"We Have to Give it Hell"
An Interview with US War Resister Joshua Key
By ALison Bodine
Joshua Key is a US soldier who refuses to fight in Iraq and has come to Canada demanding refugee status. After serving in Iraq during the early stages of the war and occupation, in November of 2003, Josh was allowed to come home for two weeks. It was then that he left the military. Joshua spent 14 months absent without leave (AWOL) in the US, living in Philadelphia at a different hotel every month with his family of four. Tired of living under the constant threat of being found and sent to jail for refusing to fight, Josh and his wife decided to risk it and move to Toronto in March of this year. Coming in on the heals of an increased Canadian War drive in Afghanistan and the denial of Jeremy Hinzman's refugee claim in February, it is extremely important that people continue to expose and fight against the imperialism of the government of Canada. With that we must continue to support and defend US War Resisters speaking out against the occupation of Iraq and demand refugee status for War Resisters in Canada.
On July 31st Fire This Time had the chance to speak with Joshua Key about his experience in Iraq and as a War Resister in Canada, while he was in Vancouver as part of the "Summer of Resistance" Tour across Western Canada.
"Of course I did my history, I know that no American has been granted refugee status in Canada, I know that no political asylum had been granted for Americans, but the world is always for a change. Change has to happen."
- Joshua Key, July 2005
Fire This Time: Why did you join the military?
Joshua Key: Health care, steady pay and I wanted money for college. Those were my primary reasons.
FTT: Where were you stationed and when did you first leave for Iraq?
JK: I was stationed at Ft. Carson Colorado. It is basically Colorado Springs. I left for Iraq on April 10th, 2003.
FTT: What was the response you felt from Iraqi people, and in your experience what is the occupation of Iraq?
JK: My experience... you know my primary job was raids and traffic control points. My views while I was there just changed, I guess. Frequently, you know, everyday you are seeing more and you do not understand why. I tell you, I see no justification for it. If it was a war that was really for the protection of my country I would still be there. It was just unnecessary. When I came back people always said, well did you know that the UN secretary said the war was illegal and all these different things. And I tell them no, when I was there we didn't get to watch the media. The only newspaper we got was military stars and stripes from Germany. My views were based on what I'd seen, that is what I based everything on.
FTT: Will you describe a few of the most powerful and defining incidents that shaped your views while you were in Iraq and now?
JK: For a while I was raiding homes, the first time that you do it is like an adrenaline rush, you could get blown out that door any second. There is like a fifty-fifty chance of walking out. So what our job was, you put C4 above the door handle, you run in a five to six men team, and go through and grab every male that looks over the age of 15 or 16. Once you find them, you throw them outside and zip-cuff them, in place of hand cuffs, you just throw plastic things over real tight.
They put them in the back of semi and send them off for interrogation. What got to me with that is that, I did 100 raids or more, and every one of them, I never once found a terrorist. I never once found a cache of weapons. I never found any reason for any of the men to be detained or to be taken off for interrogation. They didn't have anything, so why should it happen. Soon, it got to be that you see the Iraqi people's faces when you are doing this. You are running in, the women and children are looking at you like you're monsters, they look at you like you're the one that is doing this to us, and you are the one who will pay for it. You know, that always got to me, because I am not the one doing it, I am made to be doing this, but I am not the one who wants it to happen. It still bothers me.
One specific time, in Ramadi, within that time, within that month it was like everything just went chaotic. Everything just started escalating every day. Going from a fire fight a week to maybe four or five a day; to every night we had a mortar attack. We got called on a few RF missions, which is a quick reaction force, it is like a SWAT team for the police force, if something crazy happens, they are going to send you in. Well every night where I was at it you had to go out for a 24-hour shift basically. One night we got called, it was in Ramadi very late in the morning. We were right along the Euphrates river and as we got down the river we took a sharp right turn and all we see is heads and bodies. In the middle of them were American troops standing there saying we lost it. You're shocked, that was the first time I had seen something that dramatic. They said, BFCT would you get out the back and find evidence of firefight here, evidence of something. As soon as I stepped off the back of my APC, which is like a tank, when I stepped off the back of that and I turned around I see two American soldiers kicking a head around like a soccer ball. I stepped right back inside of the tank and I told my squad leader that I would have no part of it. And I said that. That was a big deal for me.
FTT: When you were in Iraq, what was the level of discontent you noticed within the US military?
JK: Everybody I was there with felt the same way I did. To the ones I talked to anyways, you can't talk to your superior officers, people like that, but like the people that were on the same level as I, just your regular soldier, you're nothing, we are all on the same level. They always laugh, you see on TV that the morale of soldiers in Iraq is high. Well, when I was there I couldn't even tell you what the hell morale was, there was no such thing as morale, it was a nonsense word that our leaders just threw around to make the world set and easy.
FTT: What do you think is the role of War Resisters in Canada?
JK: Well, you know, some of us have different opinions on that, my opinion on that, the role that I see for myself, is that I have things that need to be said. As well as I have come to terms with the fact that all of us who are here, all 15 of us, will be in the history books regardless of whether we like it or not, it is as simple as that. I can't, I will not, I do not see it justified for us having to go back and spend time in prison for this, for doing the right thing. The way I see it, we have to give it hell, we can't just sit back and be like, well we did too much or sit and daydream about it. I have to get out and do something about it. That's what my role is, it's basically, that we have to motivate the people. If I am the only one who will do it, I am the only one who will do it. It has to be done.
FTT: What has been the response so far on the tour?
JK: Winnipeg, Calgary, Sudbury, Brandon Manitoba, Nelson BC, Castlegar BC, Grand Forks BC. I haven't had no critics by no means. I have become aware of the fact that I really don't care if people agree with me or disagree really. I haven't met one person who has said that I should be sent back home and face punishment for what I did and what I believe. It has been great, overwhelming response from people as well as organizations. I go to a lot of mosques, I speak at a lot of mosques for the simple fact that for myself it is an apology that I can do, apologize for what my country did, as well to the people. I apologize to people who I once thought were all terrorists, people I once had to kill. I do that a lot. On my way back in Lincoln Manitoba as well as in Toronto. I went to the biggest Mosques in Manitoba on the way back. I think it is more for my conscious, myself.
FTT: What is your immigration situation right now?
JK: Basically, I couldn't tell anybody what way it is going to go or not. I have applied for refugee status, I go to trial on Sept. 2nd and I am ready for it. Some other people get real scared about it, but I'm ready for it, there is nothing they could tell me that is going to hurt my feelings. I think I have heard it all, and nobody can take back what I have seen, they can't say it didn't happen, they can't no matter what anybody says, I've seen it with my own eyes.
FTT: What do you think we can do, as people in Canada, as anti-war organizers in Canada, to defend War Resisters and end the war in Iraq?
JK: Just write your MP's, sign the petitions, for every reason there is. Just fight as much as anybody can through radio stations, through the media, through facts. I go on a lot of facts, I do a lot of research myself I mean if you ask me from the facts alone, we all should be able to stay here without a problem, they should just hand us refugee documents and say here you go. But things ain't on facts anymore, you know it is more on who's got the money, who's got the word. I think the Canadian people and different anti-war organizations; they have to give it hell like all of us do. It is a battle that seems unwinnable, but yet it is there, it is in reach we just have to fight for it.
FTT: Thank you Josh.
To get involved in supporting War Resisters in Vancouver contact the Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO) War Resisters Support Campaign at firstname.lastname@example.org. or visit www.mawovancouver.org for more information on War Resisters and to sign the online petition demanding refugee status for War Resisters in Canada.
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