Aaron Vincent Elkaim / AP file
Kimberly Rivera speaks at a news conference in Toronto on Aug. 31.
The first female American soldier to seek refuge in Canada rather than return to duty in Iraq was arrested at the U.S. border Thursday after losing her appeal against deportation, according to an advocacy group that had campaigned on her behalf.
Kimberly Rivera, a 30-year-old private who served three months in Iraq and came to Canada while on leave in 2007, was taken into custody at the Thousand Islands Bridge border station about 30 miles north of Watertown, N.Y., Reuters reported.
The War Resisters Support Campaign said on its website that Rivera’s partner and four children crossed the border separately as “Kimberly did not want her children to have to see her detained by the U.S. military, as this would be traumatic for them.”
“During a Federal Court hearing in Toronto on Monday, lawyers for the Department of Justice argued that Kimberly would not be detained when she crossed the border,” the War Resisters statement said.
“… Just as the Rivera family’s lawyer argued in court and as was predicted by her Canadian supporters, Kimberly was detained immediately upon crossing the border into the United States of America,” it added. “Kimberly now awaits punishment for refusing to return to Iraq, a conflict which Kimberly and Canada determined was wrong.”
'Not genuine refugees'
During the Vietnam War, Canada was a haven for tens of thousands of draft dodgers and deserters, but soldiers from Iraq, who were volunteers, have been met with little sympathy from the Canadian government.
Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s spokeswoman, Alexis Pavlich, told The Star newspaper in an emailed statement that U.S. military personnel who had moved to Canada to avoid being deployed to Iraq were “not genuine refugees under the internationally accepted meaning of the term.”
“These unfounded claims clog up our system for genuine refugees who are actually fleeing persecution,” she added.
The last 480 troops left Iraq early Sunday morning in high spirits, happy to be heading home for the holidays. NBC's Richard Engel reports.
In an interview with The Star published Wednesday, Rivera said she had joined the army because she “wanted to fight for human rights and the safety of my country.”
“I wanted to do something good … I grew up learning that our rights come from a soldier who gave his or her life so that we could have rights,” she added.
That view changed after three months in Iraq.
“Citizens were being put on random lockdowns. We used city patrols, checkpoints and violence and intimidation against innocent civilians,” she told The Star. “We raided their houses without cause. I saw mothers and fathers and grandparents and children come to us asking for compensation for their dead loved ones. There was no good reason for their pain and suffering.”
The paper said she described becoming a conscientious objector as “the most positive thing I’ve done.”
Tutu: Iraq war based on 'a lie'
Nobel peace prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, famous for campaigning against apartheid in South Africa, made a last-ditch plea for the Canadian authorities to allow Rivera to stay.
“When the United States and Britain made the case in 2003 for the invasion of Iraq, it was on the basis of a lie. We were told that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, and that these weapons posed an imminent threat to humanity,” he wrote in The Globe and Mail newspaper Monday.
“But those who were called to fight this war believed what their leaders had told them. … U.S. soldiers such as Kimberly Rivera, through her own experience in Iraq, came to the conclusion that the invasion had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, the presence of U.S. forces only created immense misery for civilians and soldiers alike,” he said.
“Those leaders to whom soldiers such as Kimberly Rivera looked for answers failed a supreme moral test. More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003, millions have been displaced and nearly 4,500 American soldiers have been killed,” he added.
The Pentagon had no immediate comment, according to Reuters.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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