US Army Deserters
- A new underground railroad
Service members know the consequences of going absent without leave
(unauthorized absence in the Navy) a maximum penalty of five years
confinement, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and a dishonorable
discharge. The maximum penalty for desertion in a time of war is
"If everything else fails, people should desert, just as George W.
Bush did during the Vietnam War." Carl Rising-Moore
Yet some military personnel are going AWOL or deserting to avoid
returning to Iraq.
"I definitely don't want to go back there," a Florida National
Guardsman told CBS News. "I think most people if not all people who
are there don't want to be there."
That Guardsman missed his flight back to Iraq on Oct. 18. According
to the Washington Post, the soldier has not returned to duty and may
be on the run.
According to Natalie Granger of the Army Public Affairs Office, 3,800
soldiers deserted in 2002. Three thousand two hundred fifty-five were
returned to military control. In 2001, 5,065 deserted and 4,966 were
"This is something that we have to deal with regularly," Granger
Granger said she could not say whether the Army would execute a
deserter today as each case is judged on an individual
basis. "Obviously it's an option," she said.
Army spokesman Joe Burlas said the Army would probably not pursue
execution. He said the last execution for desertion was during World
"[The penalty for desertion is] basically five years confinement if
there's an intent to avoid hazardous duty," he said.
The GI Rights Hotline, a national soldiers' support service, told the
New York Post that they've received more than 100 calls inquiring
about the penalties associated for going AWOL. Some of the calls have
come from soldiers home on leave, others have come from soldiers in
the war zone. Some callers have said they will not return to Iraq.
The consequences of this action can be harsh. In a recent case,
Marine Stephen Funk was acquitted of desertion but convicted of
unauthorized absence, according to occupationwatch.org. Funk, a
conscientious objector, was sentenced to six months in the Camp
Lejeune brig (military prison), reduction in rank to private,
forfeiture of two-thirds pay for six months and a bad-conduct
The penalty is harsher for desertion. After a service member is AWOL
for more than 30 days, he or she is dropped from the rolls and
administratively classified as a deserter.
When a soldier is classified as a deserter, a federal arrest warrant
is issued. Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies may
apprehend the deserter. The next of kin is contacted by letter after
10 days and asked to urge the member to return voluntarily to
Harboring a deserter is illegal. According to Claudia Cummings,
public affairs officer for the U.S. Attorney's Office in
Indianapolis, the maximum penalty is three years in a federal prison.
Some people, however, think it is worth the risk.
"When I hear about these women and men that would kill themselves to
escape, my duty as a veteran and a loyal American is to fight my
government in whatever nonviolent manner is appropriate," Carl Rising-
Moore said in an e-mail to anti-war activists in Indianapolis.
According to USA Today, 11 soldiers and three Marines have killed
themselves in the past seven months in Iraq. Several other deaths are
being investigated as suicides. In addition, the Army has sent 478
soldiers home from Iraq for mental health reasons.
Rising-Moore, an Army veteran, served during the Vietnam War. While
he volunteered for duty in Vietnam, he was stationed stateside. When
he was discharged, he was supportive of people who were fleeing to
Canada to avoid serving. He said the current Iraq situation is
similar to Vietnam.
"If everything else fails, people should desert, just as George W.
Bush did during the Vietnam War," he said.
There is a gap in Bush's military service record from May 1972 to
October 1973. Critics have charged he deserted.
Rising-Moore said people all over the country are willing to harbor
deserters and help them escape to Canada.
"The Canadian people are up for the task," Rising-Moore said.
Under Canadian law, political asylum cases are handled on a case-by-
case basis by an immigration officer at the border. Canada follows
the United Nations guidelines on granting political asylum.
Rising-Moore also said Sweden and Norway might grant political asylum
Some countries definitely will not.
"There is no way they can come to Switzerland," said a spokesperson
from the Consulate of Switzerland in Indianapolis. "We are a neutral
country. We don't get involved in the affairs of other peoples."
Rising-Moore is currently in Canada to gather support for what he
called the "Freedom Underground." He will visit all the major cities,
including Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax
Rising-Moore said some people think he has gone over the top, but he
believes the Nuremberg principle applies. According to the Nuremberg
principle, individuals have a responsibility to choose to follow the
higher moral code when it conflicts with laws and orders.
"I would hope the American people would stand up against this fascist
regime of George W. Bush, the un-elected military dictator of the
United States of America," he said.
"It is better to go through the proper channels to leave the
military, but if one is willing to die rather than go through the
process, than I recommend that they leave right away," Rising-Moore
wrote in e-mail communication. "I reiterate that a better solution to
this option is to become a war resister within the military and tell
your commanding officer that you do not wish to kill any more. It may
take a few months, but eventually they will let you out. You may wish
to also refuse to be assigned to Iraq because even if you are in a
noncombatant role, you are still supporting this illegal and immoral
Rising-Moore said that two weeks ago, 30 military personnel refused
to report for duty in Iraq.
In 1971, Abbie Hoffman described how to desert in Steal This Book.
Hoffman recommended Sweden and Canada.
According to its government Web page, Canada received between
30,000 and 40,000 deserters and draft dodgers during the Vietnam War.
Many went to Toronto, which still has a heavy American presence.
According to the History Channel, the last execution for desertion
was in 1945, when Army Pvt. Eddie Slovik was shot by a firing squad.
The Army's Deserter Information Point (USADIP) is in Indianapolis.
USADIP is the Army's information control center for absentees and
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