by Becky Oberg
> To: Carl Rising-Moore
> Subject: please help a desperate serviceman
> Date: Sun, 29 Feb 2004 01:38:13 -0800 (PST)
> From: Brandon none <usa_soldier@- - - -
I am a member of the U.S. military whose unit deploys to Iraq next week. I do not want to be a pawn in the government's war for oil, and have told my superiors that I want out of the military. They are not willing to chapter me out and tell me that I have no choice but to pack my bags and get ready to go to Iraq. This has led me to feel hopeless and I have thought about suicide several times. However, just a few days ago I discovered some articles about you and Freedom Underground on the Internet, which gave me new hope.
I am desperate enough that I would gladly leave the country if that's what it meant to escape. I do not have much money, however, and would need a place to stay and help finding a job once I left the country.
I pray that you or someone you know can help me. I am in Texas, I won't tell you exactly where because I don't know who could be reading this but I am willing to pack my bags and start driving to anywhere you tell me to go. I pray that you get this letter as my unit deploys next week and I don't have much time. Please write back as soon as you can. God bless you and what you are doing. Brandon
MARCH 2, 2004
I'm waiting to meet a deserting soldier near a Safeway grocery store. He'll be a passenger on the Freedom Underground, an underground network dedicated to sneaking deserters out of the country. According to Carl Rising-Moore, the conductor of this new underground railroad, he's not the first.
Nor will he be the last--Rising-Moore told me that several Muslim service members and others have considered deserting rather than fighting in Iraq. While he encourages people to use the legal channels to leave the military and others in the network encourage desertion only as a last resort, he counsels suicidal service members to leave immediately.
This passenger, Brandon David Hughey, is a private in the Army, stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas. He found the Nuvo article 'A new underground railroad' on the anti-war site http://www.duckdaotsu.org, a Web site run by a Taoist hermit in the Rocky Mountains.
Another irony--the headquarters of the U.S. Army Deserter Information Point (USADIP) is in Indianapolis. He's right under their noses, so close that he can't afford any mistakes. He's got to hide his vehicle and turn off his cell phone so he's harder to track. He's also got to get rid of his military ID and dogtags.
A main reason Rising-Moore helped him is because he was suicidal. He prefers people "mess with the system from within" and use legal means to oppose the war. However,
if one is suicidal, he recommends they leave immediately.
I followed Rising-Moore and Brandon Hughey to the safe house in downtown Indianapolis. Hughey hid his dogtags and military ID in the trunk of his gray Mustang, which he and Rising-Moore then hid in the garage of the safe house. Hughey is wearing a New York Knicks baseball cap to hide his military-style haircut. He has only his driver's license and high school diploma to identify himself--will that be enough to cross the border? Canada usually requires Americans to present a photo identification and proof of citizenship, such as a passport or a driver's license and birth certificate.
He's been in the Army since July, and known he could be deployed since December. He got his deployment orders a few days ago--his unit is leaving as he arrives at the safe house.
His story is familiar. "Growing up, I always thought it was a good thing to do, go into the military," he told the CBC at the end of our journey. "After high school, I figured
it'd be a good way to get money to go to college."
Many of my Army buddies had the same feeling and reason for enlisting. He's seen soldiers in his company suffer nervous breakdowns -- just like I saw and experienced during my Army career.
He's survived this long -- why is he running now? He feels that suicide or desertion are his only options, especially with the time crunch. Some will consider him a hero -- he's risking jail time rather than supporting a war he believes is unjust. Some will consider him a coward and a traitor -- he is deserting during a time of war. There is no easy choice for this desperate young man from San Angelo, Texas.
He enlisted for four years when he was 17. His father had to sign a form giving Hughey permission to enlist as Hughey was not yet a legal adult. Rising-Moore shakes his head. "He's not old enough to sign for himself, but he's old enough to die?"
Hughey did not tell anyone else he was considering suicide. He's seen how the military humiliates suicidal soldiers ? a guard with the soldier 24/7, a sergeant or officer screaming insults about the soldier's mental stability, confiscation of weapons and shoelaces. I remember a sergeant telling me "They take the shoelaces to isolate the soldier, not to protect them. I don't think that's right."
Rising-Moore knows that aiding this 18-year-old man is illegal, but he doesn't think it's wrong. He believes the war is unjust and civil disobedience is mandatory. Compliance "goes against the Nuremburg principle," he explains.
According to the Nuremburg principle, a person has the obligation to disobey laws his or her conscience dictates are unjust. By not engaging in civil disobedience when one's conscience urges it, he says, one is breaking international law. "You're breaking international law by not breaking domestic law," Rising-Moore says. "The United States broke international law by following the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war. Every soldier has a responsibility to stop fighting."
"This is the place to fight America," Rising-Moore says. "America needs fighting by speaking the truth. America is the most appropriate place to fight the Bush Doctrine. Truth is the weapon against this current administration that went to war based on lies. It's the only weapon we've got."
