Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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The Sir! No Sir! Blog has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is the Sir! No Sir! Blog endorsed or sponsored by the originator. Links are provided to allow for verification of authenticity.
This report, by Andrew Cockburn, was first published in Counterpunch, May 2, 2008
Six weeks ago, President Bush signed a secret finding authorizing a covert offensive against the Iranian regime that, according to those familiar with its contents, "unprecedented in its scope."
Bush’s secret directive covers actions across a huge geographic area – from Lebanon to Afghanistan – but is also far more sweeping in the type of actions permitted under its guidelines – up to and including the assassination of targeted officials. This widened scope clears the way, for example, for full support for the military arm of Mujahedin-e Khalq, the cultish Iranian opposition group, despite its enduring position on the State Department's list of terrorist groups.
Similarly, covert funds can now flow without restriction to Jundullah, or "army of god," the militant Sunni group in Iranian Baluchistan – just across the Afghan border -- whose leader was featured not long ago on Dan Rather Reports cutting his brother in law's throat.
Other elements that will benefit from U.S. largesse and advice include Iranian Kurdish nationalists, as well the Ahwazi arabs of south west Iran. Further afield, operations against Iran's Hezbollah allies in Lebanon will be stepped up, along with efforts to destabilize the Syrian regime.
All this costs money, which in turn must be authorized by Congress, or at least a by few witting members of the intelligence committees. That has not proved a problem. An initial outlay of $300 million to finance implementation of the finding has been swiftly approved with bipartisan support, apparently regardless of the unpopularity of the current war and the perilous condition of the U.S. economy.
Until recently, the administration faced a serious obstacle to action against Iran in the form of Centcom commander Admiral William Fallon, who made no secret of his contempt for official determination to take us to war. In a widely publicized incident last January, Iranian patrol boats approached a U.S. ship in what the Pentagon described as a "taunting" manner. According to Centcom staff officers, the American commander on the spot was about to open fire. At that point, the U.S. was close to war. He desisted only when Fallon personally and explicitly ordered him not to shoot. The White House, according to the staff officers, was "absolutely furious" with Fallon for defusing the incident.
Fallon has since departed. His abrupt resignation in early March followed the publication of his unvarnished views on our policy of confrontation with Iran, something that is unlikely to happen to his replacement, George Bush's favorite general, David Petraeus.
Though Petraeus is not due to take formal command at Centcom until late summer, there are abundant signs that something may happen before then. A Marine amphibious force, originally due to leave San Diego for the Persian Gulf in mid June, has had its sailing date abruptly moved up to May 4. A scheduled meeting in Europe between French diplomats acting as intermediaries for the U.S. and Iranian representatives has been abruptly cancelled in the last two weeks. Petraeus is said to be at work on a master briefing for congress to demonstrate conclusively that the Iranians are the source of our current troubles in Iraq, thanks to their support for the Shia militia currently under attack by U.S. forces in Baghdad.
Interestingly, despite the bellicose complaints, Petraeus has made little effort to seal the Iran-Iraq border, and in any case two thirds of U.S. casualties still come from Sunni insurgents. "The Shia account for less than one third," a recently returned member of the command staff in Baghdad familiar with the relevant intelligence told me, "but if you want a war you have to sell it."
Even without the covert initiatives described above, the huge and growing armada currently on station in the Gulf is an impressive symbol of American power.
Critics of IVAW seem to come in a number of forms. Some of these, especially active duty GIs and some veterans oppose IVAW for principled reasons and should be respected. Still others misunderstand the goals and aspirations of the movement, viewing it as a continuation/re-run of the 1960s antiwar movement. There is, however a category which stands out from the crowd and it primarily consists of a collection of bloggers attached to and affiliated with the far right of the republican party. One of the worst of these is the aptly named Chickenhawk Express, whose work is most charitably characterized as ugly and bitter and occasionally veers toward the slanderous.
The following post includes a number of Robin's writing, about IVAW written since the Winter soldier Hearings:
IVAW and VFP leaders must be banging their heads on the wall trying to figure out what they have to do to get a little mainstream media attention. They held another "Arrest Bush and Cheney" Action back on March 19th but to their chagrin, no one covered it. They are just now getting some "publicity" from the "Independent" media (aka their inner circle of comrades) including a YouTube video. VFP and IVAW had BIG plans for this stunt...
The Veterans then proceeded to the National Archives where the Constitution is housed. We had originally planned a civil resistance action inside the National Archives, in the Rotunda, where the Constitution, Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence are displayed. The plan was for a number of Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War to enter the Rotunda and to use plastic cuffs to secure ourselves to the massive gates at the entrance to the Rotunda. Our rationale in doing this would be that as fulfillment of the oath we took upon joining the military to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, we would now demand the arrest of those who had most grievously abused that document and all it stands for. Delivering the Warrant in the place of Constitutional housing, we would remain handcuffed to "guard" the Constitution until the aforesaid accused either surrendered themselves to us or to the appropriate authorities.
But the "crowds" waiting to enter the National Archives made the protesters change their tactics...
However, on Monday and Tuesday as we surveyed the huge lines wending around the block waiting to enter and realizing that we couldn't just cut the line and walk in, we changed our plan to an outside occupation with the same demand for a citizen's arrest. The outside plan turned out to be much better.
Yeah the new plan worked SOOOO much better...
Five veterans, Joel Kovel, Diane Wilson, Ellen Barfield, Malcolm Chaddock and Andrew Schoerky decided to handcuff themselves to the flagpole outside the Archives with a huge blowup of the Citizen's Arrest Warrant for Bush and Cheney. There was also a immense canvas replication of the Constitution that would be displayed. That morning as the Veterans gathered on the National Mall, Tarak from VFP, Adam Kokesh, Daniel Black and James Gillian from IVAW decided to climb over the 10 ft. spiked metal fence at the top of the front steps of the Archives and to occupy the 40 ft. high ledge on the front of the building with an upside down American flag (symbol of distress) and a megaphone so that they could speak to the crowd more effectively. Our assumption was that both the flagpole occupation and the Vets on the ledge would result in arrests but we felt that the Vets on the high ledge would have more time to speak to the crowd before the police would venture out to arrest them. (Thanks to VFP Pres. Elliot Adams for a leg up when we were climbing over the fence) As it turned out the Vets on the ledge were there for 90 minutes broadcasting before the Archive security ventured out to offer them safe passage if they would only leave the ledge peacefully. The police had opened the previously locked gate in the fence. After some discussion we decided to accept their offer. As we left the ledge to the cheers of the crowd below, a few of the police actually shook our hands. It seemed as if the police had made a decision not to arrest the Vets. Andrew, Ellen, Diane, Joel and Matthew decided to stay handcuffed to the flagpole, at least for a while, even though the march would move on.
Sadly there were no arrests, no scuffles with police and no street blockades. As far as the cheers of the crowd, watch the video. The only ones cheering are part of the demonstration itself. The crowd waiting to enter the National Archives looks bored.
Watch for FAIR and other organizations in the pocket of these groups to issue a demand for an explanation as to why the media failed to cover their "action". They are still whining about the lack of media coverage of Winter Soldier II. Maybe the mainstream media is smarter than I give them credit for being...
Talk about audacity... IVAW has issued a press release countering the testimony of General Petraeus and Amb Crocker. Here's snips from the press release...
WASHINGTON, DC - April 9 - Contrary to General Petraeus's testimony, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) attest that the major destabilizing force in Iraq is the ongoing U.S. occupation. What's more, U.S. troops are being commanded to perform acts that directly violate their moral codes and the rules of war, making a positive outcome exceedingly difficult to achieve.
