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People and Politics Forum 06.03.2009

"Should deserters be granted asylum?"


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After a six-month posting to Iraq, American aviation mechanic André Shepherd had had enough and went absent without leave while in Germany. He now lives in a refugee facility, and has applied to the German authorities for asylum. He argues that the Iraq war is immoral and breaches international human rights law. André Shepherd is the first American deserter to apply for asylum in a European Union member state. He's been denounced as a traitor in the United States. But his German lawyer thinks he has a strong case for asylum under the terms of the Geneva Convention. Many German politicians think his attempt will end in failure. We take a look at the case of André Shepherd.

Our Question is:

"Should deserters be granted asylum?"

Karl Heinrich Pflumm, from the United States believes Germany should grant Shepherd asylum, considering the country’s position on the war:

"I do not condone a blanket rule, but in this case asylum should be granted. The BRD has denied any active military or any other aid in Iraq and thus defined its political position. Even professional soldiers have the right to evaluate ethical values of a military action. His decision shows a high level of integrity considering the lifelong retributions."

Hans Georg Keppler of Germany maintains that transatlantic relations must be factored in:

"If Shepherd were to be granted asylum, that could have a negative impact on German-American relations. As in the case of Steinbach, the greater good – the immensely important bilateral relationship between these countries – must take precedence over the interests of an individual. Moreover, the war in Iraq was covered by international law, and now the US occupation has shown itself to be of considerable benefit to a majority of Iraqis."

Christian Steffen, Thailand, says that granting Shepherd asylum would be unfair to other asylum seekers:

"To enter the US Army as a professional soldier – as an Apache helicopter mechanic – and to believe in an "aid mission" for Iraqi civilians is just as naive as applying for asylum in Germany. In my opinion, this man has chosen his own destiny. One must stand by such decisions. To grant him asylum in Germany would be an unacceptable slap in the face to those truly persecuted people who fight for this right in Germany on a daily basis."

Michael Kurt Stanek, Brazil, characterizes the war in Iraq as unjust:

"In Shepherd’s case, asylum should be granted. In my opinion, the war of aggression against Iraq was absolutely illegal. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Bush won’t stand trial before an international court – absurd!"

René Junghans, Brazil believes that Shepherd should not be granted asylum:

"Under no circumstances should this deserter be granted asylum ... professional soldiers are professional murderers. Whoever takes on the job of soldier is aware that he’s being deployed by his government to kill people. I think Germany already has enough real asylum applicants to deal with, those people who are seeking refuge from poverty and hopelessness. Why should German taxpayers support the cost of living for an American deserter? It seems too easy to me for someone to use moral objections to military intervention as a pretense for seeking asylum. If this asylum application is granted, soon millions of soldiers from every crisis zone in the world will insist that they, too, have a right to asylum, and then what? Should Germany become a haven for foreign deserters? It would make it easier for the agents of various dictatorships to come to Germany to kill these asylum seekers or to "convince" them forcibly to go back to their homelands. Politicians must stand firm, rule against this deserter and send him back to the United States. It doesn’t matter whether the first deserter is American or Somali or Iraqi or Afghan, etc. This case merits a clear no!"

Klaus Uhle, Canada agrees with Shepherd’s asylum application in principle:

"I agree with what the immigration application from US soldier Shepherd represents. The reason: From the start, the war in Iraq was a war of aggression for oil, not for deposing the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein – who was an ally of the United States for many years in confrontations with Iran. This war bred many more terrorists worldwide than existed before the "preemptive strike"; as many, for that matter, as both of the last offensive strikes by Israel against Lebanon and Gaza bred, which caused civilian populations there unspeakable suffering ..."

Gerhard Seeger in the Philippines carefully considers various perspectives before voicing his support:

"Politicians believe that Shepherd’s bid will fail. Unfortunately, they will probably be right. In the case of deserters, the state and military need to remain firm and unrelenting if they want to maintain their authority. From a human point of view I am for asylum in such cases. Bush and his gang started this war under false pretext, and had planned to do so before 11 September 2001. However, no government can afford to allow soldiers to get away with desertion: It would set a bad precedent from the perspective of the state and the military, who expect their soldiers to follow every order without asking if that order is right or not."

