An Iraq war resister who fled to Canada rather than return to the battlefield has gone into hiding again, a day after turning himself in to the military. Army Private Kyle Snyder says he had a deal with the military that he would be discharged once he turned himself in. Instead, military officials ordered him back to his original unit where his outcome would be decided. Kyle Snyder joins us from Kentucky. We are also joined by his attorney, Jim Fennerty. [includes rush transcript]
An Iraq war resister who fled to Canada rather than return to the battlefield has gone into hiding again, a day after turning himself in to the military. Army Private Kyle Snyder traveled to Canada in April 2005 while on leave from active duty in Iraq. He applied for refugee status in Canada proclaiming that the war was "illegal and immoral" and that he was lied to by military recruiters.
Last week, Kyle left Vancouver to surrender himself at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He says he had a deal with the military that he would be discharged once he turned himself in. Instead, military officials ordered him back to his original unit where his outcome would be decided. He went into hiding again on Tuesday after being dropped off at the Greyhound Bus station in Louisville Kentucky. Kyle Snyder joins us now from Louisville, Kentucky. We are also joined by Kyle Snyder’s attorney, Jim Fennerty. He joins us on the line from Chicago.
- Kyle Snyder. Fled to Canada in April 2005 while on leave from the war in Iraq. He recently returned to the US to turn himself in to the military.
- Jim Fennerty. Attorney for Kyle Snyder. He is based in Chicago and is a member of the National lawyers Guild.
AMY GOODMAN: Kyle Snyder joins us now from a studio in Louisville, Kentucky. We’re also joined by Kyle Snyder’s attorney, Jim Fennerty. He joins us on the line from Chicago. Well, Kyle, welcome to Democracy Now!
KYLE SNYDER: Hi.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this journey that you have taken over the last two years? But let’s start at the end. When you came across the Canadian border this weekend, right at the time of the mass protest across Canada, of calling for Canadian soldiers to pull out of Afghanistan, what was your understanding?
KYLE SNYDER: Well, my understanding was through a Major Brian Patterson on Fort Knox post, is that I would receive the same treatment that Darrell Anderson had received, who is another Iraq war veteran, who was discharged with an other than honorable discharge. My lawyer, Jim Fennerty, had contacted this man on several occasions, and it was verbally promised to both him and — so, my understanding was that I would have the same treatment as Darrell Anderson. However, that all changed when I arrived at Fort Knox about an hour and a half after turning myself in. I wouldn’t have come back to the United States if I had known that the Army would back down on its word.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what exactly happened when you did turn yourself in?
KYLE SNYDER: Well, at first, they were okay with me. A lieutenant had come in, and I was in holding at the time. And he said, "Okay, we’re just going to out process you. Everything’s going to be alright. It will take about four or five days. Don’t worry. It’s going to be okay. Just don’t talk to anybody about your experiences." And I was like, "Well,, that’s fine. I don’t plan on talking to anybody about my experiences on this post anyway."
And after that conversation, another lieutenant had come in and had found out that he could send me back to my original unit in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, which had just moved from Germany, actually, about six months ago. After they had found that out, the whole climate had changed within the holding facility. And I just knew something was wrong after that.
And I requested on several occasions to contact my lawyer before signing any documents. I refused to sign the documents, because I did not fully understand it, so I wanted, you know, my lawyer’s professional help. And they refused phone access to call my lawyer, and then they put me in holding again. And about twenty minutes later, they gave me a Greyhound ticket, said, "You’re going to Fort Leonard Wood anyway." They dropped me off, and I refused to go back to Fort Leonard Wood, because that was not the reason that I came down from Canada.
AMY GOODMAN: Kyle, can you talk about why you joined the military and when you joined?
KYLE SNYDER: Yeah, no problem. I had joined the military October 22, 2003, and I had originally joined for, basically, the verbal promises that were given to me at the time then, too. I was 19 years old. I wanted all of the things that this recruiter was promising me. I wanted military benefits. I wanted the $5,000 sign-on bonus. I wanted college. I wanted to continue my education. I had a fiancee at the time. We were planning on having a child. How am I going to take care of this child if I have one? So, for many reasons, but mainly the materialistic benefits that the military recruiters had promised, had persuaded me to sign the contract.
And it’s basically the same thing that’s happening now. They can verbally promise anything, but once you are in their custody, they can do anything that they want with you, which is completely the opposite of what a lot of these military officials are verbally promising, so —
JUAN GONZALEZ: And once you ended up in Iraq, could you talk to us about the changes that you went through that led you to the decision not to return?
KYLE SNYDER: Yes. And I actually had problems with the Iraq war before I had requested a discharge, actually. And sorry to get off of that subject, but I requested a discharge through my chain of command before deploying to Iraq, for medical reasons of manic depression. I had just lost a child. But I was in an engineering unit, and I wanted to reconstruct the civilization of Iraq, and I figured that’s what an engineering unit in the United States military would be doing in Iraq or building roads, and we wouldn’t be patrolling the way that we were.
