February 27, 2009

War Resister Cliff Cornell Charged With Desertion

Cliff Cornell, the second US war resister deported from Canada by the Harper Government, has been charged with desertion. There will now be an investigation which will determine whether or not he'll be court martialled.

Cliff is being represented by James Branum, a lawyer who works for peace and for soldiers' rights. Branum also represents Robin Long and other prisoners of conscience.

I'm not surprised to read that Cliff's commander considered him a model soldier. Cliff's employer and neighbours on Gabriola Island in BC loved and respected him as a valued member of the community.

Another war resister, who chose not to be public while he was in Canada, recently turned himself in to his US army base. He is being held in "restrictive custody," and has learned he'll be court martialled. I hope Cliff has better luck, but I fear for him.

* * * *

Until Cliff is sentenced, we won't receive direct word from him and he won't be able to speak publicly. But we can speak up for him.

Cliff shouldn't be in the US. He shouldn't be treated like a criminal. He should be safe in Canada, his country of choice. And if the Harper Government believed in democracy, he would be.

Let's not forget Cliff. Let's pledge to redouble our efforts to honour the sacrifice he's made. Let Them Stay!

From the Sun papers, via AP:

U.S. army commanders have filed a desertion charge against a soldier accused of fleeing to Canada four years ago to avoid the war in Iraq, a spokesman for the Fort Stewart army post said Thursday.

Specialist Cliff Cornell, 29, will now face an investigation to determine whether his case should be handled administratively or sent to a court martial, said Maj. Lee Peters, a Fort Stewart spokesman.

Cornell, of Mountain Home, Ark., returned to the army two weeks ago after the Canadian government denied him asylum as a war objector.

Cornell acknowledges he left his unit with the army’s 3rd Infantry Division in 2005 and fled to Canada, where he found work at a grocery store on Gabriola Island in British Columbia. He returned across the U.S.-Canada border earlier this month.

Cornell has continued to perform regular duties with his new unit since he turned himself in at Fort Stewart on Feb. 10, and he was not jailed after charges were filed. Peters said Cornell’s commander has praised his performance since he returned.

“In his opinion, Cornell’s been a model soldier,” Peters said. “He’s shown up, performed his duty and done exactly what the company’s asked him to do.”

James Branum, Cornell’s lawyer, said he hopes his client’s good behaviour will persuade the army to show him some leniency.

Military law defines desertion as leaving the military with no intent to return or to avoid hazardous duty. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, compared to a maximum of 18 months imprisonment for soldiers convicted of being absent without leave.

"He did turn himself in, which is an important factor," Branum said. "Another important thing in Cliff’s case is why he left. He had really good reasons to do what he did, and those reasons should excuse part of the punishment."

In an interview before he returned to Fort Stewart, Cornell said he decided to flee because he didn't believe the war was helping Iraqi citizens. He also said he couldn't stomach the thought of killing.

"I'm just not a fighter," Cornell told The Associated Press on Feb. 9. "I know it sounds funny, but I have a really soft heart."

Fort Stewart commanders have a wide range of options for handling Cornell’s case. They could opt not to punish him at all, punish him administratively or seek a prison sentence by prosecuting him in a court-martial.

Cornell is just one of the dozens of American soldiers who have fled to Canada in the wake of the Iraq war.

Michelle Robidoux, a spokeswoman for the Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign, says the group has worked with about 50 U.S. service members seeking refugee status or political asylum in Canada.

The group says more than 200 have fled to Canada, most of them hiding out illegally.

Posted by L-girl at We Move To Canada

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