Iraq war vet André Shepherd seeks asylum in Germany
By Military Counseling Network, Connection e.V., and Courage to Resist. December 3, 2008
FRANKFURT, Germany – U.S. Army Specialist André Shepherd applied for asylum in Germany Nov. 26, becoming the first Iraq War veteran to pursue refugee status in Europe.
After attending college and failing to find meaningful employment, Shepherd enlisted in the military early in 2004. The promises of financial security and international adventure easily trumped working at a fast food chain. He became an Apache airframe mechanic, hoping to someday qualify up to the role of helicopter pilot.
His first unit was already deployed to Iraq when he completed his training, so he joined them immediately, with only one day at his unit’s home in Germany. Shepherd spent six months on a forward operating base near Tikrit, working 12-hour days to keep the heavily armed Apaches (and their signature Hellfire missiles) in the air.
Though he enlisted in order to bring freedom, prosperity and peace, Shepherd found none of these traits in the locals with whom he interacted.
“Some had the look of fear, while others looked outright angry and resentful,” he said of locals contracted for jobs around the base. “I began to feel like a cruel oppressor who had destroyed the lives of these proud people.
“Our unit did a lot of good things, giving schools books and bringing clothes to children,” he said. “These actions helped my conscience a bit, but I kept thinking to myself, ‘Had we not invaded, would these people need this aid now?’ ”
Shepherd began researching for himself not just the causes of the Iraq War, but the wider War on Terror. As inconsistencies in the official story emerged, the reasons for which he joined the military lost credence. As the myth of Weapons of Mass Destruction evaporated, so too did his faith in the mission.
“Saddam Hussein was admittedly a dictator,” Shepherd said. “However, he was not leading his country to produce any sort of weapon that could be used against the United States government and its citizens.
“When I asked my sergeant about this, he told me that many in the Army also had questions, but it was their duty to serve,” he said. “That may be true, but signing up voluntarily does not mean I should stop thinking or having a conscience.”
Upon his return to Germany at the end of the deployment, Shepherd began to investigate the options available to an American soldier who questions the morality of war. He spoke with a superior about conscientious objection, but was told the process was lengthy and his application would probably be denied.
U.S. military regulations also state a conscientious objector must have an objection to all war in all form. Since Shepherd’s objection was not in opposition to all war, his application would have required lying, which would have compromised the moral composition of his argument.
After months of deliberations, finding no suitable avenue in the Pentagon’s serpentine regulations, he packed his things on April 11, 2007, and went Absent Without Leave from his Katterbach base in the middle of the night.
He has lived underground in Germany for nearly two years, waiting for his unit to return from yet another Iraq deployment, but such a vaporous life can only be lived for so long.
Roughly 200 American service members are currently living in Canada, many of whom are pursuing asylum. Shepherd’s decision to pursue a similar status is the first of its kind by an American Iraq War veteran in Europe.
Seeking asylum in Germany is partially a matter of geographic convenience, but political matters also strengthen the case. A majority of Germans are against the war in Iraq, and German soldiers have never been deployed to Iraq in support of the conflict.
This disposition came to a head in 2005, when the German Federal Administrative Court officially declared the Iraq War violated international law, citing the assault launched by the United States as an act of aggression.
A German army officer had refused an order to develop a computer he feared would be utilized by the United States against Iraq. He was demoted and a criminal complaint was filed against him for insubordination. The federal court reversed the demotion because the charges contravened a paragraph in the German Constitution guaranteeing the right to freedom of conscience.
Shepherd’s application also cites a European Union regulation providing refugee status to a soldier who is in danger of being prosecuted if military service “would include crimes or acts” which violate international law. The application refers to the Nuremberg Trials, stating “It is established that a person cannot defend his or her actions by explaining that they had simply been following orders.”
In effect, Shepherd’s asylum application calls on Germany to clarify the nature of its opposition to the war in Iraq. The United States utilizes German airspace on a daily basis to carry out operations vital to the war, and U.S. bases within the country are home to roughly 60,000 American service members.
“We should not be forced to fight an illegal war, nor should we be persecuted for refusing to do so,” Shepherd said. “During the past five years we have waged a preemptive, internationally condemned war that was shown to be founded on a series of lies. After learning the truth about the nature of my military’s endeavors, I refuse to continue to be a part of this.”
“We are honored to help support this courageous war veteran turned resister in whatever ways possible,” declared Jeff Paterson, Project Director of Courage to Resist—a U.S.-based organization dedicated to supporting U.S. troops who refuse to fight.