Germany’s Hannelore Krause considers the facts and larger implications of this particular case:

"André Shepherd should have known what he was getting into when he voluntarily signed up to a professional army. Many US citizens see the army as a vehicle for achieving a better life for themselves. We all know that war is immoral and that war is, in itself, a violation of human rights. It follows that it would be humane to grant him asylum in Germany, but the Geneva Convention guarantees only civilians the right to asylum –not soldiers. Shepherd’s fellow countrymen understandably regard him as a traitor. Were the German authorities to reject his application, he would be sent back to his home country, where he would face prosecution. The political flip-side here would be a clouding of US-German relations, which, it appears, are being redefined. The consequences need to be weighed."

Jorge Vidaurre Hueeck from Nicaragua supports asylum based on his opinion of the Iraq war:

"In the case of a war which violates human rights (...) a deserter should be granted asylum."

From Thailand, Sunisa Pongchanwit breaks with conventional ideologies in her ‘no’ answer:

"German-US relationships would be strained if this asylum application were approved. The common good takes precedence over the interest of one individual. The war in Iraq is covered by international law. The US action there has helped the Iraqis to build democracy and prevented the mass murder of Kurds and killings among the different Muslim denominations."

Mohammed Fahel from Syria is a big supporter of Mr. Shepherd:

"Andre Shepherd should get more than just asylum: They should give him a prize."

Iraq’s Mustafa Alani thinks all deserters deserve asylum:

"I think deserters have the right to get asylum because they are forced to participate in wars due to political orders, that doesn't represent their ideology and ethics, and they have no ability to express their opinion -otherwise they will be punished ."

Amin Zoqurti from Jordan appears to support Shepherd’s decision, at least in part:

"Everyone has the right not to take part in war. That’s a human right!"

Erwin Scholz from Costa Rica muses on the prospect of a world without war:

"If all the world’s soldiers would convert,

Like Andre Shepherd –so desert,

Deny commanders a single grunt,

To take up arms on any front."

Carl Zdenek from the USA echoes the words of former contributors in his support for asylum:

"As Kurt Stanek from Brazil and Klaus Uhle from Canada quite correctly stated, the present war in Iraq was started as an illegal war. It follows that the least the German government can do is to provide political asylum for the US soldier Shepherd. The question is do the German people and their Government have enough guts to do so?"

Bryan Moody, USA, shares observations about his military and this asylum applicant:

"My brother, mother, father, grandfather, and great grandfather all served in the US military, and I grew up 18 years in it. People outside the institution do not understand the good will and professionalism involved. Mr. Shepherd made a bad decision to desert and should pay for it. There are ways to object to the current war while in the military and to be discharged early and honorably. Mr. Shepherd's method of simply leaving puts his friends and fellow soldiers at risk since now, as they go to war, they are missing a crucial member of their team. He has taken the cowardly approach and he knows it, as the shaking of his voice gives away. Germany should not provide asylum for two reasons. 1) Germany would be consequently bound to determine the legality of every conflict due to further seekers, and 2) Mr. Shepherd had and still has American avenues for redemption. Additionally, is it not strange that he just now runs from deployment? Everyone knows that Apache helicopters have lethal weaponry and that all armies have the capacity to hurt the innocent. He said he joined for "career opportunities" and then runs away when he realizes the military can kill people, good and evil. Mr. Shepherd is not the ideal of the pacifists, the militarists, or of asylum seekers. Why should Germany even give him the time of day?"

Victor Chan from the USA takes a deeper than usual philosophical look at the issue:

"War is never legal. There is no legality in war. Aggression to another nation is always political. For the fact that Andre Shepherd is a soldier of the aggressive nation, he is no victim either. His case is simply his failure to perform his duty as a soldier because he could no longer find honor and happiness in his profession. Being a soldier you don't often question the morality of the war. Such a responsibility is solely rested on his commanding officer and the commander in chief. It is this sacred trust that bonds him to the military and his country. Once this bond is broken, he begins to have doubts. He is a deserter because he lost this sacred trust....not because he thinks the war kills innocent civilians. War does kill innocent civilians, is given."

Another USA contributor, Adalbert Goertz, is succinct in his support for Shepherd:

"Germany should grant asylum to deserters."

The editorial staff of ‘People and Politics’ reserves the right to shorten letters received.