So, shortly after arriving in Kuwait in late December 2004, they quickly switched my MOS as a heavy construction equipment operator into that of a 50-cal. gunner, which is the huge machine gun mounted on top of the 1114 Humvees. And I knew something was changing, and I figured, okay, well, I’ll go with the flow for a little bit. I’ll do my duty, and I wanted to make sure that my friends got to point A to point B safely. And I did that until, I’d say, three months into my deployment.
One of the soldiers from my unit had shot an innocent man, who was injured. He was not killed. A lot of papers are saying that he was killed, but he was just injured. The man can no longer walk anymore, as I can recall. I’m the only soldier that even looked into his well-being after the mission. We wrote mission statements on this, and it was not properly investigated, as it should have been. There was no firefight. The soldier had fired upon an innocent civilian, and I wanted to know why five shots were coming from my vehicle. It couldn’t be answered to me, so shortly after that I can’t operate as a soldier, or I can’t be in that military anymore, if that’s the way that they operate in country.
AMY GOODMAN: Where were you then?
KYLE SNYDER: I was in Mosul, Iraq, which is north. If you look at Iraq, the Iraq map. And I was near the borders of Syria and Turkey. And I still have contact with some of the people from my unit.
AMY GOODMAN: Were other members of your unit similarly concerned? Were they upset by this?
KYLE SNYDER: You know, if they were, they weren’t talking about it. I wasn’t talking about it too much, because after being told basically by my chain of command that it was okay and it’s wartime, things like this happen, it’s like, okay, well, why isn’t at least being investigated into as to why the shooting happened? So, a lot of soldiers, after that event, you know, kind of kept really hush about it and were more concerned about saving face of the shooter than why the shooter had shot.
AMY GOODMAN: And how long were you in Mosul? Is that the only place you were in in Iraq?
KYLE SNYDER: No, I was an escort for high-ranking officials, everything from first sergeant lieutenant colonel to a general, actually. We escorted a two-star general at one point. So I got to travel a lot. I got to take these men to different cities. Wherever they needed to go, I was the gunner. And so, I was in country for about four months before I saw a way out, which was through my leave form. And I had to follow my conscience, and I still follow it to this day.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And the time you’ve been spending in Canada, what’s life been like there, because, obviously, during the Vietnam War, Canada became a huge area that took many war resisters from the United States, both those refusing to be drafted, as well as AWOL soldiers? What has life been like there?
KYLE SNYDER: Actually, life in Canada was fairly well. It’s still a struggle. It’s still hard. It’s not like I was relaxing while soldiers were being killed. It was, I was struggling to get them back home. I was involved in the antiwar movement in Canada. I was generally accepted by the Canadian population. I just wanted to get on with a normal life, and that’s what I kept telling people in Canada. And after they saw that I was making those steps to have a normal life, I think that they understood.
And I was actually attending college courses — sitting in on college courses while I was there. I worked at a massage and wellness center for disabled children. I wanted to get on with a normal life. And I think that’s what I was doing, and I gave all of that up on a chance that I can have the military off of my back. I figured this would work. And, you know, I would have stayed in Canada working with disabled children, if I knew this was going to happen.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Kyle Snyder. He has gone AWOL for a second time. He’s talking to us from Louisville. He comes from Colorado Springs. We go to break. When we come back, we’ll continue with him and his lawyer, Jim Fennerty, to talk about what exactly the deal was that he had worked out, that Kyle feels the military reneged on.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest in Louisville, Kentucky, is Kyle Snyder. He has just refused to go to his base, has gone AWOL a second time, having been in Iraq, returned, went up to Canada, came back with the understanding that — well, let’s first turn to Jim Fennerty, attorney for Kyle Snyder. What exactly did the military tell you? Was it you who negotiated directly with the military?
JIM FENNERTY: Yes, I did. I had worked out a deal, as you know, with Darrell Anderson first, and when we worked this out with Darrell, when I spoke to the military at Fort Knox, they said that since Darrell did not have a bad record in the military — means he never got in trouble or never got arrested — that when he came back, he would most likely be discharged within three to five days and be other than honorable discharge.
Since that worked, I was contacted by Kyle. I contacted the same major, and he then checked out Kyle’s records and got back to me, and he said, "Well, it appears that he doesn’t have any problems on his record, that he should be able to get the same arrangement that we had with Darrell." They don’t guarantee anything and say, you know, we’re putting anything in writing, but we felt confident that after everything had worked out with Darrell, that Kyle was in the same position, that this should be, you know, given and worked out, and he would have been out.
What their position is now is that since Kyle’s unit, which originally was in Germany, is now in Fort Leonard Wood, that he would have to go to Fort Leonard Wood, and we’d have to start this whole process over. I’ve tried to contact Fort Leonard Wood, haven’t been able to get through to anybody. Either the phones are busy, or they just keep ringing. And I’ve been also in contact with a major from the judge advocate’s program in Fort Knox to see if he could get this thing done.
