The Right to Refuse to Kill: Women Resisters Speak Out

By Sara Marlowe

On November 15, 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada decided that it would not hear the appeal submitted by war resisters Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey. This is disappointing, but it's not the end of the campaign -- not by a long shot. The War Resisters Support Campaign has already won solid support from the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois. In the current Parliament, if the Liberals join them to support the war resisters, we will have a majority! Already many Liberal MPs have expressed support. Now we must press Stéphane Dion to make it official and to help move this issue forward. [ed. note: on December 10, the Immigration Committee voted 7-4 to recommend asylum for US war resisters.]

The Campaign and supporters continue to lobby to ask that the government make a provision to allow these brave soldiers and families to stay in Canada, as during the Vietnam War, when over 50,000 American men and women made Canada their home. Just as before, Canada will only be enriched by welcoming them.We must urge the Liberals to join with the other opposition parties in giving their support.

Here are the stories of three of the women resisters who have come to Canada because of their opposition to the Iraq War and are part of the campaign to win asylum.

Jamine Aponte:

If you asked me one and a half years ago what my life would be like today, I'd have laughed out loud at any suggestion that I would be living in Canada as a refugee claimant. Not because I am proud or arrogant, but because I once believed strongly in the American government and the illusion that it cares wholeheartedly about the people it governs.

In June of 2006, my best friend of many years and partner, Phil, was finally discharged from the United States Military. He had longed for this for many years after being sent to Iraq on false orders. There he had come to realize that he was fighting against an enemy who had done nothing to deserve a fight in the first place. For me, it was the start of a relationship that had been on hold for ages.

Phil had enlisted in the army during his senior year at Marist College, where we met. It was two months after September 11 and, as a young man living in New York, he felt compelled to assist his country after an act of terrorism had killed family members of some of his friends and acquaintances. I was shocked by his decision, but I do recall how it felt to be an American at that time. It was the first time that our generation had ever been threatened so tangibly that we were willing to fight. Because of that, I supported his decision and those of the others who put their lives at risk in the name of protecting innocent people.

Three years later, all of that changed. We learned that Al Qaeda was not affiliated with Saddam Hussein and that there were no weapons of mass destruction. We learned that acts of torture were being inflicted on innocent individuals, that prisoners were not being granted their basic rights, and that private companies were profiting on a war that had begun in response to terrorism. By the time Phil returned from Iraq in 2005, we were both bitterly disillusioned by the our government's choices and were opposed to the war in Iraq.

We were living in Austin, Texas when Phil cleared post and drove to Maine to begin a five-month hike along the famous Appalachian Trail. It was his way to rid himself of the anguish he felt for being a part of the US war machine over the past four years. And though I would miss him while he was away, I welcomed the thought that he would return revitalized and ready for the adventures we had planned for our future together. I remained in Austin, working as director of business development for a sports company and playing women's lacrosse with my friends. I felt a profoundly satisfying sense of freedom from the US military--and I was not even in the military.

But in July 2006, I received a phone call from one of Phil's friends who was still in the military. He informed me that a letter was being sent to Phil recalling him to active duty. He would be deployed to Iraq again. I was sitting on our couch. The room swirled. Grief came over me. How could I possibly deliver this news?

Phil was calling me from the trail whenever he arrived in a new town. I could always tell that he missed me. He would tell me about his adventures and about how tired and hungry he was. This time when he called, I had to tell him the news.

From that day, everything changed. Phil ended his hiking trip and returned to Austin. We supposed that a mistake had been made and we looked into every possible way to get him out of the army, joking that if all else failed, we would go to Canada. Still, we didn't seriously consider it until it became obvious that Phil would be sent back to Iraq.

About three weeks before Phil was scheduled to deploy, we decided to come to Canada. Everything happened so fast that all I remember is the extreme stress and then a brilliant rush of relief when I finally crossed the border.

Instantly, Phil and I were supported and taken in by the US War Resisters Campaign, who found us a place to live and assisted us with the support that we needed to get started in a different country. We have since found work, friends, and a home in Toronto. Although we face many challenges ahead--including the possibility of deportation --we are forever grateful for the hospitality shown to us by Canadians, who believe that we made a good choice.

We currently await a decision from the Immigration Refugee Board--where the court will decide if we are eligible to remain in this country as political refugees. Due to the fact that Phil deserted the military during a time of war, he is likely to be sent to prison. In the United States, the law still states that soldiers can be put to death for deserting in time a war--regardless of whether or not the war is immoral. We are hoping for a favorable decision but we know that this is highly unlikely.

