joshua key irb hearing, part two

[Part one]

The Refugee Protection Officer (RPO) went first.

He started out asking Josh questions about his book. (And if you haven't read this yet, you must! You'll understand this issue in a lot more depth after you read The Deserter's Tale.)

In Iraq, Josh was involved in house raids. In these raids, US soldiers, in the middle of the night and without warning, would use explosives to blow the door off an apartment. While some of them shouted commands in English at the terrified occupants, holding them at gunpoint, others would search the apartment - often destroying all the contents, as well as taking whatever they wanted for themselves.

Any male occupant over five feet tall was removed from the home. These men and boys were forced to strip naked, then were cuffed, hooded and loaded into trucks - and taken away.

I want to note here that Josh Key's credibility is not an issue here. Contrary to what his wingnut detractors say, the IRB found Josh's claims truthful.

Mr Gould asked Josh more details about the raids. In his IRB first hearing, Josh thought he had participated in about 75 raids. However, when working on the book with Lawrence Hill, carefully going over how long he was in Iraq and how often the raids were conducted, piecing together the chronology, Josh realized that the number of raids he participated in was closer to 200.

This is an important point, because in order to be considered a refugee for refusing illegal orders, the orders have to have been systematic and standard - not something out of the ordinary that someone was asking to do once, but something that soldiers had to do all the time. Clearly 200 raids in seven or eight months constitutes systematic. And now that was in the record, too. I think that may have been the RPO's intentions.

Mr Gould asked Josh about the details of the raids. Did you (meaning the squad) treat the occupants roughly? Yes. Did you beat them? Yes. Why? This was Operating Procedure.

Were you trained to do this? Yes. Did your superior officers demonstrate how to do this? Yes. But not in the US, only in Iraq.

Did they instruct you to cuff the men? Yes. To hood them? Yes.

Mr Gould delicately and hesitantly mentioned that the book says the "detainees were de-clothed"? Yes.

Where did they remove their clothes? In a room or separate area? No. Out in the open.

What was the purpose of their being de-clothed? "To dehumanize, sir."

"What was that?"

"To dehumanize."

"Were you told that?"


"By whom?"

"By our chain of command."

Mr Gould established that this was done to all males over five feet tall who were found in randomly chosen homes. They were placed on trucks, and Josh never saw them again, and doesn't know what happened to any of them.

In this manner, the RPO had it read into the record that the US soldiers in Iraq were under orders to systematically degrade and humiliate civilians. I'm thinking this man Gould - at least that day - was on our side.

Did any soldiers comment on the rough treatment given to these detainees or to the women in the households? Yes.

What were they told? That they would stop complaining or be charged.

Who said that? My lieutenant, sir.

The RPO then asked Josh about the two weeks while he was in the US on leave, trying to get out of going back to Iraq. Josh made two anonymous phone calls to a JAG (military) lawyer, as well as a call to a relative who is a lawyer. Josh was willing to stay in the military and complete any other assignment. Anything, as long as he didn't have to go back to Iraq.

The RPO easily established that Josh learned he had two options: go to Iraq, or go to jail. And after jail, he could be sent to Iraq anyway.

He asked, "How important was the treatment of detainees in your decision to not return to Iraq? How strongly did you feel, what role did it play in your decision?"

Josh said, "It played a very big role. At first, it was an adrenaline rush. Then seeing the faces of the people, it played on me. It played on me then, and it plays on me now. I didn't know if what we did was illegal, but I know it was immoral."

The RPO asked Josh what would happen if he were sent back to the US. Josh told him he'd be hazed, then sent to prison. Josh mentioned Robin Long, who was sentenced to 15 months.

Would you be charged with desertion? Yes.

Would you be given a trial? A military court martial.

Would you be able to raise a defense? No.

Josh testified, truthfully, that his specific orders in Iraq - that is, his reason for deserting - would be excluded from the court martial. War resister Camilo Mejia was not allowed to show any evidence, including his attempts to file for conscientious objector status. War resister Ehren Watada was not allowed to give evidence about what he witnessed in Iraq, or to bring expert witnesses to the court martial. War resister Kevin Benderman was not allowed to testify in his own defense.

Josh testified to the names of other war resisters who were selected for prosecution and punished more severely because they spoke out against the war. James Burmeister. Kevin Benderman. Camilo Mejia. Robin Long. Clifford Cornell.

When you decided to speak out, to write your book, did you know your sentence would be increased? No, sir. That was before these men were sentenced.

Why did you speak out? Because I wanted to get my story out there. I wanted the truth to be known.

Mr Gould asked about hazing or "smoking," as it is also known in the military. Josh testified about the verbal, mental and physical abuse soldiers are subjected to, which often includes forced physical labour until the point of muscle failure. Under military guidelines, a soldier is required to be given four hours of sleep per day, so hazing often includes 20 hours of forced physical labour. War resisters Christian Kjar and Matt Lowell were both subjected to this kind of hazing.

Mr Gould asked if a soldier could refuse hazing, or get someone else, such as a chaplain or JAG lawyer, to stop it. In the hearing, I thought he was being naive or patronizing. Now, however, I think he was purposely establishing the brutality of the military.

At one point, he asked Josh, what do you think is the point of this hazing? Josh said, "To have complete, total control over you. To have total control."

[Part three]

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