When Desertion Is a Duty


A young man named Stephen with large hopes and a small bank account answered an employment ad for a security agency. Offered a generous salary, extravagant benefits, and a sizable signing bonus, he inked a renewable employment contract promising to work for the agency for six years.

Only after Stephen passed through the agency’s training program did he discover that the security firm was actually a front for a criminal syndicate. Rather than protecting lives and property, he would be required to take part in armed robberies and expected to kill, when necessary, to ensure the success of the “mission.”

Stephen had no problem with the idea of risking his life for money, but he wanted nothing to do with crimes against innocent people. So he simply walked away from his job. Question: Should Stephen be subject to civil or criminal liability for deserting his employers and violating the terms of his contract? That contract was certainly valid at the time of its execution. But it became defective when Stephen’s employer required him to commit crimes against innocent people. A contract requiring a party to commit a crime is not enforceable.

When the Mafia puts out a “contract” to have someone murdered, it hardly expects that agreement to be enforced by the courts.

Obviously, Stephen shouldn’t be punished for walking away from his contract. In fact, a better moral case could be made for prosecuting those who choose not to do as Stephen did, once they became aware of the true nature of their employer and the “mission” they had been given.

“Stephen” is a hypothetical character. Robin Long is the reality. The 25-year-old Idahoan, who enlisted in the Army in 2003, was recently convicted of desertion and sentenced to 15 months behind bars for the supposed crime of refusing to participate in an illegal war.

Robin was raised in Boise as part of a military family, and always took it for granted that he would make the military his career as well. When Robin enlisted in June 2003, the Army recruiter — who, like many others in that line of work, was a shameless liar — assured him that he wouldn’t be sent to Iraq.

Not content to be a contract killer, Robin Long decided to quit his job. Now the criminal syndicate that hired him is throwing him in jail.

Those assurances seemed quite plausible at the time, since they were offered just weeks after Bush’s notorious “Mission Accomplished” photo-op. But at the time Robin wasn’t opposed to being sent to fight what he then considered to be a just war.

“When the United States first attacked Iraq, I was told by my president that it was because of direct ties to al Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction,” he later recalled. “At the time, I believed what was being said.”

Robin’s view of the morality of the Iraq war changed not because he learned that the case for it was fraudulent (something no honest person can now dispute), but rather because of the way his training dehumanized the Iraqis he was supposedly being sent to liberate.

“I was hearing on mainstream media that the U.S. was going to Iraq to get the weapons of mass destruction and to liberate the Iraqi people, yet [I was] being taught that I’m going to the desert to, excuse the racial slur, `kill ragheads,'” Robin explained. Robin’s horror was compounded by encounters with Iraq combat veterans who bragged of their “first kills” or showed him pictures of Iraqis who had died beneath tank treads.

When Robin received orders to ship out to Iraq in 2005, he was the only one in his unit called up for combat. Given a month’s leave before he was to report to Fort Carson in Colorado, Robin took the opportunity to learn more about the merits of the war. After long and anguished contemplation he decided that he couldn’t be a party to a world-historic crime. So, acting on exactly the same moral premises that “Stephen” did in the parable above, Robin deserted his employer.

Seeking refuge from the crime syndicate he had unwittingly served, Robin took up residence in a friend’s basement in Boise, then relocated to Canada, where he lived for three years. He met a young woman he wanted to marry; they got a head start on a family by having a son before a ceremony.

Robin applied for refugee status, contending that he was unwilling to participate in a patently illegal war and confronted “irreparable harm” if we were forced to return to the putative Land of the Free. Broadly speaking, the Canadian government shares Robin’s view of the Iraq war and has never taken part in the Coalition of the Bullied and Bribed Washington assembled to occupy Iraq. Both Parliament and the Canadian public support a return to that country’s Vietnam-era policy of welcoming American soldiers who refuse to serve in an unjust foreign war.

But Stephan Harper’s government, under pressure from the Bush Regime, refuses to treat war resisters as refugees. Robin was denied refugee status and required to check in with Canadian immigration authorities every month.

On July 4, Robin was arrested by the Canadian Border Services Agency, which accused him of not “adequately” reporting his whereabouts. Robin became the first American “deserter” to be deported from Canada back to the U.S. since the Vietnam war.

Although he’s a hero to many opponents of the Iraq war, Robin, like others who have refused orders to kill Iraqis, has been accused of cowardice. Tim Richard, a former National Guard soldier from Iowa, knows what it is like to be assailed as a coward for following his conscience rather than the herd. Like Robin, Tim fled to Canada shortly before he was to be sent to Iraq. However, Tim is uniquely fortunate in that he had dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship, a fact that stymied efforts to return him to the lower 48.

Tim Richard (back row, second from left), seen here with other Canadian anti-war activists.

Seeking money to pay for college, Tim enlisted in the National Guard in 1999. His contract specified a six-year term of service. In 2005, Tim was a semester away from completing his college degree, and four months from the end of his service contract, when he was called up for deployment to Iraq.

After making the necessary inquiries, Tim was shown official paperwork that changed his release date from November 2005 to December 2031. A contract that can be unilaterally changed by one party is not enforceable. But, as noted here before, the official view of the military, as explained to a soldier deployed in Iraq, is that “we can keep you here just as long as we want, and we ain’t never got to send you home.”

After reporting to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, Tim was horrified by the pre-deployment training he was given. Much of that training dealt with kicking in doors and holding civilians at gunpoint — “attacking people who are defending their homes,” as he describes it. In one training exercise he ended up “shooting” two role-players posing as Iraqi civilians. The experience, along with the studied indifference of his instructors and fellow trainees, left Tim profoundly shaken.

Along with other soldiers bound for Iraq, Tim was given leave on Thanksgiving Day 2005. He used that opportunity to take an outbound bus headed for the western U.S., eventually joining his mother in British Columbia.

This act was called “desertion” by the U.S. military. But, as Tim points out, he actually carried out the terms of his service contract before it was unilaterally (which is to say, fraudulently) revised by the military: Tim served the full six years he had agreed to. Because of the criminal policies of the government that ruled him, Tim was compelled not only to flee to Canada but to repudiate his U.S. citizenship. Now a full Canadian citizen, Tim has continued both his college education and his activism against the Iraq war.

Both wings of the Establishment Party are in agreement that the U.S. will remain mired in Iraq until at least 2011. Meanwhile, Washington is eagerly courting other catastrophes in the region: Preparations are still being made for a strike on Iran, the resurgent Taliban, in time-honored fashion, is slowly but effectively cutting off supply routes for U.S.-led occupation forces in Afghanistan, and the Bush Regime seems perversely determined to goad Russia into a completely avoidable conflict the the Caucasus.

All of this will inevitably mean that tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel — Guardsmen and Reservists, in particular — will deal with multiple and extended tours of duty, conscription by “stop-loss” order, and other insufferable hardships inflicted in the course of missions having nothing to do with defending the United States. If we harvest even one-tenth the hell Bush and his handlers have sown, the trickle of “deserters” may quickly become a deluge.

There is nothing criminal about refusing to honor a supposed commitment to serve as contract killers for the world’s largest source of preventable criminal violence.