40,000 US Troops Have Deserted Since 2000
By Ana Radelat
Gannett News Service
Saturday 05 August 2006
Swept up by a wave of patriotism after the US 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.
"It wasn't something I did on the spur of the moment," said
Magaoay, a native of Maui, Hawaii. "It took me a long time to realize
what was going on. The war is illegal."
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.
"We're like a tight-knit family," Magaoay said.
The Pentagon says deserters like Magaoay represent a tiny fraction
of the nation's fighting forces.
"The vast majority of soldiers who desert do so for personal,
family or financial problems, not for political or conscientious
objector purposes," said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, a spokesman for the
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 Afghanistan.
Those who help war resisters say desertion is more prevalent than
the military has admitted.
"They lied in Vietnam with the amount of opposition to the war and
they're lying now," 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 doesn't 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 him.
Critics of the Iraq war have demonstrated on the lieutenant's
behalf. Conservative bloggers call him a traitor and opportunist.
Joe Davis, spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said
deserters aren't traitors because they've done nothing to help
America's enemies. But he rejects arguments that deserters have a
moral right to refuse to fight wars they consider unjust.
"None of us can choose our wars. They're always a political
decision," Davis said. "They're letting their buddies down and hurting
morale - and morale is everything on the battlefront."
Because today's military is an all-volunteer force, troops seeking
objector status must convince superior officers they've had an honest
change of heart about the morality of war.
The last time the US 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 they've
been AWOL for 30 days.
A 2002 Army report says desertion is fairly constant but tends to
worsen during wartime, when there's 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 doesn't 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. There's an incentive to rehabilitate because it
costs the military an average of $38,000 to recruit and train a
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 today's war resisters, House fled
to Canada to avoid the Vietnam War. About 50,000 Americans sought
legal residency in Canada during the Vietnam era.
"You would apply at the border and if you didn't have a criminal
record, you were in," 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
Soldiers say officers commanded them to 'kill all military age males'
ACCUSED TROOPS: WE WERE UNDER ORDERS TO KILL
Associated Press, 7/21/06
EL PASO, Texas - Four U.S. soldiers accused of murdering suspected
insurgents during a raid in Iraq said they were under orders to "kill
all military age males," according to sworn statements obtained by The
The soldiers first took some of the men into custody because they were
using two women and a toddler as human shields. They shot three of the
men after the women and child were safe and say the men attacked them.
"The ROE (rule of engagement) was to kill all military age males on
Objective Murray," Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard told investigators,
referring to the target by its code name.
That target, an island on a canal in the northern Salhuddin province,
was believed to be an al-Qaida training camp. The soldiers said
officers in their chain of command gave them the order and explained
that special forces had tried before to target the island and had come
under fire from insurgents.
Girouard, Spc. William B. Hunsaker, Pfc. Corey R. Clagett, and Spc.
Juston R. Graber are charged with murder and other offenses in the
shooting deaths of three of the men during the May 9 raid.
Girouard, Hunsaker and Clagett are also charged with obstruction of
justice for allegedly threatening to kill another soldier if he told
authorities what happened.
`They did it admirably'
In sworn statements obtained this week by the AP, Girouard, Hunsaker,
Clagett, and a witness, Sgt. Leonel Lemus, told Army investigators
they were ordered to attack an island in northern Salahuddin province
on May 9 and kill anti-Iraqi fighters with ties to al-Qaida.
All four soldiers charged are members of the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based
3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. They
have been jailed in Kuwait since their June arrests. Their first
hearing is Aug. 1 near Tikrit, Iraq.
Michael Waddington, Hunsaker's civilian lawyer, said his client
followed orders and killed the detainees in self-defense after he and
Clagett were attacked.
"They did (their job) honorably, they did it admirably," said Paul
Bergrin, Clagett's civilian attorney. "If they did want to kill these
men, they could have and been within the rules of engagement."
Officers from their unit initially cleared the soldiers of wrongdoing.
Charges were filed when witnesses changed their testimony after
repeated interviews with Army investigators, Bergrin said.
Military declines to comment
Reached by e-mail in Iraq, Girouard's Army lawyer, Capt. Theodore
Miller, declined to comment because the investigation was continuing.
An Army prosecutor, also deployed to Iraq, did not respond to an
e-mail request for comment.
Army spokesman Sheldon Smith asked that a request for comment be
e-mailed to him in Virginia. He did not immediately respond.
Military officials have released few details of the case.
But statements from Girouard, Hunsaker and Clagett describe a tense
early morning scene, with soldiers immediately opening fire on buildings.
Girouard told investigators he expected he and his comrades would
immediately be attacked when they landed on the island. Intelligence
officials had warned that at least 20 al-Qaida operatives were hiding
But it was only once the men moved to the northern half of the island
that they found anyone, Girouard said. He said he and others shot and
killed a man they spied in a window in one building and then rushed
into a house where they found three other men hiding behind two women.
A fifth man, holding a 2-year-old girl in front of him, later came out
of another building, Girouard and Hunsaker told investigators.
`Struck on the face'
Girouard said the four surviving men were not immediately killed
because of the human shields. Once the women and child were moved to
safety, he told investigators, the men did not appear to pose a threat
and the soldiers took them into custody.