Less than one month ago, over 100 veterans and active-duty soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan shared their eyewitness accounts of the occupations at Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan. Their testimony illustrated how the ongoing occupation of Iraq is resulting in the dehumanization and abuse of the Iraqi people, the destabilization and breakdown of the U.S. military, and the emotional and physical injury and damage to thousands of U.S. troops.
Testifiers gave firsthand accounts of being ordered to raid the homes of innocent Iraqis, physically and psychologically abuse Iraqi prisoners, and indiscriminately shoot at civilians.
Dear Martha -I listened to the audio of the testimony and read the reports (from both sides) about the testimony given at WSII. Most of it was simply "war is hell and it sucks" type testimony. The "war crimes" and atrocities never materialized in the testimony. And as far as the "dehumanization" claims - give it a rest. Millard's "haji" story is as ridiculous as his claim of depleted uranium exposure. The abuse and indiscrimate shooting of civilians was mostly "I was told" testimony and no one has yet to go under oath with their claims.
"Petraeus continues to repeat the administration's talking points while ignoring what the soldiers on the ground know: the Iraq occupation is not working," said Kelly Dougherty, a former Military Police Sergeant in Iraq and Executive Director of IVAW
Frankly Kelly - IVAW keeps repeating the talking points from UFPJ, CodePink, ANSWER, Dahr Jamail, VFP and VVAW. The only ones ignoring what is happening on the ground is IVAW and those who have everything to gain by a humilating withdrawal of US forces while leaving Iraqis at the mercy of Al Qaeda. This isn't Vietnam and your retread of the same tactics will not work.
But to claim that you guys and gals know more than General Petraeus is beyond laughable.
The five year anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq sent the moonbats into a complete and total frenzy of protest activity. According to people on the ground in DC, the city was awash in the unwashed and covered in pepto bismal pink.
Jonn over at This Ain't Hell was all over the place. He went from protest site to protest site and recorded the events for posterity. He's got lots of pics and videos posted. But this scene makes me scratch my head.
What exactly does Medea flashing her goodies in a bed on the streets of DC mean? Is she protesting Eliot Spitzer? Or maybe she's looking for some hot hippie action. Weird - just freakin' weird.
Of course IVAW was out in force despite the lackluster WSII performances. King Kokesh led the pack. He certainly has a way with street theater. Too bad he's not a mime.
Every time I see the American Flag flying upside down, it makes me want to vomit. Yes - I know it symbolizes a country in distress but damn it sends such a negative image around the world. Oh wait - that's the point.
TSO over at The Sniper got in on some of the protest action. He's got several posts up about today's events but my favorite is his deconstruction of the anarchists and his lunch with Suzie Rottencrotch.
After suffering through WSII and now this, I hereby award Jonn and TSO the Blogger Courage Award. Sorry - not a money award but lots of hugs and my deepest respect for you two guys!
Vet in a Suit: Testimony from the Iraq Veterans Against the Wa.
Posted, by Anthony Swofford to Slate Magazine, March 17, 2008
It's been determined that taxi drivers have the most dangerous job in Iraq, and if the Iraq Veterans Against the War Winter Soldier event this past weekend had taken place in Baghdad, my taxi driver might have gotten us both killed. Luckily, it occurred at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Md. On Friday morning, as we entered the campus from the Beltway, a dozen or so protesters held signs denouncing the testifying soldiers: "WINTER SOLDIER MY ASS," one read. Security was tight. The Montgomery County sheriff's department operated out of a mobile unit that looked so innocuous you might have assumed they were selling corn dogs after a Little League game. But the paramilitary attire of the nearby riot-ready cops would quickly disabuse you of that notion. By the campus' entryway stood a group of IVAW supporters acting as further security. My taxi driver tried to dodge them but got held up by a burly, middle-aged guy. "What is going on?" asked the driver.
What was going on? Approximately 55 former members of the U.S. military were preparing to testify about the ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan—or what the IVAW consistently refers to as "occupations." No brainchild of the Pentagon, IVAW modeled its conference after the controversial 1971 Winter Soldier event that vivified (some say fictionalized) war crimes, human rights abuses, and military waste then occurring in Vietnam. The IVAW has three unifying aims: immediate withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, reparations for the Iraqi people, and consistent and reliable medical care for all veterans of the war. Over the course of four days, the conference planned to address the continual breakdown and failure of military rules of engagement, the long-term societal cost of the war in the form of broken families and broken minds, the drastic privatization of the war in Iraq, racism and sexism in the military, and the future of GI resistance. And with Winter Soldier, the IVAW hoped to gain more media attention for the anti-war movement.
Entering the hall where the testimony was taking place, you might have thought you were at a "peace and social justice" conference at a Pacific Northwest liberal-arts college. Many of the audience members sported gray ponytails, and some of the security staff were members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. But most of the IVAW soldiers testifying were born after 1982. For them, the Vietnam War brings up images of Pvt. Pyle from Full Metal Jacket and Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now. Many participants of Winter Soldier 1971 had worn combat fatigues, and the event had come together catch-as-catch-can, with few resources and little polish; but Winter Soldier 2008 felt like a finely produced corporate workshop. The women I saw testify were in business attire. And while some of the men were in faded fatigues and desert boonie caps, hip-slung jeans, and hoodies, just as many wore suits or sport jackets. These are the new anti-war vets, and they know how to use image and technology to their advantage.
Jose Vasquez, IVAW board member and president of the New York chapter, told me, "I'm interested in professionalizing the organization." Vasquez served nearly 14 years in the active-duty Army and the Army reserve, initially as a cavalry scout and later posting as a training NCO for battle medics. It looked to me as though he'd left the barracks just hours ago. He made me—a former Marine—want to shave my unruly beard, tuck in my shirt, and knock out 20 four-count push-ups for good measure.
Born in the Bronx, Vasquez grew up in California and signed up for the Army in 1992 at the age of 17. Now pursuing a Ph.D. in anthropology, he's a soft-spoken man who cared deeply for the Army and the soldiers he warmly calls "Joes"; he'd planned to spend 30 years serving his country. After 9/11, he would have served in Afghanistan with few reservations; but by the time his unit got the call for Iraq in 2005, he'd been having doubts not only about the efficacy of the war but about the morality of serving. As a medic, he patched soldiers' wounds so that they could head out on another mission and kill again. After "a lot of soul-searching," Vasquez applied for conscientious-objector status, and more than a year later he separated from the Army with an honorable discharge. When he described the day he told the men he led that he was not going to Iraq with them, Vasquez sounded remorseful and sad. He misses the Army and his Joes.
Critics will instantly identify any soldier testifying about immoral behavior on the battlefield as a bad seed. So Vasquez implemented an exhaustive process to confirm the veracity of the testimony being offered; his title is "IVAW verification team leader." Drawing on his background as an anthropologist, he trained 14 team members, mostly combat vets, in the verification process. Membership in IVAW was not required in order to offer testimony. "We were willing at least to take testimony from anybody, whether or not they were a member. They didn't even have to agree with our points of unity. If you had a story to tell about Iraq and you were able to prove your service, then we would give you a venue to spread that word." All told, approximately 140 people have come forward to offer testimony. It wasn't possible to have everyone testify this weekend, but Vasquez vows that IVAW will give anyone with a story to tell the venue to do so.
