Gabriola war resister gets one-year in prison
By Jenn Marshall - Nanaimo News Bulletin
Published: May 01, 2009
Supporters start campaign to reduce sentence.
An American army deserter who sought refuge on Gabriola Island for
nearly three years was sentenced to a year in prison, but his
supporters have launched a campaign to have his sentence reduced.
Cliff Cornell, 28, joined the army in 2002 for the civilian job
opportunities he was told he would have once he had military
experience on his resume.
When his unit was scheduled to go to Iraq in January 2005, he quietly
left the country instead.
He made his way to Gabriola later that year, where he settled and
found work at Village Foods grocery store.
After his application for refugee status was declined by the Canadian
government last December, Cornell turned himself in at the border in February.
Lawyer James Branum said Cornell pleaded guilty to desertion charges
on April 28 at Fort Stewart in Georgia.
"He gave a very moving statement at his trial," said Branum. "He told
the judge he did it for the sake of his conscience."
Cornell was sentenced to 12 months in a military prison and received
a bad conduct discharge from the army, one step up from a
"It's very serious," said Branum. "It's basically a lifetime stigma."
Branum said Cornell's supporters are starting a letter-writing
campaign to try to reduce his sentence. Branum will be lobbying,
along with war resister support groups in Canada and the U.S., to
send Cornell back to Canada once his sentence is served.
"He has a speech impediment, but in Canada, no one ever gave him a
hard time about it," said Branum. "He had a community that he loved
and a job he liked at the grocery store. He wants to go back."
Information about Cornell's campaign is available at www.couragetoresist.org.
Michelle Robidoux, spokeswoman for the Toronto-based War Resisters
Support Campaign, said the national group will continue to lobby the
government to allow war resisters to seek refuge in Canada.
"It's a really bad situation for Cliff and other resisters who have
been sent home," she said. "We're demanding the Harper government
lift any kind of obstacles to their return."
Ben Letts, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, said
the door is not necessarily shut to Cornell's return.
He said while Cornell has a criminal record now, as a bad conduct
discharge is equivalent to a felony conviction in the U.S., each
applicant is assessed on a case by case basis and CIC will consider
whether he is likely to offend in Canada.
"We would look at the whole case and weigh the merits of his decision
at that time," said Letts.
Army deserter's lawyer wants sentence reduced
Cliff Cornell is now serving one year in jail for desertion
By Darrell Bellaart, The Daily News
May 1, 2009
The lawyer representing jailed U.S. Army deserter Cliff Cornell wants
supporters to write his commanding officer to ask for clemency.
Cornell, who spent nearly three years working at a Gabriola Island
grocery store, was jailed on Tuesday for one year after pleading
guilty to desertion at his court-martial hearing at the Fort Stewart,
Ga. military base where he works.
Under U.S. military law, the commanding general has special authority
to recommend a reduction to a court-martialed prisoner's sentence.
Lawyer James Branum is mounting an international campaign to convince
the commanding general to reduce the time Cornell will have to spend
With good behaviour he will likely only serve 10 months of that
sentence, but Branum has other reasons to seek a reduction.
"Frankly, even if the commanding general reduces it one day it will
make a difference," Branum said.
That's because one year is the threshold for a military sentence to
be considered a felony conviction in the U.S.
"The law is hazy," Branum said. While in some states it's only
considered a felony if the sentence is more than one year, "in many
other states 12 months or higher is an automatic felony."
That would affect Cornell's right to vote or own a firearm in many states.
"Also Cliff wants to go to Canada some day."
Having a clean criminal record would make a big difference.
Cornell, who has a speech impediment, suffered considerable teasing
growing up in Mountain Home, Ark. He was impressed with how accepting
of him people on Gabriola were during his three years there, and
hopes to return after serving his prison sentence.
After Cornell's court-martial, Branum shot a video of Cornell that
will soon be posted on Youtube.
"In the video I asked Cliff what he says to Canada, and he was very
emotional, and he said: 'Tell everyone, thank you, and keep writing.
Cliff wants to come back to Canada. He really feels that island is
his home now."
The campaign has the support of the Toronto-based War Resisters
Support Campaign, a group that supported Cornell from 2005, when he
first entered Canada through his deportation earlier this year.
"Cliff Cornell should never have been sent back," said Ken Marciniec,
a spokesman of the group. Letters of support will be accepted for the
next two months.
