War deserter released from U.S. prison

A U.S. soldier serving time in a U.S. military prison for desertion was released Saturday, a move his Canadian supporters said was helped by a letter writing campaign on his behalf.

An American soldier who had been serving time in a U.S. military prison for desertion — and who was granted an early release on Saturday — said he stands by his decision to oppose the war in Iraq and wants to return to Canada.

"If I had to do it again I would, because I'm not killing innocent people," Cliff Cornell told CBC News on the phone from Fayetteville, N.C. "I still stand behind my decision 100 per cent.

"I am going to spend a few months with my family and then try to head back to Canada. I have friends up there and a whole community for me to come back to," he said.

Cornell, who held the rank of specialist, pleaded guilty to desertion last April and was sentenced to one year behind bars at a prison at the U.S. Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

"Prison was rough," he said.

At the time of his sentencing, Cornell said he fled to Canada in January 2005 — a month before his 3rd Infantry Division unit was scheduled to deploy to Iraq — because he feared for his life and couldn't stomach the thought of killing anyone.

Cornell, 28, spent four years in British Columbia before the Canadian government denied him asylum as a war objector.

On Saturday, his Canadian supporters said they believed that a letter writing campaign on Cornell's behalf helped shorten his time behind bars.

"Canadians successfully campaigned for the U.S. military to reduce Cliff's sentence," Michelle Ribidoux of the War Resisters Support Campaign said in a media release on Saturday.

The statement said the letter writing campaign began last May and helped win "a slight but important reduction for Cliff."