Clifton Hicks, a dead ringer for a young Matt Dillon, served in the Army as a tank driver and .50-caliber machine gunner from 2003 to 2004. His own testimony—among other things, he recalled watching a five-building apartment complex full of civilians being riddled with gunfire from a warplane—troubled him deeply. When I spoke to him Saturday morning, the totality of the first day of Winter Soldier was wearing heavily on him. He told me that for the first time since becoming an anti-war activist, he felt like quitting. Re-experiencing the destruction of war and thinking about friends who had died made him feel again "that I no longer cared about my life. … I felt like the only way I could make things right is to just strip my clothing and walk naked back to Florida, you know. … Just pay a penance or something." A panel on Friday about the rules of engagement, Hicks said, was "hard-hitting." During it, much of the testimony was of witness: abuse of Iraqi prisoners and detainees, indiscriminate firing in urban areas, the quick erosion of the rules as soon as someone in a unit died. As Hicks told me, "That [panel] was the personal shit, the upfront shit. I murdered shitloads of people. Not 'I saw shitloads of people die from a distance and thought it was funny.' "
Jon Turner, a former Marine and current resident of Burlington, Vt., looks like he'd be more comfortable playing footbag or Frisbee than firing a weapon. On Friday afternoon, he'd given some of the more dramatic testimony. He opened by saying, "There is a term, 'Once a Marine, always a Marine.' But there is also a term, 'Eat the apple, F the corps.' " He then ripped off the ribbons pinned to his shirt, threw them to the ground, and declared, "I don't work for you no more." He had served two tours in Iraq with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion of the 8th Marines, operating in Ramadi and Fallujah. He then played a few videos he'd made while in Iraq. The first video he played was of his executive officer, after having called in a 500-pound bomb, saying, "I think I just killed half the population of northern Ramadi. Fuck the red tape."
Then he played video of a missile attack on a Ministry of Health building. He spoke about the standard procedure of a "weapon drop": When mistakes are made, you drop a weapon on the innocent dead man so it appears he was a combatant. He showed photos of a man's brain. "This wasn't my kill, it was my friend's," he stated.
When the next image of a corpse appeared on the big screens in the hall, he continued, "On April 18, 2006, I had my first confirmed kill. Ahh. This man was innocent. I don't know his name. I call him the Fat Man. He was walking back to his house, and I shot him in front of his friend and father. The first round didn't kill him after I hit him up here in his neck area. And afterward he started screaming and looked right into my eyes. So I looked at my friend who I was on post with and said, 'Well, can't let that happen.' So I took another shot and took him out." It took seven members of the Fat Man's family to move his body.
After his first kill, Turner says, "My company commander personally congratulated me as he did everyone else in our company. This is the same individual who had stated that whoever gets their first kill by stabbing them to death will get a four-day pass when we return from Iraq."
On Saturday, Turner and I sat outside on a bench. Some of his buddies were playing Frisbee nearby and a mutt dog named Resistance ran around on the grass, yapping among the former soldiers. Jon had a number of tattoos, nothing new for a military guy, but the ones that most interested me were the five small crosses on his left wrist, for the five KIAs of Kilo Company, and the Arabic script on his right wrist, which, he claimed, meant "fuck you." He had this on his right wrist because, as he said during his testimony, it was his "choking wrist." He left us all to imagine what that meant.
Jon has shaggy blond hair and a scraggly beard and a comely, easy smile. In him, I saw the ghost of a young, sweet kid who had joined the corps because he loved his country and he wanted to help protect it. And I saw the hardened and haunted young man who spends a lot of time chasing demons he thought he'd left in Iraq, among them the Fat Man and a man who had the unfortunate luck of bicycling by Jon's checkpoint on a day when Jon simply wanted to kill and the media embed was with another platoon, so his platoon had free rein.
Jon has PTSD. Jon has quit drinking and smoking. He still dips tobacco, but that's a minor thing, considering. He doesn't do therapy—got tired of that—but he talks to his friends from IVAW, better therapy than anything. He's started making art, and with a buddy in Burlington he makes combat paper—he reconstitutes camouflage uniforms Marines have worn in combat, turning the uniforms into paper that he binds into books. He's writing some poetry. He's trying to make something good from the waste that was Iraq.
Posted, by Logan Laituri, to God's Politics, March 17, 2008
During the last four days, more than 100 Iraq Veterans Against the War combat veterans, academics, and international guests shared their experiences with the world through Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations. They offered their accounts in the hopes that they would induce a bit of accountability in the halls of Congress, and detailed the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the occupations of the few who profit, whose profession it is to ensure the longevity of this and other violent conflicts.
My own involvement was in the form of bearing witness [click here to watch the video] to the intricacies and fallibilities of the Rules of Engagement I encountered in my 14 months in combat. Many other panelists offered corroborating evidence and shared similar stories of inadequate training in the use of deadly force, and some explained the troubling, but verifiable, cases in which such restrictions were utterly ignored or outright rejected. In other panels, testifiers shared their experience with the failure of the VA system, outlined the presence of gender discrimination and racism in the military, and described corporate pillaging and war profiteering. The entire event was streamed live to the Web via IVAW's Web site and blogged live via KPFA Radio. Many news articles were written as a result, and the Department of Defense even issued a statement.
I was in the minority as a professed Christian, and I cannot blame my fellow compatriots for their occasional discomfort with the oft-misrepresented ideologies (Religious Right) of the Christian tradition. To my surprise, it was difficult to even blurt out in my own testimony that it was my faith, and not a reaction to the political, economic, or social reality of these conflicts, that inspired me to lay my weapon down. Furthermore, there was no shortage of personal courage displayed throughout the entire event: testifiers ripping off or tearing up the burdensome medals they wore, tears shed in bitter remorse and agony, and (unfortunately) failure to control one's language in frustration and angst. Our critics (whom we invited beforehand, and whom politely agreed to a rigorous code of conduct—to which they submitted faithfully and respectfully) even had some constructive, informative observations to share.
The weekend was never cast as a protest; there were no picket signs or chanting, no march or formation, and it was closed to the public (making the "Gathering of Eagles" just off campus the only actual protesters in attendance). The members and guests who gave "testimony" (a term with which we in the church are well-versed) did so only in the sense that it was an "account" of their experience.
There was one interruption, during the first panel on Friday, where an older gentleman trespassed onto the campus and shouted that people "lied and good men died." He also speculated that those testifying were betraying good men. Interestingly enough, he was NOT talking about our current commander in chief, who is not only directly responsible (according to military tradition and the UCMJ) for the 4,468 American lives lost under his watch, but also for 935 "false statements" (isn't that the same as a "lie?") his administration made in the months leading up to the invasion of a nation we ourselves armed and financed. Besides, the gospels remind us to be wary of any king of men who would reap what he does not sow, or burden his subjects with a yoke he would not carry himself.
Finally, as carefully as I chose to tread with my own faith background, the immense healing properties of confession were hard to ignore. Tears flowed and men of the highest caliber embraced unashamed and readily admitted their reliance on one another. It was an awesome experience that I will forever be proud to have been part of. These honest and humble accounts are a much-needed and too often overlooked offering that has been laid before the American people, a heavy yoke broken by the power of confession and repentance by contrite hearts.
Will America answer the call to metanoia and turn from its destructive, exploitative ways? Will we lay the idols of oil and nationalism and greed upon the altar, and seek a more firm and lasting peace with our neighbors in the global community?
Will we no longer be a reproach to the nations around us, victims of our own arrogance and unconcern?
Insha'allah; God willing.
Patriot missiles: Iraq Veterans Against the War
After Vietnam, American veterans testified to the atrocities they witnessed. Now soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are about to do the same
By Ariel Leve, published in The London Times, March 16, 2008
Some of them will be okay. They will live with the secrets. They can dissociate from what happened in combat because it was part of the job. It was what they signed up for. They will keep the secrets out of duty – the silence is part of a code, and they honour that code above all else.
