From U.S. war deserter tells refugee board of atrocities
TORONTO -- A "trigger-happy" U.S. army squad leader shot the foot off an unarmed Iraqi man and soldiers kicked a severed head around like a soccer ball, a U.S. war deserter told an Immigration and Refugee Board hearing Thursday.
Joshua Key, the first U.S. deserter with combat experience in Iraq to apply for refugee status in Canada, told the board he witnessed numerous atrocities committed by U.S. forces while serving eight months as a combat engineer.
Key, 27, said he was never trained on the Geneva Convention and was told in Iraq by superior officers that the international law guiding humanitarian standards was just a "guideline."
"It's shoot first, ask questions later," Key said of his squad's guiding principles. "Everything's justified."
Key is one of five members of the U.S. armed forces asking for asylum in Canada.
But the Oklahoma native is unique in that he is the only applicant that has combat experience in Iraq, said Key's lawyer, Jeffry House. The other are seeking asylum in Canada to avoid being sent there, he said.
"He has boots-on-the-ground experience about what the actual conduct of the war in Iraq is," House said outside the hearing.
With visible bags under his eyes, Key told the hearing he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and frequently has nightmares over what he witnessed in Iraq.
He recalled participating in almost nightly raids on homes of suspected insurgents in Ramadi and Fallujah as a member of the 43rd Combat Engineer Company.
He said that while the raids seldom turned up anything of interest, he often saw soldiers ransack the homes and steal jewelry or money, while superior officers looked the other way.
He also said several Iraqis were shot dead, and that they were cases of soldiers "shooting out of fear and inventing reasons afterward."
In Ramadi, Key said he saw the beheaded bodies of four Iraqis beside a shot-up truck and witnessed several members of the Florida National Guard kick a severed head "like a soccer ball."
Key added he was never questioned about the incident and was not aware of any charges being laid.