Sunday, May 22, 2005

Cowardice Doth Makes Consciences For Us All

Amnesty International has embraced the cause of Jeremy Hinzman, an American soldier who took off AWOL to Canada rather than fight in Iraq.

The Immigration and Refugee Board, in a rare moment of lucidity, rejected Hinzman's claim for refugee status, but that has not stopped Amnesty from taking up his case:

In a decision taken at Amnesty's international office in London, the organization said it considered Hinzman "to have a genuine conscientious objection" to serving as a combatant in Iraq.

"Accordingly, should he be imprisoned upon his return to the United States, Amnesty International would consider him to be a prisoner of conscience," the group said in a statement.

The designation is important, at least symbolically, because it will raise awareness of the issue and put public pressure on American authorities, said Gloria Nafziger, a refugee co-ordinator with Amnesty's Canadian section.

"People would write letters to the U.S. government asking that he be released and stating their objection to his imprisonment," Nafziger said.

"We have varying degrees of success when we take that position."

Hinzman's lawyer Jeffry House said Amnesty's decision cuts to the core of the case.

"It means that if the Canadian government sends Jeremy back to imprisonment in the United States, it will be complicit in a serious violation of human rights," House said.

"Amnesty recognized that a deeply held ethical refusal to kill other human beings cannot justify a jail term, however powerful the country which proposes to do so."

Hinzman enlisted for four years in November 2000 to earn financial support from the military for a university degree. He became a crack infantryman but gradually came to believe that taking part in offensive military operations would violate his personal beliefs.

Amnesty International taints its reputation as a defender of human rights and civil liberties when it draws such invidious analogies.

Here we have the case of a volunteer soldier in a free and democratic country, whose armed forces provide for the release of a serviceman who has had a genuine change of conscience without penalty.

Hinzman hadn't even been sent into harm's way before running off to Canada: he deserted because of the remote theoretical possibility that he might be called upon to commit atrocities in violation of the Geneva Conventions, the Uniform Code of Military Justice and other laws of war and military service.

Most of the soldiers he'd have faced in Iraq were conscripts who, had they declared their conscientious objections, would have been shot dead on the spot, and their families persecuted.

Where was Amnesty International when they needed them?

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