This fog is straight out of a bad mystery novel. It forces Rising-Moore to slow down at times. Then it suddenly dissipates, and we continue down the interstate at an average of 65 mph. We're somewhere in Ohio.
The original plan was to enter Canada through the Detroit-Windsor border; that's changed. Now the plan is to go to Buffalo and cross at Niagara Falls. I've got a video camera; I'm filming part of the journey for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
Hughey, a tank driver, doesn't dare drive the borrowed non-descript vehicle. If pulled over, he would have to show ID--the last thing he wants to do. He's listening to music in the back seat. He seems calm, everything considered. Rising-Moore, Hughey, and I have talked about our various experiences in the Army and our views on the war.
I say little about the war or my opinion of Bush -- I'm a journalist, just along to document the story. It's hard to remain impartial, though. Part of me wants to say "Snap out of it, soldier!" and encourage him to return to his unit; part of me is sympathetic to his situation.
Rising-Moore explains the Bush Doctrine in neighborhood terms. For example, say Neighbor A tells you that Neighbor B has a small-scale armory in the house.
Neighbor B has weapons of mass destruction. Do you need to appeal to the authorities, or do you have the right to go in and kill Neighbor B? According to the Bush Doctrine, you break in to Neighbor B's house and attack Neighbor B.
Hughey laughs at the analogy. "Even if it's not his intent to use them?"
"Or even if he doesn't have any," says Rising-Moore.
Hughey, the son of staunch Texas Republicans, originally supported the war. Then the A and B-average high school graduate began watching the news, reading the newspaper. He read about international law and how it specifically forbids the invasion of a sovereign nation and pre-emptive war. As he learned there was no sign of the weapons of mass destruction -- the pretext of the whole war -- he decided the war was illegal under international law, his contract was null and void, and anything was better than supporting the war.
"My unit's in Kuwait right now," he says.
He's been gone for more than 24 hours, so he's officially absent without leave. His unit's been deployed, so he's missed movement by design -- another military offense. The maximum punishment for missing movement by design is a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for two years. Ten days after his disappearance, his family will receive a letter asking them to urge him to "return to military control". In thirty days, he'll be dropped from his unit's rolls and administratively classified as a deserter. Desertion during a time of war is a capital offense -- a fact we all know and don't discuss.
The last execution for desertion was during World War II, when Army Private Eddie Slovik was shot by a firing squad. Army spokesman Joe Burlas told Nuvo in a previous story that the penalty for desertion was "basically five years confinement if there's an intent to avoid hazardous duty."
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 returned. This is a recapture rate of about 85 percent in 2002 and 98 percent in 2001.
We stopped at a gas station to refuel the car and ourselves. Inside, I saw several kids' bomber jackets for sale, complete with Army patches. It's so easy for civilians to glorify war and the military.
Hughey said the military has tried to keep returning personnel separate from deploying personnel. It's easy to understand why when he talks about what he's heard. "You have to worry more about the sand flies than the suicide bombers," he says. He's heard service members in Iraq are getting incurable skin diseases because of the sand flies. Both sides are suffering from the use of depleted uranium, the effects of which will last long after the war is over. There are rumors some soldiers have died from dehydration due to a tight water ration. Morale is abysmal and the suicide rate is higher than normal. Some of the Humvees aren't properly armored--including the ones Hughey was supposed to drive. There is no exit strategy. Most damning -- no sign of the weapons of mass destruction.
Hughey believes his orders are contrary to international law. "I thought what was going on over there was immoral," he later tells the CBC. "It wasn't right. I feel that since Bush broke international law, that every soldier has the responsibility to resist it."
He's not alone in his assessment. Some coalition sources are refusing to fight -- British troops, Turkish forces, Americans. One American soldier and Afghanistan veteran, Jeremy Hinzman, has applied for political asylum in Canada. Others have contacted him for help; Rising-Moore considers that his job.
We're close to the border now. Rising-Moore starts to prepare a contingency plan and advises Hughey on what to do if arrested. It all depends on what happens at the border, if his driver's license is enough to get him into Canada.
We're about a quarter of a mile from the border. We're in a small park in Niagara, New York. I pull out the camera and start it. American and Canadian flags flank a replica of the Statue of Liberty; Rising-Moore and Hughey admire it. "What does liberty mean to you?" I ask.
Hughey starts to answer. Freedom. Not having to fight in a war he doesn't believe in. The freedom to say no.
We're on the Rainbow Bridge. The CBC is waiting for us. We slowly creep toward the border. A guard is walking along the bridge, checking cars for anything suspicious. He's approaching us. Suddenly, he turns around and goes back to talk to the CBC's camera crew, which is filming our crossing.
We pull up to the Canadian guard station and surrender our IDs. How do we know each other? Where are we going in Canada? We're going to watch the Knicks-Raptors game. How long will we be staying? Not long. Rising-Moore does the talking. The guard examines our IDs, then hands them back and lets us through. We're quiet until we get about fifty feet into Canada. Hughey sighs in relief. "Safe from Bush's henchmen for the time being," he says.