But for others, the secrets they keep are like a poison, slowly releasing toxins of shame and remorse. Who can they tell anyway? They talk to each other – other veterans who have seen what they’ve seen, done what they’ve done, and who can relate to the burden of carrying these secrets for the rest of their lives.
In 1971, the protest group Vietnam Veterans Against the War gathered at a hotel in Detroit. More than 100 veterans talked about the atrocities they had witnessed in southeast Asia.
The event lasted for three days and was named Winter Soldier after Thomas Paine’s famous article. “These are the times that try men’s souls,” he wrote of the terrible winter of 1776, when Washington’s ragtag, demoralised army turned the tide of the War of Independence.
The Vietnam vets, spurred on by the court martial of Lt William Calley, who had ordered the infamous My Lai massacre, wanted to turn a tide too – against public opinion, to demonstrate that the execution of hundreds of innocent villagers in 1968 was not an isolated incident as so many believed. The Winter Soldier event received little coverage in America, but was the subject of an internationally acclaimed documentary of the same name.
This month, for four days in Washington, DC, beginning on March 13, there will be a second Winter Soldier gathering – 37 years after the first. Organised by the protest group Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), US veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan since the 9/11 attack on New York will testify about their experiences. They will present photographs and videos, recorded with mobile phones and digital cameras, to back up their allegations – of brutality, torture and murder.
The veterans are not against the military and seek not to indict it – instead they seek to shine a light on the bigger picture: that the Abu Ghraib prison regime and the Haditha massacre of innocent Iraqis are not isolated incidents perpetrated by “bad seeds” as the military suggests, but evidence of an endemic problem. They will say they were tasked to do terrible things and point the finger up the chain of command, which ignores, diminishes or covers up routine abuse and atrocities.
Some see it as their responsibility to speak out – like Jason Washburn, a US marine who did two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq; Logan Laituri, a US Army forward observer in Iraq; and Perry O’Brien, an army medic deployed to Afghanistan in 2003. They believe that, as veterans, they are the most credible sources of information. They say they were put in immoral and often illegal positions. They will speak about what they saw, and what they were asked to do.
Jason Washburn, 28, grew up in San Diego, California. He always wanted to do something to make a difference, and he enlisted in the US marines in December 2001. He wasn’t itching to go into combat, but he wanted the training.
He fought in the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 where, he says, he met little resistance. Most people were surrendering.
“There were massive amounts of artillery strikes before we even invaded. We saw the results of that. Streets full of bodies – women and children – body parts, extremely indiscriminate. I’m talking about rolling through villages here, not military encampments.”
He was told there was a military structure in one village. “I didn’t see it. I didn’t see any army uniforms. Or weapons. All I saw were civilians.”
Washburn speaks slowly and with obvious discomfort. This was his introduction to Iraq.
“I still believed everything we were force-fed: weapons of mass destruction and possibly even a nuclear weapon. We felt, like, we’re going to go in, overthrow this evil dictator and give these people some peace, finally. We thought we were doing a good thing.”
Over the course of his three tours, there were more home raids than Washburn can remember. He explains how it worked. “Usually it was based on a tip – we’re told someone in the home is an insurgent. We would pick up people who had nothing to do with anything, keep them locked up until they came up with something.”
He is glad that he didn’t witness some of the techniques used to get them to talk. “That’s not something I want on my conscience.”
It was not a scientific process. Most tips came from people with personal grudges. Washburn and his platoon would kick down the doors in the middle of the night. He was warned not to be complacent. There could be weapons in the children’s beds. In all of the home raids, too many to count, he never found children with weapons. They would take the father away and they never knew what would happen after that.
By the time Washburn served in Haditha he was on his third combat tour. He was there on November 19, 2005, the day of the massacre when 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed, including women and children.
“My squad was doing medivacs out of the town. I was not there to witness the shooting, but I know many marines who were.”
It was a squad in his unit that went on the rampage after their vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED).
“I have a lot of feelings about this incident. A friend of mine from my first two tours was in that squad. He was the guy they gave immunity to to testify against the squad leader.
“The people on the ground are looking at serious prison time. Like life. The people who were giving orders were only relieved of command. And I don’t think that’s right.”
Washburn says Haditha was not an isolated incident. “It’s the one that just happened to be uncovered.”
The establishment view is that war is hell and terrible things happen for the greater good. That killing is necessary. That there are those individuals acting on their own who will always smear the honourable actions of the military – men like Washburn, traumatised by war, who are emotional casualties whose testimony is to be mistrusted. Some regard him and the Winter Soldiers of 2008 as traitors for daring to question their commanders and for prosecution of the war.
But there are too many like Washburn to shout down. Many of the orders that combat soldiers were given were not written – but they were understood. At the Winter Soldier event, veterans’ stories will be corroborated by other veterans; backed up by the volume of testifiers who have witnessed the same things – in different units, years apart and in different countries.
There will be up to 100 veterans and, at present, 80 of them have submitted testimonies. Most will be enlisted men and women: privates and sergeants. They have been made aware of the consequences of taking part. Not just that they are likely to be denounced by their fellow veterans, but the psychological and perhaps legal consequences they may face by admitting to witnessing, or even perpetrating, war crimes. The National Lawyers Guild, an organisation of civil-rights attorneys, has volunteered to offer advice. Mental-health professionals will also be on hand to offer counselling. Organisers stress that the goal is to hold the policy makers accountable, not their immediate commanding officers. Nobody is permitted to name anyone below the rank of captain.
After the hearings, all the testimonies will be entered into the congressional record. There will be a live video stream on the web. There will also be panels of journalists and scholars to provide context and history.
Perry O’ Brien, who served as a medic in Afghanistan in 2003, is one of the Winter Soldiers on the verification team, which will ensure the testimonies are watertight, lest falsehood undermine the message. The order that O’Brien’s team is hearing most from the testifiers is the “shovel order”.
“Anyone carrying a shovel or any sort of implement that could be used to bury an IED could be considered a target,” he says. “After dark, you can shoot anyone who is outside. Or anyone who puts anything on the side of the road can be considered a target. You won’t find it in writing, but it’s an order indicated to soldiers.”
If not in writing, how can it be proven? “If we have enough soldiers testifying, it will be.”
Washburn says the most dangerous job in Iraq “has to be a taxi driver”. He tells two stories of taxi drivers being shot, both innocent victims. One driver was deaf and didn’t hear the command to halt. The other was at a checkpoint in the Haditha area.
“It was the mayor of one of the towns who was driving, and he was shot and killed. They found out after they shot him. My squad had to apologise to the family. We paid reparations. I don’t know the exact amount. But let’s see: money or a dead husband and father and mayor? People weren’t happy about that.”
During Washburn’s first Iraq deployment in 2003, his unit was told to capture a “rabble rouser”. “We kick down the door and all we find are a few women holding babies and a couple of kids. We were ordered to take the babies away and put sandbags on the women’s heads, tie their hands behind their backs, put them on their knees facing the wall. Here I am zip-tying these women, and my buddy is standing next to me holding these babies asking what do I do with these kids? We stood there, like, oh shit, what do we do? The squad leader came in and shouted, ‘Everybody is bagged and tagged – everybody!’ So we did it.” The babies were put down on the floor. After a few hours everyone was untied.