But Hunsaker said three of the men then attacked him and Clagett as
the soldiers were trying to bind the men's hands with heavy-duty
"I had felt this action necessary for they had tried to use deadly
force on me and my comrade," Hunsaker wrote about the shooting.
Hunsaker told investigators he was stabbed. Clagett said he was
"struck on the face with a fist or something."
Lemus, who only saw the men fall to the ground, told investigators he
thought the killings were justified.
"Proper escalation of force was used when the detainee became hostile
and armed himself with a weapon and wounded one soldier and struck
another," Lemus said. "Our actions ... were in accordance to the ROE
(rule of engagement) briefed to us prior to our mission and moments
before our air assault was conducted."
`Telling the truth'
Girouard said he did not see the shooting either but was immediately
told what happened.
"I think they are telling the truth," Girouard's statement said. "If
it would have happened another way they would have told me and the
story has been the same the whole time."
Clagett and Hunsaker also told investigators they found AK-47 assault
rifles, ammunition and gun parts after the men were killed.
Bergrin said the weapons and other evidence not mentioned in the
statements were proof that the Iraqi men were a threat.
Several other service members face similar charges in unrelated cases
involving the deaths of civilians in Iraq.
According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the maximum penalty
for murder is death, but it was unclear if the government will seek
the death penalty in any of the pending cases.
The Right Way in Iraq
By John Edwards
Sunday, November 13, 2005; B07
I was wrong.
Almost three years ago we went into Iraq to remove what we were told
-- and what many of us believed and argued -- was a threat to America.
But in fact we now know that Iraq did not have weapons of mass
destruction when our forces invaded Iraq in 2003. The intelligence was
deeply flawed and, in some cases, manipulated to fit a political agenda.
It was a mistake to vote for this war in 2002. I take responsibility
for that mistake. It has been hard to say these words because those
who didn't make a mistake -- the men and women of our armed forces and
their families -- have performed heroically and paid a dear price.
The world desperately needs moral leadership from America, and the
foundation for moral leadership is telling the truth.
While we can't change the past, we need to accept responsibility,
because a key part of restoring America's moral leadership is
acknowledging when we've made mistakes or been proven wrong -- and
showing that we have the creativity and guts to make it right.
The argument for going to war with Iraq was based on intelligence that
we now know was inaccurate. The information the American people were
hearing from the president -- and that I was being given by our
intelligence community -- wasn't the whole story. Had I known this at
the time, I never would have voted for this war.
George Bush won't accept responsibility for his mistakes. Along with
Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, he has made horrible mistakes at
almost every step: failed diplomacy; not going in with enough troops;
not giving our forces the equipment they need; not having a plan for
Because of these failures, Iraq is a mess and has become a far greater
threat than it ever was. It is now a haven for terrorists, and our
presence there is draining the goodwill our country once enjoyed,
diminishing our global standing. It has made fighting the global war
against terrorist organizations more difficult, not less.
The urgent question isn't how we got here but what we do now. We have
to give our troops a way to end their mission honorably. That means
leaving behind a success, not a failure.
What is success? I don't think it is Iraq as a Jeffersonian democracy.
I think it is an Iraq that is relatively stable, largely
self-sufficient, comparatively open and free, and in control of its
A plan for success needs to focus on three interlocking objectives:
reducing the American presence, building Iraq's capacity and getting
other countries to meet their responsibilities to help.
First, we need to remove the image of an imperialist America from the
landscape of Iraq. American contractors who have taken unfair
advantage of the turmoil in Iraq need to leave Iraq. If that means
Halliburton subsidiary KBR, then KBR should go. Such departures, and
the return of the work to Iraqi businesses, would be a real statement
about our hopes for the new nation.
We also need to show Iraq and the world that we will not stay there
forever. We've reached the point where the large number of our troops
in Iraq hurts, not helps, our goals. Therefore, early next year, after
the Iraqi elections, when a new government has been created, we should
begin redeployment of a significant number of troops out of Iraq. This
should be the beginning of a gradual process to reduce our presence
and change the shape of our military's deployment in Iraq. Most of
these troops should come from National Guard or Reserve forces.
That will still leave us with enough military capability, combined
with better-trained Iraqis, to fight terrorists and continue to help
the Iraqis develop a stable country.
Second, this redeployment should work in concert with a more effective
training program for Iraqi forces. We should implement a clear plan
for training and hard deadlines for certain benchmarks to be met. To
increase incentives, we should implement a schedule showing that, as
we certify Iraqi troops as trained and equipped, a proportional number
of U.S. troops will be withdrawn.
Third, we must launch a serious diplomatic process that brings the
world into this effort. We should bring Iraq's neighbors and our key
European allies into a diplomatic process to get Iraq on its feet. The
president needs to create a unified international front.
Too many mistakes have already been made for this to be easy. Yet we
must take these steps to succeed. The American people, the Iraqi
people and -- most important -- our troops who have died or been
injured there, and those who are fighting there today, deserve nothing
America's leaders -- all of us -- need to accept the responsibility we
each carry for how we got to this place. More than 2,000 Americans
have lost their lives in this war, and more than 150,000 are fighting
there today. They and their families deserve honesty from our
country's leaders. And they also deserve a clear plan for a way out.
The writer, a former senator from North Carolina, was the Democratic
nominee for vice president in 2004.
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