So, you ask, what have I learned from all of this? I learned that I am stronger than I had imagined. I learned that there are beautiful, amazing people in the world who are willing to help you when you need them. I also learned about the power of choice. Even when it seems that choice is impossible, there is merit and reward in doing the right thing. Given the chance, I would make the same decision again. I can only hope that by writing this, I can encourage someone else out there to make the right choice too.

Jill Hart:

When I was growing up in an upper middle class neighborhood in upstate New York, I never dreamed I would end up living in Toronto, married to a war resister, and not knowing whether I could pay for my son's epilepsy medication or even put food on the table.

I had been working as a social worker in the HIV/AIDS case management field. I had a great job but preferred to leave it all behind to stand by Patrick as he served his country. Patrick had served three years in the army in the early 90s and he re-enlisted right after we married in March 2000.

Over the next three years I immersed myself in army life in Kansas. I took AFTB courses (Army Family Team Building) which taught me the army's language and acronyms. I volunteered as a FRG (Family Readiness Group) Leader, which put me to work side by side with our company's commander and 1SG. (First Sergeant). This I did for two reasons: to meet people, and to become indispensable. By being indispensable as a civilian volunteer I helped my husband's career.

Our baby boy was born in May 2002. We had been living on post in a shabby brown apartment building as one of eight families living virtually on top of each other -- but it was home. This was post-9/11, and every wife feared the deployment to Iraq. My husband's commander insisted that the unit was non-deployable, and that I really had nothing to fear.

In March 2003 my baby had his first seizure and the next day a second one. He was medivac'ed to Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City because the Army Hospital was ill-equipped to handle pediatric problems. We were told we were "lucky" because only military personnel could fly in the helicopter. Had Patrick been deployed I would have had to watch strangers fly my baby away. Instead, as Patrick and Rian flew away, my best friend April threw our clothes in her car and drove us fast to Missouri. We arrived within 30 minutes after the chopper landed.

Six days later Patrick got the call, to have his A and B bag ready; they were deploying in 24 hours. So much for being a non-deployable unit.

On May 6, Rian had nine seizures. Each time he would stop breathing. We would go to the hospital, they would observe him for about thirty minutes and send us home. By the fourth seizure I thought I was going to kill someone. They finally admitted him into ICU. Because ICU only had one nurse, I was told not to leave his bedside as no one else would be there to "observe" him.

I called the rear-detachment and explained that Rian was in ICU and that I needed someone to care for my dog while I was "observing" him. I was told "Mrs. Hart, if we do that for you we would have to do that for everyone." My response was: "Oh? How many kids in the unit are in the ICU?"

At that moment I knew that the "Army Family Values" were all a public relations scam. They didn't care about me. I couldn't pull a trigger.

After Rian was discharged, I met with the rear detachment commander, a colonel. He "commended" me for my strength, and for the fact that through all of this I didn't try to get my husband home. I asked him for one favor. I explained that I didn't want Patrick to know what was going on, for I feared he would do something rash to get home to us, and that I would tell him about it when he returned. The colonel agreed and called a special briefing. He told the soldiers not to talk to Corporal Hart about these events. I finally felt that I could exhale. Everything was all right. Patrick wouldn't have to worry. But by 5:00 am Patrick called me, hysterical. A lieutenant who had been home on emergency leave had gone back to the desert and had said: "It's terrible what your family is going through right now."

After Patrick returned home the following March, I couldn't be happier. Rian was doing great on his anti-seizure medication, and my family was back together! Go, Army!

We moved to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. We were happy, we were together, but the impending deployment always loomed. I knew from Day One that within a year Patrick would leave us again. I made my home a shrine to America. My kitchen and living room were decorated in red, white, and blue. Photos of Rosie the Riveter and "Kissing the war Goodbye" hung on the walls. I was an Army wife, damn it!

Again I became the Family Readiness Group Leader of my husband's company, and became friendly with his commander and 1SG. I was respected and needed, which made me happy. I thought Patrick was happy too, but occasionally he would say something that suggested he was having doubts about the war. I would just say something like, "Ten more years and you're done with all this," and then scuttle away.

Patrick asked to go back home once more before the deployment. I arranged it for this with his commander, regretting that Rian and I couldn't accompany him. I had to attend a briefing the next day about how to deal with a massive casualty, such as a Chinook helicopter going down. Rian and I drove Patrick to the bus station, not knowing that would be the last time we saw him in the United States.

He was due to return on August 22. I was sitting at my computer, creating fridge magnets with emergency numbers for the spouses during deployment. The phone rang. It was Patrick, who said, "Don't worry about picking me up. I'm not coming home, I'll call you in a few days."

I immediately called the commander and told him I didn't think Patrick was coming back. He assured me that I was overreacting. He added, "Well, he's not considered AWOL until Wednesday, so don't worry about it."

Patrick didn't come home.

