Air Force Times: Thousands of troops say they won¹t fight


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

July 05, 2006

Thousands of troops say they won¹t fight

By Ana Radelat
Gannett News Service

Swept up by a wave of patriotism after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Chris Magaoay 
joined the Marine Corps in November 2004.

The newly married Magaoay thought a military career would allow him to continue 
his college education, help his country and set his life on the right path.

Less than two years later, Magaoay became one of thousands of military deserters
who have chosen a lifetime of exile or possible court-martial rather than fight 
in Iraq or Afghanistan.

³It wasn¹t something I did on the spur of the moment,² said Magaoay, a native of
Maui, Hawaii. ³It took me a long time to realize what was going on. The war is 

Magaoay said his disillusionment with the military began in boot camp in 
Twentynine Palms, Calif., where a superior officer joked about killing and 
mistreating Iraqis. When his unit was deployed to Iraq in March, Magaoay and his
wife drove to Canada, joining a small group of deserters who are trying to win 
permission from the Canadian government to stay.

³We¹re like a tight-knit family,² Magaoay said.

The Pentagon says deserters like Magaoay represent a tiny fraction of the 
nation¹s fighting forces.

³The vast majority of soldiers who desert do so for personal, family or 
financial problems, not for political or conscientious objector purposes,² said 
Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, a spokesman for the Army.

Since 2000, about 40,000 troops from all branches of the military have deserted,
the Pentagon says. More than half served in the Army. But the Army says numbers 
have decreased each year since the United States began its war on terror in 

Those who help war resisters say desertion is more prevalent than the military 
has admitted.

³They lied in Vietnam with the amount of opposition to the war and they¹re lying
now,² said Eric Seitz, an attorney who represents Army Lt. Ehren Watada, the 
first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to the war in Iraq.

Watada is under military custody in Fort Lewis, Wash., because he refused to 
join his Stryker brigade when it was sent to Iraq last month.

Watada said he doesn¹t object to war but considers the conflict in Iraq illegal.
The Army has turned down his request to resign and plans to file charges against

Critics of the Iraq war have demonstrated on the lieutenant¹s behalf. 
Conservative bloggers call him a traitor and opportunist.

Joe Davis, spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said deserters aren¹t 
traitors because they¹ve done nothing to help America¹s enemies. But he rejects 
arguments that deserters have a moral right to refuse to fight wars they 
consider unjust.

³None of us can choose our wars. They¹re always a political decision,² Davis 
said. ³They¹re letting their buddies down and hurting morale - and morale is 
everything on the battlefront.²

Because today¹s military is an all-volunteer force, troops seeking objector 
status must convince superior officers they¹ve had an honest change of heart 
about the morality of war.

The last time the U.S. military executed a deserter was World War II. But 
hundreds face court-martials and imprisonment every year.

Members of the armed forces are considered absent without leave when they are 
unaccounted for. They become deserters after they¹ve been AWOL for 30 days.

A 2002 Army report says desertion is fairly constant but tends to worsen during 
wartime, when there¹s an increased need for troops and enlistment standards are 
more lax. They also say deserters tend to be less educated and more likely to 
have engaged in delinquent behavior than other troops.

Army spokesman Hilferty said the Army doesn¹t try to find deserters. Instead, 
their names are given to civilian law enforcement officers who often nab them 
during routine traffic stops and turn them over to the military.

Commanders then decide whether to rehabilitate or court-martial the alleged 
deserter. There¹s an incentive to rehabilitate because it costs the military an 
average of $38,000 to recruit and train a replacement.

Jeffry House, an attorney in Toronto who represents Magaoay and other deserters,
said there are about 200 deserters living in Canada. They have decided not to 
seek refugee status but instead are leading clandestine lives, he said.

Like many of the people helping today¹s war resisters, House fled to Canada to 
avoid the Vietnam War. About 50,000 Americans sought legal residency in Canada 
during the Vietnam era.

³You would apply at the border and if you didn¹t have a criminal record, you 
were in,² House said.

He said changes in Canadian law make it harder for resisters to flee north. Now,
potential immigrants must apply for Canadian residency in their home countries. 
Resisters say that exposes them to U.S. prosecution.

Copyright © 2006

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