U.S. Troop Defends Reason for Avoiding War

By CARYN ROUSSEAU Associated Press Writer

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Mar 28, 2005 As one of eight American soldiers who fled to Canada instead of going to Iraq, Cliff Cornell hopes he will be granted political asylum rather than be forced to fight a war he objects.

Now living in Toronto as a peace volunteer, Cornell had his bags packed in early January, ready to return to Fort Stewart, Ga., and join the rest of his battalion preparing to deploy. But the car stood in the driveway when he changed his mind.

"I wanted a legal way out," Cornell said by phone Sunday. "But the only option I had was to go to Iraq or come up here. I choose to come up here because I didn't want to be a part of that."

Top StoriesIn a ruling that came as a blow to other deserters, Army paratrooper Jeremy Hinzman was denied political asylum by a Canadian immigration board last week. Yet, the 24-year-old Cornell remains hopeful, and he maintains his stance.

"It's kind of upsetting but it was expected," said Cornell, who awaits word on his case. In the meantime, he planned to file for a work permit Monday.

"The people over in Iraq, they're not terrorists," he said. "They're not insurgents. They're people defending their country from us. We have invaded them and it's wrong."

Canada has long opposed American wars; former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau declared his homeland "a refuge from militarism" during the Vietnam War and allowed thousands of American draft dodgers. Canadian officials also opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, but is seeking to ease strained relations between the two governments.

Cornell is one of eight known U.S. military deserters who fled to Canada to avoid war in Iraq. They are represented by Jeffry House, a Wisconsin native who came to Canada in 1970 to avoid the Vietnam draft.

House estimated as many as 100 American war resisters are hiding in Canada, waiting to see how Hinzman's case is played out before coming forward.

For Cornell, the trip across the northern border was about keeping a clear conscience.

"In my heart I felt it's wrong," Cornell said of the war. "I've been hearing a lot of people talking about all the innocent people who are being killed and the prisons over there where they've been torturing people. I just didn't want to be a part of it