Airman Dale Landry says he began to question the Iraq War while stationed at Dyess Air Force Base near Abilene, Texas, in 2005. "I had friends who deployed and came back and said, 'I don't understand what the year I spent in the desert was for — all we did was patrol for IEDs, raid houses, and guard detainees,'" he says.

At the same time, soldiers were being prosecuted for the prisoner-abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, and Landry says he began to read as much as he could about the case for war in Iraq, including reports revealing that much of the intelligence on Iraqi weapons capabilities that the Bush administration used as the basis for war turned out to be shaky. He also read the United Nations resolutions opposing the U.S. invasion and the 9/11 Commission report.

"I decided that our occupation of that country is illegal, so I made a vow to myself," Landry says. "I'm still an airman, I still have a responsibility, but I'll never take part in the occupation of that country."

Kim Rivera, the first female Iraq war deserter to seek refuge in Canada.
Ian Willms
Kim Rivera, the first female Iraq war deserter to seek refuge in Canada.

The Air Force, however, has a different take on Landry's desertion. While Landry says he deserted after receiving orders to Iraq, Robert Krause, a Dyess spokesman, says Landry was never ordered to deploy to Iraq and, in fact, left to avoid disciplinary charges related to behavior problems.

Questions about the legality of the Iraq War were an integral part of the initial case for deserters pursuing asylum in Canada. When they began arriving in 2004 and 2005, their lawyers filed claims for refugee status based on the Geneva Convention and the fact that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees handbook says a deserter is entitled to asylum if he has refused to participate in a war judged to be unlawful by the international community.

But Alyssa Manning, an attorney representing at least a dozen of the deserters, including Rivera, Key, and Landry, explains that the Canadian courts have declined to consider the legality of the Iraq War in their rulings, finding that unless the asylum seeker is a high-ranking officer with decision-making ability, whether the war is condemned by international law is irrelevant.

"When they were first coming, the idea was that the war itself was illegal so they shouldn't have to fight in it," Manning says. "Jeremy Hinzman's 2004 refugee claim was based on that, but the refugee board, the federal court, and the federal court of appeal refused to consider that."

Key is the only one still waiting on a pending refugee claim, since he and Manning are arguing that he merits asylum not because the war itself is illegal but because he was ordered to commit acts — such as the house raids — that have been condemned by the international human rights community.

In most of the cases, instead of pursuing refugee claims, Manning is applying for permanent residence based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. That requires showing that the deserters would face hardship if they returned to the United States to apply from afar. So far, the immigration ministry has denied all of the requests and Manning has requested judicial review. Three of her petitions for judicial review have been granted, and more are pending. If the federal court reviews a case and finds fault with the decision, rather than reversing it, the court's ruling signals a chance to start the process anew and maybe get a different outcome.

"This is a really hard fight," Manning says, "because every time you get a victory, it's only a partial victory."

In addition to buying time in the courts, deserters and their supporters are hoping the House of Commons might provide a political solution, which would require either the fall of the Conservative government or a successful bid by the liberal parties to pass legislation allowing the Americans to stay. Last summer, Parliament passed a non-binding resolution arguing that the deserters should be given residency, and polls show that 60 percent of Canadians agree.

As they wait in legal limbo, most of the deserters are able to work, pending the resolution of their cases. Landry is a computer technician. Key does welding. Johnson picks up carpentry projects, and before she had her third child, Rivera worked nights at a bakery. While they've developed friendships and see one another frequently, their uncertain future in Canada and inability to return to the United States present a range of challenges. Key and his wife have separated, and she has returned home with their four children. "It sucks," he says, "but it's kind of hard to tell your kids they can't see their grandparents for four years." Landry complains that he can't keep a girlfriend because of the constant specter of deportation.

Many of the deserters are estranged from their families, who disapprove of their decision. Rivera says she hasn't spoken to her mother since she left Texas. She and Mario checked their phone messages when they arrived in Ontario to hear her mother saying that if Rivera didn't turn herself in, she'd call the police and report Mario for kidnapping Rivera and the kids. According to Mario's mother, Reyna, that's just what she did. Rivera's mother, Cathy Miller, didn't return phone calls for this story, but Reyna says that for months she received calls from Mesquite investigators asking about Mario and a kidnapping allegation.

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My Voice Nation Help

Why isn't anyone commenting on the "morality" of the government who sent these young people to war. All I hear is crap about a business contract that was signed and how it is "cowardly" for these people to want to opt out of a war they were lied to about in the first place. Killing and maiming innocent people isn't for everyone. I feel for the American soldiers who were lied to, and are being sent to fight a special interest war in which the majority will see no benefits from, and especially feel for the majority of everyday Iraqi people who have not had a choice of a life for the last 20-30 years because of the West meddling in their affairs.


