The U.S. Army has charged war resister Clifford Cornell with desertion. Specialist Cornell, 28, surrendered himself to authorities at Fort Stewart, Georgia on February 17, after being denied refugee status in Canada. The Arkansas native left Fort Stewart four years ago, when his artillery unit was ordered to Iraq. According to family and friends, Cornell did not want to kill civilians, and said that Army trainers told him he must shoot any Iraqi who came near his vehicle.
Cornell’s attorney and supporters believe the Army’s charges are excessive. “Cliff Cornell is a conscientious objector who voluntarily turned himself in to Army authorities,” said attorney James Branum.. “The Army is engaging in overkill in order to make an example of my client.”
Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson disputed Spc. Cornell's claims that he would have been expected to kill civilians. ''Indiscriminately shooting people is not what the Army does,” Larson told the New York Times. “That's not how we train and not how we fight.” The Army is leaning toward trying Cornell in a General Court Martial, which could sentence him to years in prison.
“This is outrageous,” said Jeff Paterson of Courage To Resist, a war resister support group that has established a legal defense fund for Cornell. “The U.S. war against the Iraqi people remains illegal today, just as when George Bush and Dick Cheney started it,” said Paterson. “President Obama should bring all our troops home now. And he should grant amnesty to Cliff Cornell and hundreds of GI’s who refused to take part in an occupation that has killed untold tens of thousands of men, women and children.”
U.S. war resisters in Canada were distressed to hear of the serious charges against Cornell, as were many Canadians who have been pressing their government to provide sanctuary to the war resisters. “Cliff Cornell is a very gentle man who made many friends in Canada,” said Michelle Robidoux of the War Resisters Support Campaign in Toronto. “Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government is absolutely wrong to claim that war resisters do not face persecution in the United States.”
A large majority of Canadians, 64% according to several polls, want to provide a safe haven for soldiers who refused to fight in the Iraq War, just as Canada itself refused to do. Most Members of Parliament also support the resisters. In June of last year, the House of Commons passed a motion calling on their government to provide sanctuary to “conscientious objectors who refuse to fight in wars not sanctioned by the United Nations.” But the minority Conservative government ignored the non-binding motion and began to deport war resisters.
War resister Robin Long was the first to be deported last July, and is now serving a 15-month prison sentence in the Miramar Naval Consolidated Brig near San Diego. Cliff Cornell was being threatened with deportation when he left Canada. Several other AWOL soldiers and their families are appealing their deportation orders in Canada’s Federal Courts.
“Cliff Cornell should not be the one who is going to jail,” said Gerry Condon of Veterans For Peace. “He had the guts to follow his conscience, and unlike President Bush, he obeyed international law.”
An estimated 250 U.S. war resisters are now living in Canada, and AWOL GI’s continue to arrive there. “You can still apply for refugee status and expect to remain legally in Canada for at least one year,” said Condon. “It may not be easy, but it beats going to war or going to jail.”
James Branum, GI Right Lawyer, 866-933-2769, www.girightslawyer.com