Inappropriate and immoral actions weren’t just aimed at Iraqi civilians. There was frequent hazing – the mistreatment of soldiers by their comrades. Some were exercises in pure humiliation, common in most military units, like singing I’m a Little Teapot while others stand around laughing. But some were brutal physical punishments, such as callisthenics in a sleeping bag with a gas mask on in scorching heat.
“It’s one thing to do 20 push-ups. It’s another to burn us to the point of exhaustion in combat theatre. There were guys that tried to speak out about it and that made it worse. That would get punished more.”
The futility of speaking out was bolstered by knowledge that complaints would get as far as the commanding officer of the company and no further. “They kept everything in-house.”
Another incident he describes was a step beyond hazing. He and another marine had had a disagreement. The punishment was that they were tied together – and sent out on patrol.
“Outside of the camp, in a war zone tied together, patrolling? Insane,” he says.
Washburn’s anger comes from a feeling of betrayal. “I thought I was signing up to do something honourable.
“What happened at Abu Ghraib,” Washburn says, “is those orders came from the top. If the policy makers and the commanders can dehumanise their own troops, why wouldn’t they dehumanise the Iraqi people?”
So far, the most vocal opposition to the Winter Soldier event has not been from the government, but from pro-war groups such as Vets for Freedom, the largest veterans’ organisation in America.
Their executive director, Pete Hegseth, a veteran who served in Baghdad and Samarra with the 101st Airborne Division, has criticised the Winter Soldier event. In an article in The Washington Independent, he asks:
“Did your company commander tell you to shoot women and children, or to maximise casualties? No! We don’t do that. To talk about systematic brutality is essentially indicting the military as being complicit in war crimes.”
But, as we shall see, there are ways to encourage illegal actions other than direct orders.
Hegseth suggests that speaking out might have more serious consequences: homes in the Middle East have internet access, this kind of information will reach them and affect the attitude towards US troops still over there. But Perry O’Brien doubts that speaking out will foster more anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan and Iraq than the killing of civilians and the dismantling of the infrastructure. After serving in Afghanistan for eight months, there was a slow revelation that triggered his shift.
“Everything that we were doing seemed almost designed to create more terrorists. To turn people against America. I couldn’t understand how we were liberating anyone. But I could understand how an Afghan person who was ambivalent about America could easily become an extremist based on their interaction with American soldiers.”
Resolute pro-war organisations such as Gathering of Eagles are gearing up, getting ready to make their presence felt. They are chartering bus-loads of protesters to show up at the event to confront and harass the “traitors”.
The veterans who will be testifying at Winter Soldier are prepared for their integrity and credibility to be called into question.
Before anyone can testify, they must go through the verification process and be interviewed by a team of combat veterans whom they hope will be able to instinctively detect lies. IVAW is particularly vigilant since Jesse Macbeth joined in 2006 and represented them publicly at various events. Macbeth’s accounts of military service as a veteran of Iraq were false, which he admitted in federal court in 2007.
Since then the organisation has demanded proof of service, and every member must have a DD-214 – their Pentagon-issued personal-service record, which proves where and with whom they have served.
Members are asked to complete a detailed questionnaire. Under the heading Killing or Wounding Noncombatants, Prisoners or Unarmed Combatants, they are asked: “Did you witness or participate in any of the following: Civilians hurt or killed at checkpoints? Purposeful killing of civilians or unarmed combatants? Killing or wounding of prisoners? If yes, was this unit SOP [standard operating procedure] or common practice?”
Some other headings include: Mishandling and Mutilation of War Dead; Torture or Abuse; Rape, Sexual Assault or Harassment; Theft or Fraud.
When the testimonies begin on March 13, we shall discover how damaging or revelatory their stories will be. Perry O’Brien has confidence in the process. “Someone coming into our organisation and trying to pretend they observed something they didn’t – they can only maintain that for so long.”
Once the stories are told, each is to be researched by interviewing other members of the soldier’s unit. The verification team has recently decided that anyone fabricating their experience or pretending to be a veteran will be handed over to the authorities and charged with violating the Stolen Valor Act, a law signed by President Bush in 2006.
Perry O’Brien admits that he had hero fantasies. He was born on March 24, 1982, and grew up on a small island off the coast of Maine. After two years studying philosophy at university, he decided to enlist in the army as a medic in 2001 – two weeks before 9/11. It was a coming-of-age-ritual, influenced by the movies. He had the romantic idea that he wanted to save lives.
He did not come from a military background. His father works at a hardware store and his mother writes and illustrates children’s books.
In January 2003, O’Brien was deployed to Afghanistan for eight months. While he was there, he had many experiences that made him uncomfortable. Several times he witnessed an Afghan civilian die on the operating table after treatment from a mobile military surgical unit. Rather than prepare the corpse for the family, O’Brien witnessed the surgeons and the medics use the body to practise on.
“One doctor said, ‘Come up and feel his heart!’ This is what a heart feels like.’ ”
Half the platoon, if not more, participated. Daniel Paulsen, 27, was there and corroborates this story. There are photographs as well. Someone had grabbed O’Brien’s digital camera and taken photographs of the heart and the medics walking around and poking it. These photographs were taken for fun.
Eventually the chest of the corpse was closed up. “It was a total violation of our medical oath to use a corpse for medical training,” says O’Brien. “What’s particularly terrible is that these were all doctors that had practices back home – they were familiar with the law and the Hippocratic oath. There was such a huge disconnect between the way they treated Afghans and the way they treated American patients.
“When Americans died, the corpses became these sacred objects that were treated with tremendous care. There was this solemn funerary attitude around them. When an Afghan died, it was [as if they were] treating them like they weren’t human.
“My goal is to expose that these things are happening. And that they are the result of military leadership – part of an unofficial policy of dehumanisation.”
In 2004, while still on active duty, O’Brien attended a protest at Fort Bragg. There he met Mike Hoffman (a founder of IVAW) and joined the organisation shortly after leaving the army. He felt relieved. “Suddenly I knew that I wasn’t the only veteran who was questioning what I had seen and done.”
Kelly Dougherty, 29, is a co-founder and executive director of IVAW. In 1996 she enlisted in the National Guard as a medic while she read biology at the University of Colorado.
On January 10, 2003, she received a call; she had been transferred to a military police unit – and she was being deployed to Iraq.
Dougherty was opposed to the war and surprised by her deployment.
In February 2003, she arrived in Kuwait and then moved to Iraq in March. Her unit was stationed in the south near Nasiriyah, where she often did convoy escorts and patrols.
“You put it out of your mind when you’re over there. And then you get back and reflect on it…
“The soldiers and marines are just doing their jobs, doing what they were trained for or what they were told to do when they got over there. Things that seem really horrible just become routine – and they are implicitly or explicitly condoned, or encouraged, by the commanders and the policy-makers.”
The offices of IVAW in Philadelphia are humble but busy. The group now has more than 700 members in 49 states, Washington, DC, Canada, and on military bases overseas.
I meet Logan Laituri there one afternoon and we sit down over a soft drink to talk. He has a gentle and sensitive manner. His enlistment wasn’t a patriotic stand, but more of a pragmatic decision. He didn’t know what else to do.
He became a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg. “I had no accomplishments outside the military. I didn’t feel that I would be missing out on much.”
There was also a financial incentive. “Every soldier knows that you earn a crap-load of money in combat. Above and beyond my pay cheque I earned $800 a month – and all that’s tax-free. And everything is paid for in Iraq. You can save every single penny. That’s a lot of money you can save for your future.”
He was deployed to Iraq in January 2004, having switched to the 25th Infantry Division. When Laituri got to Samarra, they kicked down the doors of a building and found a police officer in uniform. “Through his interpreter he was telling us that he’d been waiting, and he had all the records. I thought to myself it was great initiative and it displayed insight.
