Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Veterans and War Resisters Enjoy Solidarity Picnic on US-Canada Border

by Gerry Condon

In a show of support for GIs who are refusing to fight in Iraq, 150 veterans traveled to the U.S.-Canada border on Sunday, Aug. 13, for a “solidarity picnic” with war resisters seeking sanctuary in Canada. Two buses and a caravan of cars ferried members of Veterans For Peace from their national convention in Seattle to Peace Arch Park, a neutral zone on the border between Washington State and British Columbia.

U.S. war resisters were accompanied by Canadian supporters, including World War II veterans. The War Resisters Support Campaign, with chapters across Canada, co-sponsored the event with Veterans For Peace.

“This is the worse combat situation since Vietnam. War crimes are being committed every single day,” said Kyle Snyder, 22, who was a machine gunner in Iraq. “When I reported the shooting of an innocent civilian, my superiors didn’t even bother to investigate,” continued Snyder, one of 30 U.S. military personnel who have applied for refugee status in Canada.

Colonel Ann Wright (ret.) told Snyder he was doing the right thing. “There is a time honored tradition in the U.S. military to refuse to follow illegal orders or to commit war crimes,” said Col. Wright, who resigned from the U.S. State Department in protest of the Iraq War.

“We’re here today to tell the war resisters that we are behind them 100 percent,” said Dave Cline, national president of Veterans For Peace. Cline, a highly decorated veteran who was wounded three times in the Vietnam War, called on the Canadian government to provide sanctuary for U.S. war resisters.

Musicians from both sides of the borders sang songs of peace while the 300 participants enjoyed a family style picnic in a festive atmosphere. Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War held friendly conversations with their war resister peers in Canada, and invited them to join their growing organization. Several of the war resisters have already fought in the Iraq War but fled to Canada after being ordered back for a second tour.

Kelly Dougherty, a woman who fought in Iraq, met with two young women who are AWOL from the U.S. Air Force. Dougherty, who was recently elected board chairperson of Iraq Veterans Against the War, has also been speaking out in support of Army Specialist Suzanne Swift, who has refused to return to Iraq after being sexually harassed by several of her superiors.

Suzanne Swift is currently awaiting her fate at Fort Lewis, Washington, where Sgt. Kevin Benderman has been imprisoned for 15 months for refusing to return to Iraq, and Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq, is awaiting court martial.

Sgt. Ricky Clousing, who served in Iraq as an interrogator for the US Army's 82nd Airborne Division, announced his refusal to deploy to Iraq during the Veterans For Peace convention. Clousing gave himself up to military authorities at Fort Lewis.

Check out Jeff Paterson's excellent photos of the Solidarity Picnic.

For more information on how you can help the war resisters in Canada and the U.S., visit www.Resisters.ca and www.CourageToResist.org.