Kimberly Rivera and the War Resisters Support Campaign

In Saturday’s Globe & Mail, there is a “Open Letter to the Prime Minister” from the War Resisters Support Campaign. The letter is signed by over 60 public figures, including Nobel laureate Dr. John Polanyi and the chair of the Council of Canadians Maude Barlow.

It describes the plight of Iraq War resister Kimberly Rivera, who was deported from Canada in September 2012. She was arrested upon crossing the border back into the U.S., and is currently confined at a U.S. army base, separated from her four young children, two of whom were born in Canada.

“Kim sought asylum in Canada in 2007 after she decided she could no longer be complicit in the war… a war which had no legal sanction.”

“Canada did not participate in the Iraq War. The majority of Canadians opposed the war. Our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, admitted on national television that the war in Iraq was ‘absolutely an error.’ Two parliamentary resolutions were passed in the House of Commons calling on the government of Canada to allow U.S. Iraq War resisters to stay here, and polls have consistently shown a majority of Canadians support the right of U.S. Iraq War resisters to stay.”

And yet, “members of the current Conservative government applauded when the news of Kimberly’s departure and arrest was announced in the House of Commons.”

Here’s how you can help:

1. Contact Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration & Multiculturalism asking him to make a provision to allow Iraq War resisters to stay in Canada.

Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration & Multiculturalism
325 East Block, House of Commons
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6

Phone: 613-954-1064 | Fax: 613-957.2688

Email: jason.kenney@parl.gc.ca, minister@cic.gc.ca

2. Send a letter of support to Kimberly Rivera. The support she is receiving from Canada, the U.S., and internationally is helping her during this difficult period while she is separated from her family and awaiting court martial. Letters can be sent to:

Kimberly Rivera
c/o All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church
730 N. Tejon Street
Colorado Springs, CO
80903

3. Make a donation to help support the campaign to allow U.S. war resisters to stay in Canada.

I wrote about another U.S. Iraq War resister, Darrell Anderson, after he visited CBU in 2006 as part of a national speaking tour. Canada denied his claim for refuge status, and soon after, Anderson surrendered himself to U.S. authorities. He received less-than-honourable discharge from the army, and was shortly released. He did not receive prison time or a court martial.

This was originally published in the Caper Times, CBU’s campus newspaper, of which I was an editor from 2002-2006.

Broken Contract: American War Resister Seeks Sanctuary in Canada

When an unidentified Iraqi car came screeching to a halt a few feet away from American soldier Darrell Anderson, sparks flying and just moments after it had a run a blockade, he was ordered to open fire. He refused, and by doing so, may have risked his own safety and the safety of his fellow soldiers. Scared, but sure he was doing the right thing, Anderson’s conviction was rewarded when the car’s black-tinted windows came down and he found himself face to face with two small children.

Despite the perceived threat, his instincts told him not to fire, Anderson says, while recounting the story to a rapt audience in CBU’s Royal Bank lecture theatre last week. Thanks to him, that family lived to tell the story too.

The story of how non-combatants (the American military’s classification for innocents) are nonetheless considered “guilty by proximity” (if not lawfully, then practically speaking), and how their only crime seems to have been being scared and confused.

Anderson was reprimanded for his actions, and told in future to “shoot first, ask questions later.”

Now it was his turn to be confused. “These were innocent people,” he says. How could what he did have been the wrong thing?

He was beginning to become convinced that this was not the war he had signed up for. And later, while on leave, and telling these and other stories to family and friends, he knew it was not a war in which he could continue to participate. He didn’t return, and instead fled to Canada, just as 50,000 draft-age Americans did between 1965 and 1973 when they refused to participate in what they believed to be an immoral war. Then Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau welcomed them, saying, “Those who make the conscientious judgment that they must not participate in this war… have my complete sympathy, and indeed our political approach has been to give them access to Canada. Canada should be a refuge from militarism.”

Thirty years after Vietnam, Canada is faced with the same moral choice to give refuge to those who refuse to be accomplices in the U.S.-led war on Iraq — a war which many legal opinions have deemed illegal under international law. However, this time around, resisters such as Anderson have been forced to apply for
refugee status.

