Just Deserts: Osama bin Laden is dead, but the wars he provoked rage on, claiming lives in all kinds of ways. Consider the bizarre case of Phil McDowell, a decorated American soldier who completed his four-year tour of duty but now may be deported from Canada and court-martialed as a deserter. How can you go AWOL when you're not even in the army anymore? On the eve of our first Memorial Day since we killed the guy Phil enlisted to fight, Wil S. Hylton investigates. [Read it here.]And from Canadian Press:
A high-profile U.S. war resister facing deportation from Canada was illegally ordered to do a second tour of duty in Iraq, according to an investigative piece in an American magazine.
GQ Magazine writes that the U.S. Army had no legal basis to force Phil McDowell into a second tour under its "stop loss" program after it had formally discharged him from service in July 2006.
McDowell, who currently lives and works in Toronto, initially returned to duty before fleeing to Canada to avoid participating in a war he could no longer support.
Five years later, McDowell says he's astonished by the latest turn of events.
"It clearly defines how the United States military deals with its personnel, in the sense that there wasn't much of an appeal or recourse in my situation," he told The Canadian Press in an interview.
"There isn't an appeal process to deal with 'stop loss' or even conscientious objection."
McDowell is one of the leading voices in the War Resisters Support Campaign which represents deserters who Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has called "bogus refugee claimants."
Kenney ordered a crackdown last summer on American military deserters seeking asylum in Canada after the courts made several rulings in their favour.
The Conservatives have argued that unlike Vietnam draft dodgers from the 1960s, the Americans coming to Canada to avoid service in Iraq are all volunteers who deserted their posts.
The GQ article adds a new wrinkle, detailing the "stop loss" program that allowed the U.S. Army to summarily extend more than 10,000 soldiers beyond their initial, voluntary commitment.
Known to the troops as the "back door draft," the program was ended by the administration of President Barack Obama, which called it a breach of faith for a voluntary army.
McDowell served a year in Iraq and was formally discharged on July 23, 2006, according to GQ Magazine, only to receive a "stop loss" order a week later on Aug. 1.
The magazine spent more than a month, without success, trying to get a legal explanation from the U.S. Army as to how a fully discharged individual could be subject to a "stop loss" order - which only applied to soldiers on active duty.
Former military lawyers told GQ the U.S. Army has no case.
"I still don't know if I actually believe it. I don't know what to say," McDowell says of the legal limbo that's had him on the lam for half a decade.
"At the end of the day, I want to stay here - regardless of whether I'm clear in the States or not. I feel like this is my home and I want to stay here."
A spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada said privacy laws prevented her from discussing McDowell's situation.
"As a general rule, military deserters from the United States are not genuine refugees under the internationally accepted meaning of the term," said Nancy Caron, adding that all files are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and "all individuals have the right to due process."
As for the "stop loss" provisions that re-enlisted thousands of American soldiers without their consent, "we don't track this program," said the departmental spokeswoman.
Don Davies, the NDP critic for citizenship and immigration, said he doesn't buy the distinction between draft dodgers and war defectors, saying all are conscientious objectors and should be treated as such.
But Davies said the "stop loss" program makes McDowell's case particularly problematic.
In testimony before a House of Commons committee in the last Parliament, McDowell noted the U.S. Army began the program after he'd volunteered, meaning he didn't enlist in the knowledge he could be forced to extend his commitment.
"The bottom line is a 'stop loss' kind of approach is a form of draft," said Davies.
"In that sense, if there were any force to the volunteer argument (used by the government) - which I'm not convinced there is - then it's not applicable in a 'stop loss' situation, which is in essence a draft."