Wednesday, October 24, 2007
War Resister Michael Espinal
Yesterday Michael Espinal, and his partner Jenn arrived at Brock University to talk about their experience coming to Canada from the United States. The two of them are filing for refugee status, so that Michael would not have to go back and fight in the US led War in Iraq.
Michael put a very real human face on the horrors that are being committed everyday in Iraq. He spent 14 months as an explosives expert doing house raids, disarming landmines, and other explosives. Michael was reprimanded for breaking military procedure for only placing enough explosives on the doors to open them, rather than blowing the entire door and frame into the houses. If you use the amount of explosives the military states you should in its procedures. “anyone within 5 feet of the door would be killed instantly.” According to Michael most of the intelligence they relied on was from other Iraqi’s who told US forces of locations where “bad” people were. These informants were paid about $5.00. “In all the raids I found only two grenades, and a few guns… if you were a male over 5 feet you were bound and taken away.” Michael said. Bibles were regularly shoved in the pockets of Iraqi’s as soldiers would taunt them and tell them their religion was wrong.
We constantly hear on the news of deaths and injuries of Coalition Forces in Iraq due to roadside bombs. From Michael’s experience “Most of the IED’s (Improvised Explosive Device), I found were unexploded US ordinance,” or US placed landmines. When convoys would drive near the ordinance sometimes the vibration of vehicles passing would be enough to detonate it. Regardless of the source of the explosive, it is always blamed on “terrorists”.
We never heard anything about the Iraqi people, just about terrorists, and enemies. “We never shot warning shots… if a child with a hand in their pocket… got within 5-10 feet of a soldier, they were shot because they are an enemy.” Any Iraqi’s who were injured intentionally or accidental were denied medical attention.
Michael returned to the United States in June of 2005, as he had been injured. He worked recruiting for the army in Miami, Florida. The recruiters had quotas they had to reach or they would be disciplined. The recruiters had a budget of $500 a month to spend on BBQs and picnics, to encourage people to enlist. We “never went into a rich area to recruit, only the poor areas.” Espinal said. They would have about $75 they could spend to help entice people to enlist, by buying things like sporting event tickets, or clothing. “It was brainwashing!” The military reserves the right to change virtually every part of the contract you sign. “The military has the right to change your job, withhold your bonus, … change your insurance policy without you knowing… deny you schooling, medical care, and your housing allowance.” Espinal said.
When Espinal was posted in Germany in June of 2006, the new recruits were just arriving from boot camp. These 17-20 year olds were supposed to have six months of training in Kuwait prior to being deployed in Iraq. This was reduced down to a 10 day training course where they were taught how to do house raids from an instructor who according to Espinal had never done one in combat. “The training was half assed all the way”, Espinal said. Some of them failed targeting tests, but instructors still passed them. They are going to get themselves killed. These kids were in Iraq seven weeks after enlisting.
The US military has become increasingly privatized in recent years. There are about as many private contractors in Iraq today, as there are US military personal. Life for US Soldiers in Iraq is disproportionately more difficult than their privatized counterparts. US soldiers who do not want to use the older standard issue weapons have to pay hundreds of dollars to use the newer ones. “You are not allowed to use the best armor!” Espinal said. One has to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for armor, if they do not have any left that fits you properly. “If you die before your tour is done they [the military] will bill your estate for breech of contract… [or] if you are injured on tour, they will charge you for your medical care just like a hospital would back home.” Espinal continued.
Espinal was told that he was being transferred to the infantry, and would be redeployed to Iraq in the autumn of 2006. Despite being poisoned from depleted uranium, and a foot injury, which prevents him from running, or standing extended periods of time. He watched a Captain in another battalion, shred his medical records and print out new ones that said he was in perfect health. Espinal after this went AWOL, and returned to the United States. One year later in September 2007 Michael and Jenn crossed the Canadian boarder and got in touch with the War Resisters Support Campaign in Ontario.
They both are happy and touched at the support they have received in Canada. Jenn described, while their loved ones in the US support their decision to come to Canada, they still feel that being a War Resister is something wrong. It is different in Canada, where the people they have met think they did the right thing by leaving.
About 65% of Ontarians support US War Resisters staying in Canada. Michael and Jenn have been welcomed into the homes of a few families in Ontario while they make the transition.
Check back later for updates of thes progress of their refugee claim in Canada.
On the run from the American military Brock Press, October 2007
Local Anti-War Groups
Niagara Coalition for Peace (email list serve)
Hamilton Action for Social Change
McMaster University Centre for Peace Studies