[R-G] U.S. soldier seeks asylum in Canada
pieinsky at igc.org
Thu Feb 19 15:46:23 MST 2004
February 19, 2004
A soldier in the 82nd Airborne Division who says he had "a romantic vision"
of military life has left his post and is living in Canada, where he has
sought refuge as a conscientious objector.
Jeremy Hinzman, a member of the 2nd Battalion of the 504th Brigade Parachute
Infantry Regiment, could be prosecuted as a deserter if he is caught inside
the United States.
He'll be listed on a national database and could be arrested, but the army
won't go looking for him, said Sgt. Pam Smith, a spokesperson for the 82nd
Airborne, based at Fort Bragg.
"We don't have time to go and track down people who go AWOL," she said.
"We're fighting a war."
Hinzman, who grew up in Rapid City, S.D., joined the army in January 2001.
He and his wife and baby fled last month to Toronto.
Hinzman told the Fayetteville Observer by phone that the socialist structure
of the military appealed to him - he liked the subsidized housing and
groceries and, at the end of his service, the money for college.
"It seemed like a good financial decision," he said, adding, "I had a
romantic vision of what the army was."
But he was horrified from the start of basic training, by the chanting about
blood and killing during marches, by the shooting at targets without faces
and by what he called the dehumanization of the enemy.
"It's like watching some kind of scary movie, except I was in it," he said.
"People would just walk around saying things like, 'Oh, I want to kill
Hinzman said he turned in his first application to be a conscientious
objector in August 2002, saying he wanted to fulfil his service obligation
but not to participate in combat.
He said army officials told him his six-page explanation was lost. But
later, when he was doing clerical work, he was handed a file that included
He reapplied, but by that time his unit was on track to go to Afghanistan
and he left with it. With the application still pending, he was kept off
patrol and worked as a dishwasher.
Hinzman said his application was denied while he was in Afghanistan
He returned to Fayetteville in July and talked things over with his wife,
Nga Nguyen. They figured it was only a matter of time before his unit would
be sent to Iraq. He said he felt the war there was unjust and was being
fought over oil interests.
On Dec. 20, Hinzman found out that his unit would be deployed to Iraq. On
Jan. 2 - a Friday, the start of a four-day weekend - he packed his wife and
14-month-old son, Liam, into their car for the 18-hour drive to Canada.
His absence was noticed that Monday and he was declared absent without leave
the following day.
Hinzman said he has received much support from Quakers in Toronto and
Fayetteville, where he joined the Friends Meeting when he couldn't find a
place to practise Buddhism, his preferred faith.
Ann Ashford, recording clerk at the Fayetteville Friends Meeting, said
Hinzman and his wife were faithful attendees. She said the community
supports Hinzman, though no one knew of his plan to desert.
During the Vietnam War, an estimated 30,000 Americans sought refuge in
Canada to avoid compulsory military service.
Hinzman's chances of receiving refugee status are slim: Canada's Immigration
and Refugee Board said none of the 268 American applicants last year was
Those who are denied refugee status may be granted permission to stay in
Canada under other provisions, said Charles Hawkins, a spokesman for the
Hinzman said he knows the decision will take a while. He said the hardest
part has been leaving the people in his unit, which is now in Iraq.
"I didn't do this out of animosity toward them," he said, "but toward the
situation we were in."
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