According to the War Resisters Support Campaign, which is funding Anderson’s speaking tour, this barrier serves only to punish objectors who exercise their conscience by refusing to continue to fight once they witness first-hand the unbearable conditions in Iraq.

Despite having to sign a contract as part of his service — which, loosely speaking, includes not talking to the media, or even holding dissenting political views — Anderson is on a speaking tour of Canadian universities. His goal is to raise awareness of the human rights violations being committed in Iraq on behalf of the American government, and the obstacles facing those who refuse to participate in that war.

During his presentation at CBU, he described first becoming involved in the military. Coming from one of the poorest neighbourhoods in his city and with an equally poor excuse for an education, but with a newborn daughter to raise, he simply needed the money. He says he easily fell prey to the unfair advantage the military has in being allowed to send recruits into schools in the most impoverished parts of American cities, whereas peace advocates are often considered “too radical” and denied access to those same high-
risk kids.

About his personal experiences in Iraq, Anderson spoke simply yet passionately, including details of the two years he spent in Germany before war broke out. He was in training, totally cut off from all outside media. As a result, all he knew going into the war was what he had heard from other members of the military.

His most disturbing yet moving stories were about getting to know those other soldiers while in Iraq — hearing about their families and friends, husbands and wives, girlfriends and boyfriends, sons and daughters — and the grief involved in knowing some of them wouldn’t return home from duty.

Finally, he shared his gruesome impression of how “non-combatants” were dealt with in the area. For emphasis, Anderson recounted how a soldier from another company, when asked whether innocent women and children had been among those killed during an attack, replied: “We don’t know; we just count the bodies.”

Maybe not surprisingly then, what with the “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality that so shocked him at first, it wasn’t long before Anderson found himself refusing, as he puts it, to “take part in war crimes.” Ultimately, this is what kept Anderson from returning to duty. The reasons are different, obviously, in the case of each individual resister. But if refused refugee status in Canada and forced to return to the United States, all face the potential for persecution, incarceration, and possibly even the death penalty.

Due to the severity of the possible punishment, it rests with the War Resisters Support Campaign to enlist the help of local groups sympathetic to the cause, who can then be counted on to take the message out to their communities, and raise awareness of these and other issues facing war resisters.

A handful of CBU students took up this cause and set up information booths on campus and at local malls, from which they continued the country-wide circulation of a petition aimed at Canada’s federal government to give refuge to US war resisters who refuse to continue to fight in Iraq.

The refugee claims, however, reach beyond the soldiers’ own personal cases, and challenge the very legality of the entire war. For example, Anderson’s contractual obligation as a soldier in the American military, which he went against when he fled to Canada, is the basis for his criminal status in America. But Anderson argues that the United States is fighting an immoral and illegal war, thus breaking their end of the bargain first and invalidating the contract.

Anderson reminds us how the removal of Saddam Hussein and his regime was first marketed by the Bush administration as a necessary campaign to rid the country of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), and when it turned out that WMD’s were not present in the country, the spin on the war became that of a mission to bring democracy to America’s favourite part of the Middle East.

But it didn’t take long for these claims to be considered farce by, among others, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who deemed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq “illegal”.

The sentiment is increasingly being shared by American soldiers, including war resisters, but also those who remain in service despite growing opposition to the cause they represent (perhaps, according to Anderson, due to a very real fear of persecution).

Granted, Anderson says, Canada opposes the war. But “not enough”. Few still hold the American government’s claims about Iraq to be true. But despite the fact that the majority of Canadians did not support the war in the first place, and nor did the Canadian government, Anderson wonders what it will take for Canadians to really take notice of the atrocities occurring in Iraq. And more importantly, for them to take action.

The War Resisters Support Campaign is calling on the Canadian government to “demonstrate its commitment to international law and the treaties to which it is a signatory, by making provision for US war objectors to have sanctuary in this country.”

As for those who oppose the war but continue to “support our troops,” Anderson has a few final words: “If you really want to support these troops, bring them home safe.”