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Kyle Snyder's courageous resistance

March 30, 2007 | Page 12

ON FEBRUARY 23, under the direction of U.S. authorities, AWOL U.S. soldier Kyle Snyder was illegally arrested by Canadian police and detained for seven hours.

The 23-year-old Synder was an engineer with the Army's 94th Corps of Engineers and was sent to Iraq in 2004. Despite not being trained as a combat soldier, he was immediately assigned to conduct ground patrols and raids of Iraqi homes.

After witnessing an innocent Iraqi man seriously wounded by U.S. weapons fire, Snyder turned against the war. While on leave in the U.S. in April 2005, he decided to go AWOL to Canada rather than return to Iraq for a second tour. In late October 2006, Snyder decided to return to the U.S., turn himself into the Army and request a discharge.

His lawyers had worked out a deal with the Army in which he would go to Fort Knox in Kentucky, be processed back into uniform, and then promptly discharged. However, upon surrendering himself, the Army said they were transferring him back to his unit's command at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, and that his unit would decide what to do with him.

Rather than face an uncertain future with his unit--including possibly being redeployed to Iraq or sent to prison, Snyder went AWOL again. "I realized this deal was going to go bad," Snyder said. "I came back in good faith. I put my trust in them one more time. Why should I put my trust in them again when I can just go back to Canada?"

However, Snyder did not immediately return to Canada--he just didn't show up at Fort Leonard Wood. Instead, he went on a national speaking tour around the U.S. with Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) publicizing his case and speaking out against the war on Iraq.

"At the end of the day," Snyder said while facing the immediate threat of arrest, "you have to ask yourself if this is something you can live with. It's your life and the choice is ultimately yours to make. I said no, and I will never regret it."

Snyder spent late November 2006 with IVAW doing volunteer reconstruction work in New Orleans more than a year after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region. As a military engineer, he said, "There are so many engineering units of the U.S. military--they should be here and not in Iraq."

While at a public speaking event in Oakland, Calif., on December 8, 2006, local police attempted to arrest Snyder--under orders from the Army. Snyder then decided it was time to return to safety in Canada. "I was planning to return to Canada anyway," said Snyder. But that safety was short-lived when Canadian police arrested and detained Snyder for unspecified immigration violations.

Snyder has been living in Nelson, British Columbia, with his fiancée Maleah Friesen--a Canadian--and fellow U.S. war resisters Ryan and Jenna Johnson. On February 23, 2007, Canadian police knocked on their door. Snyder, who had been cooking in the kitchen, appeared in his bare feet, wearing only a robe and boxer shorts.

The police barged into the house, grabbed Snyder, handcuffed his hands behind his back, and, without letting him put on any clothes, dragged him off to the Nelson police station.

The police had no warrant for Snyder's arrest. He was not read his rights or allowed to call his lawyer. Nelson police told him he would be deported to the U.S., where he is wanted for unauthorized absence from the Army.

Snyder's housemates frantically called members of the Canadian parliament who, in turn, called Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Immigration officials informed Nelson police they had no legal basis for arresting Snyder. Nelson Police released Snyder after holding him incommunicado for seven hours.

Joci Peri, an immigration official in Vancouver, later told Snyder he had been arrested at the request of the U.S. Army. Being AWOL from another country's military is not an extraditable offense in Canada, nor does it have any bearing on immigrating to Canada, according to Vancouver lawyer Daniel McLeod, who is representing Snyder. "And the U.S. Army is not the boss of the Canadian police," says Gerry Condon of Project Safe Haven.

War resister advocates on both sides of the border were outraged upon hearing the news of Snyder's arrest. "We hope that the Nelson, British Columbia, police will be held accountable for their actions," said Lee Zaslofsky, who coordinates the War Resister Support Campaign in Toronto.

"Kyle was treated in a degrading manner that is completely contrary to Canadian values. Kyle Snyder is a man of courage and decency. He spent months in Iraq under very difficult conditions. It is disgraceful that he should receive such ill treatment in Canada."

The War Resister Support Campaign is pressing the Canadian government to create a sanctuary policy for military personnel who, obeying international laws, refuse to participate in war crimes. They are using this repressive overreach against Snyder to further their campaign.

Snyder and Friesen will be married soon. Eighteen months later, under Canadian immigration law, Snyder may become a permanent immigrant of Canada.

Snyder was illegally harassed and detained, but he is now free and he will stay free. Still, the U.S. Army wants to send a message to its soldiers that they cannot go AWOL to Canada and expect to get away with it.

During the Vietnam War, tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers and draftees fled to Canada in order to escape fighting a war of empire. Today, the number of U.S. soldiers who are refusing to serve in the war on Iraq--oftentimes for their second, third, or fourth tours--is growing rapidly. Moreover, mass public opposition to the war has led to drastically falling recruitment numbers for the U.S. military.

The war planners are extremely worried that they will not have the troops or the necessary morale to keep destroying Iraq and Afghanistan while politicians consider spreading the wars to Iran.

With war resister Lt. Ehren Watada possibly walking out of his court-martial with no punishment, and Spc. Augustín Aguayo receiving only eight months in the brig--of which he may only serve a few weeks, as opposed to the seven years the military wanted--the Army wanted to crack down on Kyle Snyder. They failed.

The reemerging antiwar movement's growing support for resisting soldiers and the organizing of antiwar soldiers and veterans themselves have been crucial in turning up the heat on the military and winning significant victories for the soldiers who refuse to fight in the illegal and immoral wars of the U.S. These strategies, on a larger scale, will be key in actually bringing the U.S. war machine to a halt.
Sam Bernstein, Seattle

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