"For a long time to come," Rising-Moore replies.
Hughey nods. "I feel safe now," he says. "I'm glad to be in this country. I feel like a free man."
We meet up with the CBC and drive into St. Catherine's, Ontario. A group of the Society of Friends -- Quakers -- is waiting for us. "Welcome to Canada," says Don Alexander, smiling. He chuckles, and says, "Or should that be "'Welcome to Canada, eh?'" They offer us food and invite us to spend the night. They praise Hughey for his courage, then turn to me to make sure I understand why they consider him a hero. They believe it takes great moral courage to refuse on conscience to fight a war.
Many of them had helped deserters during the Vietnam War, and they believe history is repeating itself.
"He shouldn't have to go die in some killing fields in Iraq -- or anywhere else -- in a pre-emptive war that's totally contrary to international law," Rising-Moore says. The Friends nod in agreement. "He's a nice young man and he deserves a life."
The CBC asks one of the Friends, Rose Marie Cipryk, why they're helping. "Why would we say no?" Cipryk replies. "How could we? How could we not help him?"
Return to America
We spend the night with the Friends. They present Hughey with a postcard-sized painting entitled "The Angel of Grace". He seems sad to see Rising-Moore and me leave, but Rising-Moore tries to encourage him. "You're a different kind of soldier now," says Rising-Moore. He's a soldier for peace, Rising-Moore says. Rising-Moore helps him contact Hinzman and a lawyer, Jeffery House, to help him gain legal status in Canada.
Hughey says leaving his family behind is the hardest part about deserting. I ask about his unit. "I hope they all make it back okay," he says. "It's just too bad they have to be over there in an illegal war." Any advice for service members in his situation? "If you're at that point, you're ready to take your own life, pack your bags and go."
He didn't know applying for conscientious objector (CO) status was an option. That status is difficult to get. According to the Center on Conscience and War (CCW), an organization which advises soldiers of their rights and how to get CO status, only a small percentage of people who apply receive a CO discharge. The applications take an average of six months to one year to process. Sometimes they take as long as two years. The United States military does not recognize conditional conscientious objectors--for example, someone who would fight in what he or she considers a "just war" but not an "unjust war".
During the Gulf War, the Army granted CO status to 111 soldiers before putting a stop to the practice, according to CCW. As a result, 2,500 soldiers were sent to prison for refusing to fight. According to the CCW's Bill Gavlin, during that war a number of COs in Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, were "beaten, harassed and treated horribly". While Gavlin does not know of any incidents like that in this war, he has counseled service members who were harassed. For example, one woman was threatened with court-martial if she applied for CO status. It is not an offense to apply, and Gavlin says her superiors did it "to intimidate her".When Rising-Moore and I cross the border back into America, we are greeted with a Marine recruiting billboard. "Look at that garbage," he says, disgusted. "'The change is forever.' Yeah, if you're dead, that's pretty much forever."
Rising-Moore tells me about a conversation he had with his wife before we left. "I'm scared," he told her. "I've got to do what I've got to do. I don't want to do this. I have to."
Although he will not escort someone across the border again, Rising-Moore plans to continue to assist deserters.
© 2004 Becky Oberg
The Dove Legal Defense Fund
has been set up for legal assistance
to help deserters legally immigrate to Canada.
Contributions may be sent to
31 Prince Arthur Ave.
Toronto, Ontario M5R 1B2
"In trust for Brandon Hughey" should be written in the check's memo section.
The Center on Conscience and War (CCW)
GI HOTLINE 800 394-9544
CCW statement about crossing the border to Canada
HOW TO STAY OUT OF THE MILITARY
"The American activist's appearance in Vancouver is part of a cross-country effort to petition Canada for safe refuge for U.S. military deserters across the border. The 'Freedom Underground' he's pitching would be an underground railroad, similar to the extensive formal and informal network that helped draft dodgers and deserters in the '60s."
Hughey photo courtesy of CBC
Carl Rising-Moore Photo by Dan Toulgoet
courtesy of the Vancouver Courier
To see the documentary visit the CBC website
DISCLOSURES: AWOL in Canada*
Brandon's website http://www.BrandonHughey.org
|The Casualty||tables of contentpage
|not just numbers
|not just numbers
names, ages, home
* AWOL in Canada
For more than 200 years, Americans have been escaping war and strife in the U.S. by heading north. They came during the War of Independence, the Civil War, the Vietnam War S and now there's that other war in Iraq. It's only a trickle, but it's starting to happen again.
Producer: Ryszard Hunka
Associate Producer: Scott Anderson
Research: Lawrence Morton, Danielle Stone
Editors: Gary Akenhead, Dominique Banoun
Camera: Don Scott
Sound: Chris Davies
Special thanks to Becky Oberg