lundi, septembre 25, 2006

Actualité - First soldier refuses to serve in Afghanistan

The Canadian government, under both Liberal and Conservative parties, has moved quickly over the last two years to prosecute on immigration charges, and to seek deportations of, several US soldiers who fled to Canada as war resisters. Now the recently elected pro-Bush Conservative government faces a revolt from within the ranks of the Canadian armed forces, as opposition to Canadian involvement in the imperialist adventure in Afghanistan appears to be growing.

Former army reserve member Francisco Juarez recently became the first documented Canadian soldier to refuse to serve in Afghanistan. During a training session in Gagetown, New Brunswick, Juarez refused to enter an obstacle course, telling his commanding officer: “I no longer wish to participate.”

Juarez, who has been involved with the Canadian military since 2002, knew he wanted out by the end of his first week of training in Gagetown. He explained his frustration with the attitude of his fellow soldiers: “They all want to go to Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the big game. If you're a concert pianist, you want to go to Carnegie Hall. They were all pretty gung-ho.”

Juarez initially left a message at the infantry school saying: “For personal and familial reasons, I wish to be returned to unit and released.” Juarez was quickly dragged before a series of captains for intensive one-on-one interviews in an attempt to break his resolve.

They tried to demean Juarez by calling him a failure who would be discredited his entire life, and threatened him with a court martial. In the end Juarez was fined C$500 and discharged without honour (in the eyes of the military establishment at least).

Juarez is convinced that the mission in Afghanistan has been ill-conceived. His preference is for political dialogue, rather than military might. His deep sense that the Canadian forces’ mission in Afghanistan is morally wrong continues to sustain Juarez and confirms his decision to refuse to go.

“I could have sat back and said, 'You're paid to do a job. Just do it and shut up’. But I decided I couldn't. I began to ask myself, could I give orders to subordinates that would result in them dying for a mission I did not believe in?” In the end the answer was clear to him. Juarez recalls that his main thought as he faced the obstacle course was simply: “I'm in control of my legs. Nobody can make me do this.”

A nationwide poll in July found that 47% of people supported the Canadian armed forces’ role in Afghanistan, partly reflecting the success of both Liberal and Conservative governments in framing the mission as a UN-led “peacekeeping” endeavour. This strikes a chord with many in Canada who view the UN peacekeeping mandate as a reflection of the country’s role in global affairs, and those who remember the part played by former prime minister and Nobel Laureate Lester Pearson in developing the concept of UN “peacekeeping”.

In part, the backing for the Afghanistan intervention also reflects support for Canadian troops rather than the mission itself. As word of Juarez's refusal gets out it may impact on this aspect of public opinion.

As fighting in which Canadian troops have taken part has worsened, and as the death toll, among troops and diplomats, has risen past 30, the mixed public support that exists has been shaken.

The Conservative government, in its rush to support the Bush regime, recently pushed a vote through parliament extending the Afghanistan mission to 2009. A British general recently commented that Afghanistan may require a 20-year involvement, a commitment the Canadian Conservatives appear ready and willing to make.

Courageous actions like those taken by Juarez could play an important part in preventing the government from continuing to participate in the Afghanistan war.

As the US-led wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq have continued, Washington has faced growing dissent within the ranks of its troops.

Many war resisters in the US forces have chosen to cross the border into Canada, seeking the sanctuary that their predecessors, resisters opposing the Vietnam War, found over a generation ago. Estimates suggest that the number of war resisters who have entered Canada from the US is in the hundreds.

(Green Left Weekly)

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