Iraq war resister sentenced to 15 months

The first US war resister deported from Canada was sentenced to 15 months in prison Aug. 22 at a court martial hearing in Colorado. Pte. Robin Long, 25, of Boise, Idaho, was also given a dishonorable discharge after pleading guilty to charges of desertion. The sentence was the longest any convicted army deserter has received since the beginning of the current Iraq war, according to retired US Army Col. Ann Wright, a former diplomat who resigned from her post in protest at the war's outset. Wright testified against the legality of the Iraq war on Long's behalf. Of the thousands of soldiers sentenced for desertion or going AWOL, only former army sergeant Kevin Benderman received an equal term in 2005.

About two dozen anti-war supporters gathered around the courthouse at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs as a military judge handed down Long's sentence. Though initially sentenced to 30 months, that time was reduced to the 15-month maximum military prosecutors had agreed on when arranging a plea deal last week.

Long came to Canada in 2005 to flee a scheduled deployment to Iraq. While there, he was briefly engaged to an Ontario woman with whom he had a child last year, before he moved to British Columbia. He was deported and taken into the custody of the US Army in July following a series of failed attempts to gain refugee status or permanent residency in Canada.

Late last week, Long's lawyers reached an agreement with prosecutors under which he would plead guilty on charges of desertion with the intent to stay away permanently. In return, prosecutors agreed not to move forward on the most serious charges of desertion with the intent to shirk hazardous duty.

Prosecutors showed a six-minute video of Long, sporting dreadlocks and a beard, telling a Canadian news reporter "I think I was lied to by my president." In his defense, Long called the war in Iraq "illegal," adding "I feel the war on terror is a war on peace." Long said he plans to move back to Canada and make his life there. In Nelson, BC, Long said he honed his organic gardening skills and converted his Volkswagen to run on recycled cooking oil.

"He was very calm and very measured," said Wright of Long at his sentencing. "He fully anticipated that he would be serving the entire 15 months." Like many of the other roughly 200 US war resisters currently in Canada, Long said he opposed the conflict in Iraq on legal and moral grounds. (Toronto Star, Aug. 23; Colorado Spring Gazette, Aug. 22)

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