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Deserter Accuses U.S. of War Crimes

May 26, 2004

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) _ An American soldier who deserted his Iraq-bound unit and sought asylum in Canada said the war in Iraq was illegal and accused the United States of committing war crimes.

Pfc. Jeremy Hinzman, 25, defended his decision to leave his unit with the 82nd Airborne Division on Jan. 2, about two weeks after he learned his unit would be deployed to Iraq. He fled to Toronto with his wife and child.

He is believed to be the first U.S. soldier to apply for refugee status in Canada after refusing combat duty in Iraq.

``The Iraqi war is illegal according to international standards. It was condemned by most the international community,″ Hinzman said Tuesday in a speech sponsored by an anti-war group and an Arab advocacy group. ``If I had participated in the Iraq occupation, I would have participated in a criminal enterprise.″

A spokeswoman for the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based 82nd Airborne Division has said Hinzman could be arrested, but that the Army would not pursue him.

Hinzman served three years in the Army prior to January. He had applied for conscientious objector status before his unit was sent to Afghanistan in 2002, but the Army told him it had lost his application.

The Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board is to start hearings in July on Hinzman’s case.

Last week, a U.S. soldier who refused to return to his Florida National Guard unit after a two-week furlough last October was sentenced to a year in prison for deserting his unit in Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia had said that he disobeyed orders to return to his unit because his war experiences in Iraq made him decide to seek status as a conscientious objector. He later turned himself over to the Army.

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