cliff cornell jailed for having morals, speaking out

According to peace activist and lawyer James Branum, Cliff Cornell's one-year sentence was longer than the punishment meted out to 94% of US soldiers who go AWOL. It's clear that's because Cliff isn't being punished for desertion: he's being punished for speaking out against the war. Soldiers, check your right to free speech - and your right to your own moral compass - at the door.

This is from the Montreal Gazette; it also ran in the Nanaimo Daily News and the Georgia Straight. If you live in Montreal or BC, now would be an excellent time to write a letter to the editor in response to this story.

The Campaign's media release about Cliff is below.
U.S. war deserter, who lived in B.C., sentenced

NANAIMO, B.C. — The U.S. army deserter who spent nearly three years working near here at a grocery store has been sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty to desertion.

It ends a saga that began in 2005 when Cliff Cornell walked away from the 1st Battalion, 39th Artillery Regiment in Fort Stewart, Ga., and travelled to Toronto.

After his arrival in Canada, Cornell became active in the War Resisters Support Campaign, something a spokesman for the group said affected his sentence.

"The U.S. military is punishing (him) for speaking out about (his) conscientious objections to the Iraq war," said Ken Marciniec.

Cornell applied to stay in Canada but was deported. In February, he walked across the border, where he was briefly arrested, then released before he turned himself in to the military three days later.

On Tuesday, Cornell tearfully read a prepared statement to the judge, apologizing for leaving his unit. He told the judge that when his regiment was ordered to Iraq he became anxious about being asked to do things that go against his conscience.

"I think when he was most emotional was when he explained what he had in Canada," Branum said.

Cornell, who came from a troubled background in Mountain Home, Ark., grew fond of his adopted West Coast home and hopes to return.

From the War Resisters Support Campaign:
Iraq War resister Cliff Cornell sentenced to 12 months in prison after deportation by Harper government

On Tuesday evening, during a court-martial hearing at Fort Stewart, Georgia, Cliff Cornell was sentenced to 12 months in prison and a bad conduct discharge after publicly expressing his conscientious objection to the Iraq War while in Canada.

Prosecutors claimed that American troops in Iraq saw Cornell on television while Cornell was in Canada. It was argued that those troops felt morale had been undermined because Cornell spoke out about his moral objections to the Iraq War.

“Cliff is being punished for what he believes, for his comments to the press,” said James Branum, the lawyer who represented Cornell during the court-martial. “Because he spoke out against the Iraq War, Cliff’s sentence is harsher than the punishment given to 94% of deserters who are not penalized but administratively discharged.”

Cornell was ordered to leave Canada in February after Immigration Minister Jason Kenney turned down his request to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. This was despite the Parliament of Canada having passed a motion on June 3, 2008 directing the government to immediately cease deportations of Iraq War resisters. The motion also called on the government to create a program to allow Iraq War resisters to apply for permanent resident status.

Parliament recently reaffirmed its position, adopting the motion for a second time on March 30, 2009.

“Cliff will spend a year in jail because the Harper government refuses to heed the will of Canadians,” said Michelle Robidoux, spokesperson for the War Resisters Support Campaign. “Parliament has voted twice in 10 months to stop these deportations. This reflects the strong consensus among Canadians who want war resisters to stay. Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney want Iraq War resisters punished, but most people in Canada believe Cliff and the other war resisters have done the right thing.”

Part of Cornell’s penalty is a reduction of rank to private (E-1), the lowest level possible and four steps down from his previously held rank of specialist. Cornell will be in a county jail near Fort Stewart for approximately one week until it is determined to which military prison he will be sent.

Last June, a public opinion poll conducted by Angus Reid Strategies found 64% approval for allowing war resisters to stay.

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