Between 2003 and 2006, more than 20,000 American soldiers and Marines abandoned their posts.
American military commanders rarely seek out deserters and even more rarely punish them. At the height of the Iraq War, fewer than 5 percent of deserters received a court-martial, and fewer than one percent served prison time.
From that number, the only deserters who have consistently been punished by the American military are those who went to Canada. All of the deserters who have been deported by the Harper administration have been taken into military custody, and all but one have been sentenced to prison. This does not necessarily reflect an effort by the Obama administration to punish the deserters in Canada more harshly than others. The decision to prosecute is typically made at the unit level, and the heightened punishment for those in Canada may reveal nothing more than a military culture that castigates insubordination. Still, given the contrast between a one percent chance of punishment for most deserters and nearly 100 percent for those in Canada, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the military is making a special example of those who fled north and spoke out; and that the Obama administration, in picking its battles with military culture, has decided not to pick this one. At trial, prosecutors continue to emphasize the public speeches and interviews given by the war resisters in Canada.