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Guantánamo video, deserter case draw Canadian criticism of U.S. ties

On Tuesday, a US Army deserter was deported. An unrelated but simultaneous video release showed a Canadian Gitmo detainee taken at age 15 crying, 'Oh Mommy!'

By Susan BouretteCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 17, 2008

Solidarity: Protesters in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday supported a US Army deserter set to be deported.

Darryl Dyck/Ap

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Toronto

At a glance, they look like unrelated events unfolding thousands of miles apart and yet, they're both windows into Canada's passive partnership with the US in the war on terror.

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On Tuesday, the release of a previously classified video shows a Canadian teenager accused of killing a US soldier in Afghanistan sobbing during an interrogation by Canadian intelligence officials in Guantánamo Bay.

Meanwhile, in British Columbia, protesters gathered at the Canada-US border to dispute a federal court's decision the day before to deport Robin Long, a 25-year-old US Army deserter who fled to Canada in 2005, refusing to fight an "illegal war of aggression" in Iraq.

In a country that provided refuge to an estimated 90 percent of some 100,000 deserters and draft dodgers who went into exile during the Vietnam War, it's an unprecedented decision – though perhaps not unexpected, given the political temper of the times in Canada.

"These two events are intimately connected," explains Michael Byers, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia. "They are a sad legacy of our alignment with the Bush administration in the post-9/11 world. Both reflect a desire of the Canadian government to choose its relationship with the Bush administration over human rights."

He adds that while the former Liberal government had worked to accommodate some of its closest ally's preferences since 9/11, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper is following in lock step with US foreign-policy goals.

The lawyers for 21-year-old Omar Khadr released the video of his Guantánamo interrogation hoping to pressure Ottawa into lobbying Washington for the repatriation of Mr. Khadr, still not convicted after six years in detention. He is the only Western detainee left at Guantánamo.

"It's time for Canada to stand up to the United States," says Nathan Whitling, one of Mr. Khadr's lawyers. "Canada is not a puppet to the United States or the Bush administration."

The Canadian government has firmly maintained its stance, however. In a written statement to the Monitor, Eugénie Cormier-Lassonde, spokesperson for Canada's department of foreign affairs, says Khadr faces "serious charges ... includ[ing] murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, material support for terrorism, and spying, all in violation of the laws of war."

US desertions:Vietnam vs. war on terror

Approximately 500,000 US military personnel deserted during the Vietnam War, with an estimated 100,000 draft or military resisters going into exile – at least 90 percent to Canada. From 2002 to 2007, some 24,000 US soldiers have deserted, an estimated 50 to 200 of whom have gone to Canada. Now, deserters must be granted refugee status to stay.

Sources: The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War, MacCleans, Associated Press. Compiled by Leigh Montgomery.

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