I felt awful. Everything we had worked for was gone. Even if he returned I, and thereby the Command, would know he screwed up. What would other mothers and fathers tell their kids about Rian's daddy? My heart was broken but I made sure that Rian never knew. Something told me Patrick was in Canada. I had married a traitor. Why is this happening to me? I kept looking around the room, at all the red, white, and blue, and I just went numb.

On Wednesday everything changed. Patrick was now AWOL. I sat on the couch that night crying. Rian had crawled out of bed and was asking me what was wrong. I told him I had a tummy ache. He climbed up beside me and said "It's okay, Mom. I'll stay with you."

The commander, my friend, called. He asked me if there was anything we could do to get him back. I told him no. He said he knew some officers over at the hospital and could arrange to get word to Patrick that I had been so severely sexually assaulted that he needed to come home to take custody of Rian. All I could do was gasp. He then said "Well, if you talk to him, tell him I hope Rian doesn't have another seizure."

At that moment, my destiny became clear. I had bought into all of this. I had believed that they cared about me, and if not me, certainly about my son. It was all a lie and my mind couldn't take any more. "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." And so I did.

I arrived in Canada on September 18, 2005. Patrick was waiting for me about a mile past the border in Fort Erie, Ontario. I was free -- really free. No more George Bush, no more lies. I saw Patrick and I knew this was what I was meant to do. The three of us walked around for a little while, hand in hand, and it seemed that nothing had changed.

Our life in Canada has been hard. It doesn't matter who I was in the States, or what contacts I had. It was the first time I had ever been poor, the first time I didn't have a roof over my head, and the first time I was scared that I wasn't going to be good enough for Rian.

Telling people that I was a refugee claimant was easy. Telling them I was from the United States was often taken as a joke instead of the truth. I felt embarrassed and unworthy. Did I really believe all of the things Patrick was telling me? Was this war unlawful? Was it all about oil? Was the Army brainwashing soldiers?

It took me a little time before my head was clear. I was apprehensive at the beginning, for I wasn't ready to admit that everything I had supported in my old life was a brilliant public relations creation. I found it hard to admit that a girl who was raised to question everything had really questioned nothing. I had bought the patriotism and all that comes with it, hook, line and sinker.

After two years of living in Canada I have changed. Every second that I am allowed to live in peace with my family is precious. I would much rather be married to a deserter than to have to place one single rose on his coffin. Patrick was my hero then and he remains my hero now. The only thing that has changed is geography.

Kimberly Rivera:

I was assigned to the unit 2-17 Field Artillery in August 2006, to be shipped with my unit to Baghdad. Despite feeling that this was the wrong thing for me and my family. I was obliged to follow orders. With my unit, I left the States on 3 October 2006.

In Iraq, losing soldiers and civilians was a part of daily life. I was a gate guard. The infantry soldiers considered this assignment "a piece of cake" and looked down on it, because they go out into the streets every day, whereas we only had to guard a gate. Yet this was the highest security position in a forward operation base, for we searched the vehicles, civilian personnel, and military convoys that left and returned.

I was seeking the truth and it wasn't pretty. I was seeing the war as it was. People were losing their lives for the sake of a nation's greed. Many people couldn't see the lies behind the media reports they were watching. The soldiers come home with nightmares, anxieties, depression, anger, alcohol abuse, missing limbs, and scars from burns. Some don't come back at all. My goal is to find a better future than that for my kids.

My family and I left our little home in Mesquite, Texas and drove to Canada. We crossed Rainbow Bridge on February 18, 2007, beginning a new chapter filled with opportunities and hope. This journey has brought me the title of the "first female war resister in Canada." I am just glad I get to be a mom again.

I have been in Canada now for about seven months. I served in Iraq for three months and escaped death at least four or five times that I can count. I lost an Iraqi friend and know of soldiers being hurt or killed. Every time something happened, the army would disconnect all communications in the country.

I considered why I was fighting and couldn't come up with an answer worth giving my life for. If I am going to die it will definitely be for something I believe in -- and that war wasn't it. Although I had not been required to go out on patrol, I had felt certain that if we kept losing our soldiers at the same rate, my company soon would be doing the streets. My guess proved correct. Our company lost the youngest soldier in the battalion to a roadside bomb, which means that we were in the streets, doing the potholes. He was killed at nineteen. He had married on his leave in February and made it to March before being killed. It hurts me to think of it.

I don't believe in killing. I want it to stop -- both the pain of losses on the Iraqi side and the soldiers' side. These soldiers and families are facing a critical moment and support is urgently needed. To find out how to get involved, visit www.resisters.ca.

Sara Marlowe is active with the War Resisters Support Campaign in Toronto.

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2008

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2008, page 16. Some rights reserved.

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