[Part one - Part two]
Mr Railton, counsel for the Ministry, went next.
His first incomprehensible, scattered questions set the tone for his examination. He asked Josh where certain pieces of evidence were located in the record, which Alyssa pointed out was a question for counsel, not the claimant.
He asked about the Army Chain of Command, as if he never heard of such a concept.
He asked Josh why he believed he would be treated more harshly because of his book, meaning, because he had spoken out. Then, incredibly, Railton said, "I understand there is a cult of celebrity in the the US. If you were sent back to the US, wouldn't it be good publicity for your book?" He asked Josh if his "celebrity status" would protect him from punishment.
It was all we could do to not get up and object ourselves! Celebrity status?! The idea that Josh Key has "celebrity status" in the US is completely absurd. The idea that the military would care about such a thing is beyond absurd. Can you just see it now? I understand, Mr Key, that you may want to appear on Oprah in the future. Therefore, we will not charge you with desertion or put you in jail.
Next Railton set out to paint a picture of Iraq during the first month Josh was there. (He got the dates wrong, whether by accident or to trick Josh into assenting to incorrect dates, therefore introducing an inconsistency in his testimony, I don't know. Josh simply corrected the dates.) Railton mentioned the belief that there were weapons of mass destruction, about the "Sunni triangle," about the contractors who were killed, about snipers and suicide bombers.
Alyssa asked, "Excuse me, how is this relevant?"
"I want to establish that Iraq during that time was not a walk in the park."
"Nowhere in the evidence does anyone assert that Iraq was 'a walk in the park'. This is not relevant."
Railton said he was establishing that the aggressive stance taken by the US in the house raids may have been taken out of necessity.
Josh said, "The violence was what we created. Myself and my fellow soldiers. There would have been no violence if not for us. We never saw a combatant face to face the whole time we were in Iraq."
"At what point did you conclude that?"
"We all knew that if the positions had been reversed, if Iraq had invaded the US, there would have been ten times the violence. We were bringing death and destruction on Iraq. People may call them terrorists, but they are also freedom fighters. They are doing what anyone would do, what we would do: fighting for their families, fighting for what is theirs."
Railton asked if Josh objected to the house raids at the time, and Josh talked about what happened to people who objected even slightly, how they were punished, threatened with having their pay cut off, so their families would have no way to support themselves, threatened with jail time.
Did you object? "I did what I was told, sir."
Railton tried to get Josh to pinpoint the time when he realized what they were doing was wrong. Josh described an evolution of thought, rather than an epiphany moment. "When I first went, I believed in the mission. It took a while for me to see the reality."
"And what was the reality as you saw it?"
"That the US was terrorizing the Iraqi people."
Railton took Josh through his time back in the US, trying to establish that Josh had other options besides jail, Iraq or Canada. It was clear there were no other options, certainly none that Josh was aware of.
Josh said the military brought him as far as Atlanta, then he made his way back to Fort Carlson, Colorado, where his family was living on base, on his own. At this point, the IRB member interrupted, "You mean the military transported you from there?"
"No sir. We had to make our own way."
"You had to buy your own ticket?"
"From the hub, which in my case was Atlanta, yes."
Incredulous, Mr Atkinson asked, "Were you reimbursed for that?"
Josh mentioned someone from his squad who went home on leave, and finding "he had nothing there," reported back for duty early. I made note of that heartbreaking fact.
* * * *
Railton continued asking Josh about his two weeks of leave, and then about the 14 months he and his family spent living in hiding in Philadelphia. Josh described "living in the shadows" in a paranoid state.
Railton helpfully pointed out that he recently did a Google search for things like "army deserter needs help" and "AWOL need help," and found the GI Rights Hotline and "four or five civilian lawyers who bragged that they could get AWOL soldiers off without jail time".
Josh pointed out that he was in hiding in 2004. Much has changed.
[Railton made the GI Rights Hotline sound like a federal agency. It's a coalition of peace activists! It bothered me that this wasn't clarified.]
Railton continued questioning Josh about his time in Philadelphia, trying to establish that Josh didn't try hard enough, or didn't try at all, to find a way out of the Army. Josh was steady, consistent and perfectly clear. There was no way out. There was no one to help. There was either jail or Iraq.
Did you seek a civilian lawyer? "No. I was scared of being sent to jail or back to Iraq. At that time, I had never seen a lawyer in my life. I didn't know what you told a lawyer was private and confidential."
Did you see a medical doctor? "No. I was afraid of being apprehended, and being stop-lossed back to Iraq. I also didn't know that what you told a doctor is private."
[Apparently Railton "doesn't know" that Josh couldn't afford to see a doctor in the US. Lack of medical insurance for his family was one of the reasons he joined the Army in the first place!]
Did you seek spiritual counseling? "No, sir. After my time in war, my spiritual state was a little off."
* * * *
Then Railton went off the rails, asking Josh if he had made plans for what would happen if he was returned to the US, if he had sought legal counsel there. Alyssa asked about the relevance of the questions, and he tried a slightly different approach.
Have you made plans for what you would do in the US? "I focus my energies on trying to remain in Canada, sir. I want to stay, and I should be allowed to stay, and I focus all my energies on that, sir."
He asked why Josh thought he would be sent to prison if returned to the US.
"Because of the examples of the people who have already been sent back, sir. Why would it be any different for me?"
Then Railton asked Josh how many copies his book had sold in the US. Josh didn't know, but Railton pressed on. "Would you say it sold well? Would you say it sold thousands of copies? I have a friend who just self-published a book, and he has already sold 8,000 copies--"
The IRB member interrupted. "Be careful, Mr Railton."
We broke for lunch.