Soldier faces year in prison for desertion
Published: April 29, 2009
FORT STEWART, Ga., April 29 (UPI) -- U.S. Army enlisted man Cliff
Cornell was sentenced to one year in prison Tuesday evening in
Georgia after a court-martial found him guilty of desertion.
Cornell, who had fled to Canada where he expressed his objection to
the war in Iraq, also was given a bad conduct discharge during the
military proceedings at Fort Stewart.
The War Resisters Support Campaign, a Canadian anti-war group, said
prosecutors had argued Cornell's appearance on television in Canada
had helped undermine troop morale in the Middle East.
"Cliff is being punished for what he believes, for his comments to
the press," said James Branum, the lawyer who represented Cornell
during the court-martial. "Because he spoke out against the Iraq war,
Cliff's sentence is harsher than the punishment given to 94 percent
of deserters who are not penalized but administratively discharged."
Cornell, a specialist in the 39th Artillery Regiment at Fort Stewart,
deserted to Toronto in 2005. Canadian authorities ordered the
Mountain Home, Ark., native out of the country in February after
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney turned down his request to stay in
Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
AWOL 3rd ID soldier gets 1 year in prison
By Russ Bynum - The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Apr 29, 2009
FORT STEWART, Ga. An Arkansas soldier tearfully apologized for
going to Canada to avoid deploying to Iraq and was sentenced Tuesday
to a year in prison after pleading guilty to desertion.
Spc. Cliff Cornell spent four years in Canada before the Canadian
government denied him asylum as a war objector. Cornell came back to
the U.S. and turned himself in to authorities in February to avoid
The 28-year-old soldier from Mountain Home, Ark., sobbed in a Fort
Stewart courtroom Tuesday as he told the judge he was sorry. He said
he fled to Canada in January 2005, a month before his 3rd Infantry
Division unit was scheduled to deploy to Iraq, because he feared for
his own life and couldn't stomach the thought of killing.
"It was wrong for me to leave my unit and go to Canada," Cornell
said. "I was very anxious about whether I might be asked to do things
that might violate my conscience. I felt trapped. I didn't know what to do."
The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, also ordered that Cornell's rank be
reduced to private and that he receive a bad-conduct discharge.
Cornell is the third U.S. service member to be tried by the military
for fleeing to Canada.
Though Cornell's prison time falls between the sentences of the other
two deserters, his attorney, James Branum, said it was too harsh.
He said Cornell suffered an abusive childhood that left him socially
impaired and therefore unable to resolve his qualms about serving in
a war zone with his commanders.
"While he is certainly sane to stand trial, I would say he has some
degree of impairment," Branum said. "He doesn't have the social or
emotional skills of other people."
Branum said Cornell would be housed temporarily one of the nearby
county jails until he's assigned to a military prison. He said he
planned to appeal the sentence to Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo, Fort
Stewart's commander, who could reduce the sentence.
Prosecutors had asked for a 15-month prison sentence and a
dishonorable discharge for Cornell, arguing his decision to flee put
other members of Cornell's unit in jeopardy.
"They had to fill his space with a soldier who was not trained up and
had to learn on the job," said Capt. Edward Piasta, an Army
prosecutor. "And he didn't come back until Canada refused his refugee
status and he was threatened with immediate deportation."
Cornell had trained as a driver and gunner in the 1st Battalion, 39th
Artillery Regiment, which deployed to Iraq in 2005 to provide
security details for senior officers.
In Canada, Cornell worked at a grocery store on Gabriola Island,
British Columbia. Branum said Cornell hopes to return there after
he's released from prison.
A dishonorable discharge would have made that more difficult for
Cornell, Branum said. The bad conduct discharge would be viewed more
like a misdemeanor conviction, rather than a felony, on his record,
the attorney said.
Military law defines desertion as leaving the military with no intent
to return or to avoid hazardous duty. The charge carries a maximum
penalty of five years in prison.
However, Fort Stewart commanders agreed to push for a lighter
sentence in exchange for Cornell's guilty plea.
The War Resisters Support Campaign, based in Toronto, has worked with
about 50 U.S. service members seeking refugee status or political
asylum in Canada. The group estimates more than 200 have fled to
Canada, most of them hiding out illegally.
During the Vietnam War, thousands of Americans took refuge in Canada,
most of them to avoid the military draft. Many were given permanent
residence status that led to Canadian citizenship, but the majority
went home after President Jimmy Carter granted amnesty in the late 1970s.