Head used as ball: Deserter

Former army private calls U.S. 'the enemy;' seeks refugee status

Fri, March 31, 2006

Joshua Key believed weapons of mass destruction threatened his country and his family when he was shipped off to Iraq in April 2003.

The 27-year-old former U.S. army private left Iraq 240 days later, disillusioned by the war and shaken by the atrocities committed by his fellow soldiers.

Among the horrors Key -- now seeking refugee status in Canada after deserting the army in January 2004 -- described to an immigration and refugee board yesterday was soldiers kicking the severed head of an Iraqi in Ramadi "like a soccer ball."

Key, who arrived on the scene after a bloody shootout, described the heads of Iraqis, decapitated by gunfire, on one side of the road, the bodies on the other.

Leaving the scene, a soldier tried to run over one of the heads, said Key, who is married with four young children.

"I couldn't believe someone could do that to a human being," said Key, the first U.S. army deserter to apply for refugee status after serving in Iraq.


The army's attitude in Iraq was "just shoot and ask questions later," Key said. "It's like people could kill if they just wanted to. Everything is justified."

Another incident saw Key's squad leader shoot the foot off an Iraqi man who had raised it in an "eff you" gesture, he said.

Haunted by nightmares and suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, Key returned to the U.S. for two weeks' leave, but never reported back to the army.

He came to Canada with his family last March, crossing at Niagara Falls, after spending a year in Philadelphia. He now lives in B.C., where he works as a welder.

"I'm a totally different person," Key told reporters. "My children have a new father to an extent. I tell my wife I'm war-torn."

An army recruiter told Key when he joined in May 2002 that he wouldn't be deployed overseas because he has a large family, he testified.

When he learned he would be going to Iraq, Key said he was "ready to do my duty" because he believed then that the war was justified. He now believes "the United States is the enemy" and the motive for war was oil.


"(Iraqis) are just normal people. They're farmers, mothers, fathers -- just like us, just like my home country," said the Oklahoma-born Key. "I didn't see why we was there."

Counsel for Key and the public safety minister as well as the refugee protection officer will make written submissions to board member Keith Brennenstuhl over the next two months.