An American war resister has claimed that he was packed off to jail for two nights after he filed a refugee claim at the Canadian border last month. Brad McCall, a 20-year-old U.S. army private, told the Georgia Straight in an exclusive interview that he abandoned his army company in Colorado Springs because he didn't want to commit "war crimes" in Iraq. He said that when he arrived at the border on September 19, he was taken into custody and driven to a jail in Surrey.
"I don't know what kind of police officer he was," McCall said during an interview at the Georgia Straight office. "He put me in handcuffs in front of all these people that were watching that were trying to get into Canada also."
After he was released from jail, he returned to the border to pick up his car. At that point, he said, Canadian Border Services Agency officials asked him if he wanted to return to the U.S. "I told them, 'Why are you playing the part of the hound dog for the U.S. army?,'" he recalled. "They didn't know what to say. They just started stuttering and mumbling."
Faith St. John, a spokesperson for the Canadian Border Services Agency, told the Straight that federal privacy legislation prevents her from commenting on McCall's allegations. "I can't talk about specific cases if someone has applied for refugee status," she said.
McCall, who is originally from Alabama, said he is staying at the East Vancouver home of Colleen Fuller, a health-policy analyst, as he awaits the outcome of his refugee claim. He's one of the few U.S. army deserters who has settled in Vancouver and gone public with his outrage over the war in Iraq. "It's a gruesome war," he said. "I consider it to be this generation's Vietnam. There are barbaric acts committed on a daily basis over there."
He spoke to the Straight four days before police in Nelson, B.C., arrested a different U.S. war resister, Robert Long, who was wanted on a Canada-wide warrant obtained by Canadian immigration officials.
"Canadian immigration officials have since taken him into custody," Nelson police inspector Henry Paivarinta told the Straight by phone.
McCall said he was living in Lexington, Kentucky, when he enlisted in the U.S. army just after his 19th birthday. He said he is a voracious reader and that he was hoping to make enough money to get a college education. He called a military recruiter, he related, because of a feeling of financial desperation after working a series of low-paying jobs.
According to McCall, the U.S. army paid him a US$10,000 signing bonus, a $1,000-per-month salary, and promised that US$37,000 would be available after his contract for educational purposes. After going through basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia, he was transferred to Colorado Springs, where he lived in army barracks. He said that last June, he seriously questioned his decision to join the army after hearing soldiers discussing horrible deeds they had witnessed and done in Iraq on a previous tour of duty.
"It was a group of guys talking about how they saw a guy chopping through a dead body with a hatchet," McCall said. "There was a guy who ate a piece of charred flesh after an IED [improvised explosive device] went off, um, talking about seeing little kids getting shot and stuff. They were bragging about it."
McCall said that made him ashamed of wearing his uniform, so he always left the base in civilian clothes. He also said he would wear a hat so people wouldn't notice his military haircut, and he even parked a few blocks away from where he was going because he didn't want people to see the military decal on his car. He said he soon realized that he couldn't kill for this cause, and told his commander and sergeants that he wanted to file for conscientious-objector status. "They pretty much blew it off," he recalled.
He learned over the Internet about other U.S. soldiers who had fled to Canada, and contacted a group that offers assistance to them. Fuller, who has connections with people who help war resisters, told the Straight that she welcomed McCall into her home because she saw how much difficulty her nephew had in trying to get out of the Canadian Armed Forces. "This government is in bed with George Bush," Fuller said. "It's unbelievable in every way–browbeating Canadians into supporting war and all that kind of stuff is terrible."