“We handcuffed him and someone took it upon themselves to punch him in the stomach – what made me feel worse was watching it and not doing anything about it.”
As he talks, Laituri seems visibly troubled that he stood by watching this man beaten up. And he admits that so many of his feelings of being in Iraq are wrapped up in what he didn’t do: “What I saw happen and I didn’t say or I didn’t correct. I survived at the expense of Iraqis. I could have said something.”
But the fear of being isolated from the platoon prevailed. Beating up prisoners, abusing the bodies of Afghans, innocents shot dead in the crossfire of fear and threat – these things get lost in the mayhem of war – but other acts, if they become institutionalised, can “try the souls of men” and cannot be so easily dismissed.
Laituri was in Fort Irwin, California in May 2006 during a pep talk at the National Training Center. He alleges that a commander made a speech to his company, and that he “made it clear to us that if an innocent person was shot he would stage a scene to protect us”.
The explicit message was: “We would make sure there was a weapon found at the scene.”
Units go into combat believing that they will be protected from any repercussions. They feel like they have a licence to kill and often they do.
In 2007, the officer was relieved of his command after a death on June 23 last year in the vicinity of Kirkuk. He is not currently a suspect and was never charged – but two soldiers who were under his command have been charged with premeditated murder.
Last month a top army sniper testified in military court – under immunity – that he had ordered a subordinate to kill an unarmed Iraqi man, then planted an AK-47 assault rifle near the body to back up a false claim of returned fire.
But who is ultimately responsible: the individual or the officer? The combatant or the culture? And why is it always the junior ranks who are charged?
On a February morning at a cafe in Brooklyn, New York, Perry O’Brien is explaining the difference between the “book way” and the “real way”, and the significance of the “three-stomp signal” that is used to differentiate between the two.
“If someone is giving a briefing and they stomp their foot three times after what they are saying, it means ‘disregard what I just said’. For instance, ‘Make every effort to avoid civilian property damage,’ stomp stomp stomp – [means] ignore that. The idea is that when you get back [from combat], anything that you did the book way can be spoken about – but not what was done the real way.”
It isn’t just between the book way and the real way, he says; it’s become between the honourable way and the immoral way.
Perhaps even more tragic is that now, for many, these lines have blurred. “People join the military wanting to be honourable. They follow a code of conduct – they have to. It’s what separates them from mercenaries.”
The common denominator that links all of these veterans’ stories is a profound disillusionment about the war. All of these soldiers signed up with a belief that what they were doing was noble. Despite the lessons of Vietnam, or maybe because of them, they wanted to participate.
“The book way was we treat everyone the same…” Perry smiles and taps his foot three times. “You are ordered to do things that are clear violations of our conscience and what we know to be moral. It’s not even what’s prescribed by the Geneva conventions. It’s what every human being knows to be right and wrong. We’re asked to do things that violate that and told it’s about the war, but you can never tell anyone because we need to protect them from that.
“I think that certainly it’s our duty to protect American civilians from the physical reality of wars. That’s our goal. To prevent the American public from having to participate in war and get hurt and put their lives at risk. That’s what we volunteer to do.
“But I don’t think we’re protecting America if we’re not telling our stories and keeping what we do secret.”
This announcement was published by EaglesUp, March 4, 2008
Washington, D.C., March 4, 2008 – A national coalition of pro-troop and veteran organizations is gathering in the Washington area next week to oppose a planned reenactment of Sen. John Kerry’s infamous “Winter Solider” anti-Vietnam War event that, like its predecessor, will feature “testimony” alleging atrocities committed by American troops this time in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Eagles Up www.eaglesup.us and other organizations are taking aim at Winter Soldier II, patterned after a similar event staged by Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s Vietnam Veterans Against the War in 1971. Although most of the “veterans” who “testified” in Kerry’s event a generation ago were later found to be frauds, and their testimony was either disproved or impossible to verify, the damage to the Vietnam generation was long enduring.
Hosted by Iraq Veterans Against the War, the ANSWER coalition, CODE PINK, MOVEON.ORG, and associated organizations this generation’s Winter Soldier reenactment is considered to be on a par with its predecessor, with a twist. In 1971 the media accepted the stories of atrocities literally without question, and Kerry even testified before Congress using graphic images of torture and murder, which he claimed were widespread and American military policy.
But Eagles Up and the other pro-troop organizations including Move America Forward and Rolling Thunder will not allow this attack on our troops to go unchallenged. Vietnam and Iraq war veterans and their supporters are demanding that all who participate in the IVAW event submit to identification verification and that their claims are specific including times, dates, places, units involved, leadership and witnesses.
In addition, anyone claiming to have participated in or witnessed an atrocity without attempting to halt it or report it will be referred to the appropriate civilian and military authorities as participants in or accessories to war crimes. Eagles Up leader, Col. Harry Riley, US Army (ret.) said “We have two objectives: To counter and challenge IVAW Winter Soldier II (WSII) Testimony on March 14 by demanding ‘truth.’"
Col. Riley added, “Our second objective is to participate in a peaceful march in Washington, DC on March 15th that reflects a view of appreciation, uplifting, pride in America, our troops and families. This will be a positive event with flags, banners, patriotic music, fellowship, and oriented for the entire family of patriots.
“Americans are standing up to attacks on our nation and people from those that tend to support the constant drum beat of surrender," Col. Riley said.
Thousands will put "boots on the ground" in Washington, DC on March 14/15 to challenge one devious aspect of the threat on America – those that would have us surrender to the Islamic butchers and dishonor our warriors,” Col Riley added.
“It's a sacrifice for many of us to get to DC but it's also a sacrifice for our families and warriors to offer up their lives. The least we can do is protect their backs.”
Yesterday, and in spite of the fact these groups were not able to get more than 50 people these folks put on the best face and claimed it was because most of their supporters were up on Capitol Hill petitioning their Congressmen to not include the testimony offered by witnesses in the Congressional record.
By Kevin Tillman, posted to Alternet, March 14 2008
If I were a far better writer, I might -- might -- be able to convey the intensity of these Winter Soldier hearings.
On the way in were a few dozen right-wing protesters organized by the "Gathering of Eagles" -- a spin-off from the "Vietnam Vets for Truth" started during the 2004 campaign to go after Kerry. I've seen them at antiwar protests, and what struck me was that their messages were unchanged -- 'support the troops.' The concept that those giving testimony inside were the troops -- several with chests weighed down with decorations and metals -- was the definition of cognitive dissonance.
There was a heavy police presence surrounding the site of the hearings -- the campus of a local college in Silver Springs, Maryland. Snipers watched from rooftops, a mobile command post was set up and cops outnumbered protesters 2-1.
The panels were heart-breaking and gut-wrenching. Many of these vets are so young, and yet they've seen more than most of us can imagine. We talk about what the military is doing in our names, but to hear from people who were there doing it themselves, is something quite different. They talked about getting their first "kill," of having no clue what the mission was, of being in a clusterfuck of unbelieveable scope.
By Steve Vogel, Washington Post Staff Writer , Saturday, March 15, 2008; Page B01
Grim-faced and sorrowful, former soldiers and Marines sat before an audience of several hundred yesterday in Silver Spring and shared their recollections of their service in Iraq.
The stories spilled out, sometimes haltingly, sometimes in a rush: soldiers firing indiscriminately on Iraqi vehicles, an apartment building filled with Iraqi families devastated by an American gunship. Some descriptions were agonized, some vague; others offered specific dates and locations. All were recorded and streamed live to the Web.
