Little Fish in a Giant pond

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Duty vs. Conscience

The Supreme Court of Canada announced today that it has refused to hear an appeal of an immigration board's decision to refuse refugee status to American soldiers who deserted their army and fled to our side of the border (for details see the story here).

I have to admit that I felt a twinge of sympathy for at least one of the soldiers in question here. Jeremy Hinzman, has been in the news for a little while now, and from what I remember from having read about him before, he was a member of an Airborne division, and had already served a full tour of Afghanistan before he chose to desert rather than allow himself to be shipped off to Iraq, for fear that he would be forced to commit war crimes. Given that the man has already served a tour, I am having a hard time believing that he is a coward. At first glance it looks to me like the man really does have a moral objection against serving in the Iraq war.

Furthermore, even if he was simply scared for his life and did not want to go to war again, since I am not a veteran, I would have a hard time blaming him knowing that he has already endured war and has a better idea of what he is going back to than I do.

Canada has sheltered American war deserters before, most notably, those that did not want to serve in the Vietnam War. But there is a huge difference here. Jeremy Hinzman was a volunteer, not a draftee. He joined the army of his own free will and voluntarily submitted himself to a soldier’s way of life. You do not have to be a soldier to understand that being in the military means that you do not have much choice about which orders you will or will not follow. One of the few choices you can make is not to follow an illegal order.

If I'm not mistaken Hinzman's lawyer may have argued that his mere presence in Iraq would have been a war crime. I know that people have been convicted before for "crimes against peace" for engaging in aggressive wars but those are usually high ranking generals or statesmen, not regular soldiers. Regular soldiers are usually judged by the actions they perform once they are in foreign countries, as was the case in the Abu Graib prison scandal. From what I've read about Hinzman's situation, and about Irk in general, I see no reason to believe that his presence in Iraq would constitute a war crime. To be fair, I am by no means an expert on international law, so if any of my fellow bloggers out there can offer a more informed opinion about whether or not he would be committing a war crime, I would welcome it.

As I said before, when someone joins the army, they are volunteering to become a soldier and soldiers are subject to a much higher degree of discipline than normal citizens. It has to be this way, since soldiers are often called upon to do things that ordinary citizens would not choose to do, things that very often put their lives in danger, things that can be very unpleasant (such as having to kill). This is a necessary measure that is used to protect our societies, but it is highly vulnerable to abuse, and often leads governments to use well intentioned, patriotic soldiers as thugs. For this reason there are certain safeguards so that soldiers can use their own personal judgment to a certain degree. As I mentioned before, they have the right to refuse illegal orders. In the U.S., they have the right to ask for "conscientious objectors status".

In Hinzman's case, I believe he actually applied for conscientious objectors status it but was denied. Still, I don't think that the answer was to run away to Canada. In my opinion, Hinzman should have refused his orders to go to Iraq and face a court martial, where he could have plead not guilty and attempted to argue that he could not obey orders to go to Iraq on the grounds that doing so would amount to him committing a war crime. His guilt or innocence could be determined, first by a jury made up of his fellow soldiers, and if he is convicted he can still appeal to the American court system. He made a commitment to the U.S. Army and he has an obligation to them. Since the American courts are the competent jurisdiction to decide these matters, it is up to them to make this kind of decision.

I haven't been able to make up my mind as to whether or not Hinzman deserves to go to jail or not, after all, he is clearly not just some coward, but he has committed a crime, so it is a difficult question to answer. What I am certain of is that he needs to face a court martial in the U.S. and extraditing him would not endanger his life or health. Once he is home, he will face neither persecution, nor torture.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

He Who Lives by the Sword...

Even though he is ahead in the polls, Prime Minister Harper is not looking so cocky these days as he once was. It appears that the man who rode into power by crucifying Paul Martin for a scandal he had nothing to do with, is now about to see a little bit of the same storm blow back his way.

Yes it appears that after a week of attacks from the opposition, the Prime Minister has decided to commission an independent probe into the allegations that the former Progressive-Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney received payments from Karlheinz Schreiber. This of course comes only a week after the PM completely ruled out the possibility of declaring an inquiry. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure what, if any differences exist between an "independent probe" and a "judicial inquiry", but this sounds like yet another dramatic reversal of position from the same man who criticizes Stéphane Dion because in his opinion, he is "not a leader".

Politically speaking, the big question that this raises is not so much whether or not Mulroney is guilty of any wrongdoing, but rather whether or not this will impact Harper in the polls. After all, the fact that he was not Prime Minister while all of the sponsorship scandal activities were occurring, did not seem to help Paul Martin very much (in fact being cleared by Gomery didn't even seem to help Martin out). So would it really matter that the alleged payments to Mulroney might have been made over a decade before Harper came to power matter? Only time will tell.

In Martin's case, there was also the question of proximity, as he had been a member of Chrétien's cabinet. But then, Prime Minister Mulroney is a former mentor of Harper's. In fact as the above article states, the latter has worked hard to reform the image of the former. Will this come into play at all?

When coupled with the election spending problems that the Conservatives are having with Elections Canada, this issue might have the power to have a seriously negative impact on the governing party in the polls. After all, given that they rose (barely) to power on the basis that they would end corruption, and now have to defend themselves from multiple allegations of corruption, they are particularly vulnerable.

The problem for us Liberals? Even if these allegations do stick to Prime Minister Harper, the electorate isn’t likely to vote for either party that they perceive to be corrupt. They will vote for other parties, or they will just plain stay home or at work on Election Day.