined the military to invade other countries who had done nothing to the United States, just at the pleasure of the United States president."
Hinzman is among several young American soldiers seeking refugee status in Canada, hoping to capitalize on the country's opposition to President Bush's foreign policy.
Canada has declined Bush's request for troops in Iraq and the majority of its people are opposed to the war.
Some 30,000 to 50,000 Americans fled to Canada during the Vietnam War and were allowed to settle there.
In an, Hinzman says, "I was told in basic training that, if I'm given an illegal or immoral order, it is my duty to disobey it, and I feel that invading and occupying Iraq is an illegal and immoral thing to do."
"I think there are times when militaries or countries act in a collectively wrong way. ... Saddam Hussein was a really bad guy, but was he a threat to the U.S.?"
Hussein may have been a threat to the Iraqi people, but Hinzman maintains that was not enough of a reason for Hinzman to risk his life fighting in Iraq.
"Whether a country lives under freedom or tyranny or whatever else, that's the collective responsibility of the people of that country," says Hinzman.
He says his contract with the military was "to defend the Constitution of the United States, not take part in offensive, preemptive wars."