The four-day event, "Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan -- Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations," is sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War and is expected to draw more than 200 veterans of the two wars through tomorrow. Timed for the eve of the fifth anniversary of the war's start next week, organizers hope the soldiers' accounts will galvanize public opposition.
For some of the veterans speaking yesterday, the experience was catharsis.
Former Marine Jon Turner began his presentation by ripping his service medals off his shirt and tossing them into the first row. He then narrated a series of graphic photographs showing bloody victims and destruction, bringing gasps from the audience. In a matter-of-fact voice, he described episodes in which he and fellow Marines shot people out of fear or retribution.
"I'm sorry for the hate and destruction I've inflicted upon innocent people," Turner said. "Until people hear about what is happening in this war, it will continue."
Winter Soldier is modeled after a well-known and controversial 1971 gathering of the same name at which veterans of the Vietnam War gathered to describe alleged atrocities. John Kerry, then a young veteran, spoke at the Detroit event, which brought him to prominence. The soldiers' claims sparked lasting enmity, which resurfaced during Kerry's run for president in 2004.
The 2008 Winter Soldier will probably be no different. The event drew dozens of counter-protesters who were kept from the conference site at the National Labor College by a contingent of Montgomery County police. Although entrance to the event was limited to participants and the media, one protester managed to slip in and walked toward the stage, interrupting a speaker.
"Kerry lied while good men died, and you guys are betraying good men," the man yelled. The protester was roughly hustled from the room by several men in red knit shirts and jeans -- members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, who are providing security for the event.
Counter-protesters outside derided the event and were deeply skeptical of the claims being made inside. "We want absolute specifics," said Harry Riley, a retired Army colonel who leads Eagles Up!. "This is too important to our nation. The credibility of our nation and the credibility of our soldiers are involved."
Riley said those making allegations against the U.S. military should have to give sworn testimony instead of speaking at an antiwar conference.
Organizers said they have sought to verify the records of all soldiers speaking, including reviewing their service records and talking to other members of units. Some soldiers had videos and photographs, which were displayed yesterday on a large screen in the auditorium.
"The ubiquitous nature of video, photo and technology really sets this apart" from the original Winter Soldier, said Jose Vasquez, an IVAW member who directed the verification process. Organizers and speakers said Winter Soldier is not meant to vilify soldiers. Instead, they said, it is aimed at changing war policy.
"These are not bad people, not criminals and not monsters," said Cliff Hicks, 23, a former 1st Armored Division soldier from Savannah, Ga., who spoke about his experiences in Iraq. "They are people being put in horrible situations, and they reacted horribly."
A Defense Department spokesman said he had not seen the allegations raised yesterday but added that such incidents are not representative of U.S. conduct.
"When isolated allegations of misconduct have been reported, commanders have conducted comprehensive investigations to determine the facts and held individuals accountable when appropriate," Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros said.
Yesterday's panels included two sessions on "Rules of Engagement," in which soldiers and Marines described in emotional and often graphic terms incidents in which they said unarmed and innocent civilians were killed.
Most of the stories involved Iraq, though some took place in Afghanistan.
Two former soldiers who served with the 1st Armored Division described an attack by an AC-130 "Spectre" gunship on an apartment building in southern Baghdad that they said took place Nov. 13, 2003.
"It was the most destructive thing I've seen, before or since," said Hicks, one of the soldiers.
Adam Kokesh, a student at George Washington University who served with the Marine Corps in Iraq, said Marines were often forced to make snap decisions about whether to fire on civilians.
"During the siege of Fallujah, we changed our rules of engagement more often than we changed our underwear," he said.
On the screen, a photograph showed him posing next to a burned-out car in which an Iraqi man was killed after approaching a Marine checkpoint.
"At the first Winter Soldier in 1971, one of the testifiers showed a picture like this and said, 'Don't ever let your government to do this to you,' " Kokesh said. "And still the government is doing this."
At a session on shortcomings in veterans' health care, audience members sobbed as Joyce and Kevin Lucey described the suicide of their son, Marine Cpl. Jeffrey Lucey, a death they blamed on his inability to get treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mental health specialists were on hand to help speakers and audience members, and a workshop was offered on PTSD.
Those who spoke yesterday described the experience as intimidating.
"It was terrifying for me," said Steven Casey, a former 1st Armored Division specialist from Missouri who also described the AC-130 attack. "I knew somebody needed to hear it. All I wanted to do is say what I saw. I'm not accusing anyone of a crime."
Thoughts of an Ex-Marine Officer Turned Peace Activist, by Camillo "Mac" Bica, originally publised in Truthout.org, March 15, 2008
Often as I've marched and demonstrated for peace, I've been verbally assaulted, accused of being un-American, unpatriotic, even treasonous by those who carried American flags, sang inspiring hymns, and boisterously and stridently asserted their patriotism, love of country and support for the troops through bullhorns.
Most of this criticism I dismissed as a failure to understand the nature and the reality of war and the moral and political obligations of citizens in a democracy. I was confident in my patriotism, my love of America and my concern and support for the troops. I had, after all, served honorably as a motivated United States Marine Corps officer in Vietnam. But when this disparagement and denunciation began coming from fellow veterans, I became disquieted and felt the need to seriously ponder the possibility that perhaps I had gone astray, violating some sacred trust or bond. So, what I offer in this essay is a thought experiment in self-examination, an introspective journey into the mind and motivation of a former Marine turned peace activist.
Perhaps my first realization in this exercise was that I allow at least the possibility that war, under very specific circumstances not easily or often met, may be just, moral and necessary. Therefore, I am not an absolute pacifist and, in the strict sense, I am not antiwar.
I realized as well that I believe in the Constitution, the rule of law, and support the fundamental purpose and mission of the United Nations, flawed though it may be, "to maintain international peace and security and to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace." According to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3314 (XXIX), (international law), the unjustifiable and unwarranted "use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State," is a crime of aggression. Therefore, I am anti aggression and unjust, immoral and unnecessary war.
Further, I believe in the rights and dignity of all human beings. Rational analysis of the facts has convinced me that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake - unjustifiable and unwarranted - based as it was on false or distorted intelligence, deception and lies. Not even President Bush still believes, if he ever did, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction or was linked to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. While the Bush administration has offered, after the fact, various other explanations for the war, e.g., removal of a tyrant, democratization, etc., none seem sincere nor constitute justification under international law. Consequently, the invasion of Iraq is aggression. I am anti the Iraq war.
At this writing, many in our country are celebrating the "success" of the surge and of the "new" military strategy in Iraq. However, military success and improved strategy does not afford a moral and legal basis for continuing, even escalating, the occupation - the aggression against the Iraqi people. How could achieving "victory" in such a scenario, i.e., the triumph of the aggressors over their victims, be legally and morally justified? I am anti the continued occupation of Iraq.
My personal experiences in war led me to conclude that the morally tragic and legally reprehensible incidents such as have occurred at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Abu Ghraib, Haditha, Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan were not the anomalous actions of a few aberrant individuals (I do not blame the troops), but were the direct and inevitable consequence of the Bush administration's incompetence, arrogance and contempt for the Constitution and the dictates of international law and treaties. What threatens the fabric and foundations of our way of life in these dangerous times is not some amorphous, enigmatic horde of bloodthirsty terrorists. Rather, it is the assault upon truth, individual freedom and the values of justice and morality we hold sacred. I am anti the Bush administration.