I think it’s important to get people like Kyle back here from Canada, because — two reasons. One is, all the young soldiers I’ve dealt with all need some help. They all are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, and they need to get some medical help here. The other reason I think is important is obviously because these people have been outspoken, they made conscious decisions to go to Canada, because they felt the war was wrong and they’ve been lied to. And we need to get their voices and their messages out around the country as much as possible.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And you were never contacted about the change of plans, in terms of the deal or his new assignment to return to his unit?
JIM FENNERTY: No, I called before we went down there. I called back this major, and I spoke to him. And I said, "Well, when we come down there, I’d like to meet with you, because I just hear you on the phone. I’d like to just say hello." And he never said that Kyle would be sent to Fort Leonard Wood. If you ask the Army, they are going to say, "Well, you did the right thing. Everybody’s supposed to come here, and then we ship them out to their units, if their unit’s not overseas." If we knew that, we never would have went to Fort Knox, and we would have tried to negotiate something or speak to people at Fort Leonard Wood.
AMY GOODMAN: Kyle, this weekend I was headed up to Vancouver, and you were in Vancouver on Saturday, when this mass protest that people hardly heard about in this country — Canadians protesting against Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. Now, you were supposed to speak there, but you didn’t, did you?
KYLE SNYDER: No. I had found that as an opportunity — I think that we should have crossed the border at that time, and I contacted and said my apologies for not speaking. I usually speak at those events. And I just felt that we needed to cross the border at that time, so that we could get into the United States quicker.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you say to soldiers that are still in Iraq? And then, what do you say to soldiers who have gone to Canada, given your experience? But start with those in Iraq now.
KYLE SNYDER: To the soldiers that are in Iraq, for the third or fourth time: just, you know — a lot of them are scared to make decisions about moral and conscious choices; they are told by their commanders that they can’t make these choices — just follow your heart. If you feel that you need to be in Iraq and that you’re doing the right thing, that’s fine, I understand that. But if you feel that you’re doing the wrong thing, please speak out. And the GI resistance is very important in changing the politics of this country right now. And I feel that as GIs start coming out, that’s what’s going to stop this war, and that’s the only thing that’s going to stop this war.
As far as the soldiers that are in Canada right now, I love every single one of you, and just know that whatever happens here, just keep that in mind. And I’ll be keeping in contact with them.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what do you plan to do now?
KYLE SNYDER: Well, first off, I hope that this deal works out. I hope that the Army can understand that they had reneged on a deal, and right now we’re trying to get a hold of them. And, ironically, I’m on, you know, every paper in the country. I’m on your show. And, ironically, the people that we’re talking about right now aren’t available. That’s just really, really funny to me. And they’re having coffee or lunch, you know, like a United States soldier just comes down from Canada every single day, and they could avoid this subject. I just want to get this over with. I want out. I’m not asking for a million dollars. I’m simply saying, leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone. And I’m hoping that this deal works out.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you afraid of being arrested?
KYLE SNYDER: You know, I mean, I don’t think that the military is actively pursuing AWOLs right now. Whatever happens happens. But I still feel that I made the right choice, and I need to stick to my conscience, and that’s what I’m doing. I’ve done that my whole entire life. Even when joining the military, I stuck to my conscience and thought that it was right to join the military. But people’s minds change, and we evolve, and they need to take that into consideration, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Kyle, you’re 23?
KYLE SNYDER: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Kyle Snyder, I want to thank you very much for being with us from Louisville.
KYLE SNYDER: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you. I wanted to end with your lawyer, Jim Fennerty. We asked Kyle about what will happen to soldiers that remain in Canada, but you continue to represent them. Among them, a man named Ivan Brobeck. What are these soldiers in Canada who want to come home, what is their response right now?
JIM FENNERTY: Well, basically I’ve been told that some of the people, after they saw what happened to Kyle, said they’re not planning on coming back. I think if the deal would have worked through with Kyle, I think that more people would have been coming back. Now, we have to realize, too, though, that there’s a difference between the Army, I’m finding out, and the Marines.
In terms of Ivan’s case, Ivan wants to come back, and he wants to come back even if we can’t work something out ahead of time. But the Marines have told me, though, that Ivan will be, when he comes back, Ivan will be taken into custody in Virginia, when he comes back from Canada, and that he’ll be placed in the brig. In his situation, the Marines are planning to either court-martial him or work out an arrangement that he would spend some time in jail, probably in Quantico, Virginia. So the Marines seem to be much tougher, in terms of trying to work something out, than the Army has been.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim Fennerty, I want to thank you very much for being with us, attorney for Kyle Snyder. He is based in Chicago, member of the National Lawyers Guild. We’ll continue to follow Kyle’s case and see what happens to him next. Again, he was speaking to us from Louisville, Kentucky. He had turned himself in at Fort Knox and then went AWOL.