She enlisted for all the wrong reasons. I've heard this story before and even from a Marine Corps reservist who actually believed she would never be sent into a conflict. She was confident that her unit had rear area support duties and she could always get out of the corps if she was assigned to go into danger. Some people are quite adept at convincing themselves that military service is something other than the reality. They deny the realty and decide to believe some convenient fairytale. Some become deserters running to foreign nations to avoid the reality which rains upon them washing away all pretense. So to the youth of America I say, consider carefully what you do. Military service is not an easy ride to benefits and the educational benefits are paltry compared to the risks. Need an education, there are plenty of other ways to help yourself. Even the National Guard is no place to go just to get benefits. The cold war is over -- now we have endless "hot" conflicts around the globe. Plenty of opportunity to serve our country which is the reason one should serve in the military. Don't just sign up for the benefits, you could end up using your burial benefit earlier than you like. I served in the U.S. Air Force for a decade. I recommend service, but consider it carefully. When you do sign that contract -- live by your decision and fulfill your promise.


Coward, I am ashamed of this coward, make excuses because of the lack of commitment, you wanted all the good but none of the bad, come back to America and face the charges you coward


Anyone find it odd that Canada wont allow deserters to stay but fight to keep killers facing the death penalty?

Mike Wichrowski
Mike Wichrowski

I don't believe her for a minute, she joined for a free ride, hoping her 2)kids would keep her from serving in Iraq. She gambled and lost, now needs to face the music. I served in everything from NAM to the 1st. Gulf War (and 5 kids along the way). I may not have agreed or liked the situation but I was no COWARD! She could have gotten out, if she hated it so much, but WITH NO BENEFITS!

Jerry K
Jerry K

First and foremost. You signed the contract, you said you would do the duty and you lied. These people in the article ran when they said they wouldn't. They are truly cowards in every sense of the word. Even if you are a woman and you are serving you must expect that you will have to sacrifice, the main subject of the article expects everyone to sacrifice for her and then claims to be a victim when she sees how hard life can be for her to sacrifice. Girl grow up or shut up.

I served in the military 19 years ago, I knew what I signed up for and I now know that if my life was needed I signed a contract that said I would give it voluntarily.

In talking with my current 2 family members that are in the Army and USAF they both have stated they are proud to be serving and when they have been in theater they are doing the right things there.

These deserters deserve the full UCMJ thrown at them and be lined up in front of a firing squad. We are in a time of war, the punishment is clear.

Since the article threw in a political spin. I will do mine, I am a republican; ironically I grew up as a democrat and then saw the light that we make our own way. These people are the weak minded democrats that our wonderful new administration wants to serve. If our new administration doesn�t deal with these deserters per the UCMJ it will show the world just how weak we are.

We as Americans must find our back bone and be the leaders we need to be.

Joe Harrison
Joe Harrison

I agree with Andrew Noe that there's something wrong with Kim Rivera, which give me some sympathy for her. Basically i think she should've toughed out the time she signed up to serve, but i would also like to know whether or not she was given alternatives to running away. She clearly has some issues, and from personal experience, i can tell you that homesickness can be debilitating, and can sneak up on a person. With that in mind, a well run military would provide for one to get help and if necessary, a transfer to a position that they're more capable of, or need be, discharge. If you jump at your own shadow, you're a danger to yourself and your unit, and that trumps unit cohesion. Still, while a lack of such options could be considered extenuating circumstances, what she did was still wrong.

The ones i do support are those that got a stop loss order. They did their duty, fulfilled their obligations, and went back to their lives, only to be pulled back in, or not allowed to leave. What happened to a volunteer military? Aside from a slap on the wrist, i don't think those deserters deserve any punishment, they did everything they were supposed to, and the military simply decided to conscript them, which goes against the claims of an all volunteer military. This is especially galling when at the same time we're kicking gays out because you can't be gay and serve. Quite frankly, as long as you behave yourself and conduct yourself professionally, i don't see why you can't serve, particularly at a time when we need everyone we can get.

Andrew Noe
Andrew Noe

Upon reading the first part of the article, I really thought that I would have sympathy for the subjects involved. But I don't. The Vietnam-era deserters who didn't have the balls or were too rich or too smart to fight? Good riddance. They were never Americans to begin with. I bet they have as many problems and guilt as the men and women who stood up and served our country as honorably as most of our military personnal did. Better to live life bravely than be a coward, and make no mistake, they were and always will be cowards. There is no such thing as a brave coward. I know that's a harsh judgement, but one has to live by one's choices.As far as the modern day deserters are concerned: If one joins the Marines, you should know better. I noticed no Navy personnel were involved. The Air Force guy sounds like the usual fuck-up who got busted. He should be a politician because it sounds like he is a liar and a weasel.What is very disturbing about the article is the fact that Kim Rivera was even allowed in the Army. I can't believe that they are so desperate to think she would be a good soldier. This is what happens when the standards are so low that they would allow this to happen. "Boo-hoo, I joined the Army voluntarily to get free stuff and they sent me to a place where bad things happened."As far as I'm concerned, the Canadians can keep them all.

Scott Davis
Scott Davis

Typical. I wan't somebody to provide for me. I have to do what to get my benefits? I know I signed up for this deal, but I'm not doing that.

And know this lazy so and so is a victim.

That's why is country is going down the toilet.

Total BS.

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