It is clear from history that such criminal behavior, arrogance and hypocrisy - the characteristics of a rogue nation - brings no credibility, prestige or standing in the world, only disdain, animosity, hatred and righteous indignation. Nor do acts of aggression bring glory or vindication to those already killed or wounded in battle. Justice and morality, the values I associate with being an American, require that an unjust and immoral war be ended immediately; that the aggressors possess the moral courage to acknowledge their crime; that they make retribution to the victims of their aggression and apologize to the citizens of the aggressed nation and the rest of the world community for their transgression. I am anti rogue nation.
My respect for the military convinces me that the lives and well-being of our young men and women are not automatically forfeit upon enlistment, relegating them to the status of cannon fodder. Sending inadequately prepared National Guard troops into combat and then failing to provide them with body and vehicle armor is unconscionable and criminally negligent. Repeated combat tours and insufficient time for rest and rehabilitation between deployments increase the likelihood and inevitability of psychological, emotional and moral injury that is devastating and life-altering. Finally, the "stop-loss" provision that prevents our servicemen and women from leaving the military once their term of service has been completed is disingenuous and a violation of contract. I am pro military. I support the troops.
It is apparent that the burden of this war is not being shared fairly by all Americans. Only a fraction of our citizenry is directly affected, while the vast majority go about their consumption-driven lives as usual, oblivious to the sacrifices of our soldiers, sailors and Marines and to the death and destruction being prosecuted in their names. It is not support, therefore, nor is it patriotic, to remain silent when our troops are placed in harm's way unnecessarily, to kill and be killed subject to the whims and ineptitudes of our political leaders. I am anti apathy and I have learned that if patriotism means unquestioning allegiance and blind obedience, such patriotism is inconsistent with democracy and with basic human decency. Such patriotism is an abeyance of our human reason. Such patriotism is inhumane and immoral. Such patriotism is to surrender our power to think critically. Such patriotism is a profound failure, both intellectually and morally.
As has been clearly demonstrated by the unconscionable treatment of our wounded veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and at Veterans Administration facilities across the country, our returning veterans are not receiving the quality of care they deserve and require to recover from their injuries and experiences in war. I am outraged by this lack of concern and support for those who sacrificed so much for our country. I am pro veterans.
The fundamental moral principle of respect for persons requires that we protect those most vulnerable from being enticed, seduced, brainwashed and deceived into becoming complicit in crimes of aggression and cannon fodder for corporate war profiteers and opportunists. We are morally obligated, therefore, to protect our impressionable young people by striving to ban recruiters from our high schools and colleges and by urging our representatives to rescind the No Child Left Behind Act's military recruitment provision which requires schools, in order to receive financial assistance, to provide military recruiters with students' contact information. Second, we must inform the underprivileged - who see the military as their only alternative to poverty, crime and unemployment - of other educational and employment opportunities available to them other than by joining the military. Finally, we must make clear to all prospective enlistees the realities of military service, the horrors of war and the immorality and futility of the war in Iraq. I doubt this information is contained within a recruiter's motivational packet of hats, tee-shirts, bumper stickers and violent video games. Under this administration, with potential enlistees facing the inevitable prospect of fighting an immoral war of aggression, I am anti recruitment.
The fact that so many of our heroic sons and daughters are languishing abandoned, their emotional and psychological injuries untreated and their needs ignored, is a national tragedy and disgrace. The fact that America has become isolated in the world, respected no longer for our ideals but feared for our brutality, no longer admired for our values of justice and freedom but hated for our hypocrisy and intolerance, should bring a tear to the eye and anger to the heart of every true patriot. I am pro America.
As a result of this exercise in self-examination, I have realized that I am anti aggression. I am anti unjust, immoral, and unnecessary war, but not anti war. I am anti the Iraq war, however; anti the Bush Administration, anti rogue nation and anti recruitment. In addition, I am pro military, pro veteran and pro America. I have realized as well that the outrage I feel regarding the corrupting and disgracing of America by those political leaders and their coconspirators who cherish not our values and way of life but only wealth and power requires - no demands - the true patriot to embrace truth and to cry out in condemnation and protest. Finally, despite the criticisms and disparaging comments and accusations by credulous veterans, I have realized that my activism and dissent are an expression and fulfillment of my moral and patriotic duty. I am confident, therefore, that I am more the patriot today as I demonstrate for peace than when I wore the uniform of a United States Marine.
I am constantly amazed at how rank and file chicken hawks continue to beliueve that the War in Iraq is protecting us from terrorism, and seem to be driven insane when they are shown irrefutable proof that the bill of goods they were sold was a forgery. Over the last couple of weeks, I have been trolling through the outer reaches of the virtual universe looking for everything written about the upcoming Winter Soldier hearings, and while the left has its fair share of thoughtless fools, who revel in insulting rank and file soldiers with no understanding that there is a world of difference between the brass and lifers on the one hand and those enlisted men and women who now find themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This stupidity however, pales in comparison the unadulterated brutality of the Orwellian alternate universe Chicken Hawks fly around in. I realize it is a lot easier to read the cliff notes to James Joyce's Ulysses than it is to struggle through the original, but you are not going to be able to do anything more than scrape through a multiple choice quiz about the book and will certainly learn nothing. The same is true with the upcoming Winter Soldier Hearings and the Iraq Veterans Against the War, which are denounced by people based on what they have been told by Scott Swett, John O'Neil and their fellow swift-boaters. Not one of them have bothered to read the transcripts of the Winter Soldier Hearings, but they state with absolute certainty and conviction that the supposed eyewitnesses could only describe war crimes that they were told about third hand and never witnessed.
One of the most unpleasant of these accusers is a lady who proudly class herself Chicken hawk Express. In one of her latest attacks on the credibility of the witnesses at the events in DC this week, she makes the following blanket statement "all in all it looks like it will be the same old thing - claims of "I was told", "I didn’t actually witness but heard about it", ad-nausea." She ends her attack with the threat that the participants had better be sure of their facts because she and her colleagues would be fact checking everything with Lexis-Nexus. While I have access to Lexis-Nexus, it unfortunately does not go back as far as 1971 so one can not use it to check how many times “I was told” and “I didn’t actually witness but heard about it” appear in the transcript. However, I do have access to the Sir! No Sir! Archive dataabase (http://www.sirnosir.com/library/articles/search.html) and was able to do a phase search for both. The phrase "I didn’t actually witness but heard about it" does not appear once in the transcripts. As for the phrase “I was told”, it appears 19 times.
One witness uses it in the context of shoddy medical treament he received after being wounded over the Easter Weekend in 1969 :
“My Easter of '69 wasn't exactly what I'd call a treat. I was wounded. They decided that I wasn't wounded bad enough to be dusted off, so I waited a period of approximately nine hours while I was laying in a pig sty to be dusted off. When I was dusted off, I was taken to the hospital. I will say the treatment I got was fast, but efficient, it wasn't. I was taken into the operating room and worked on. They completely neglected the wounds on my arms and, of course, I had to say, "I don't think you're finished yet." So they sewed up the wounds on my arms. I was then released to get to a ward. I was put in a ward where there was no medic, no supervisor. I was told by the man laying next to me that I was hemorrhaging. Well, since there was no one in the ward that meant I had to get up and walk back to the operating room and open the door and say, "Doctor, I'm not done." Then they put me back on the table and said, "Oh, I guess you're not!" And they finished it up. “ (http://sirnosir.com/archives_and_resources/library/war_crimes/winter_soldier/1st_infantry_1.html)
While the transcripts of the hearings are unpleasant reading, the witnesses are very clear that while they and their fellow GIs committed brutal and unspeakable acts, they were extremely careful not to blame enlisted men or junior officers. The Winter Soldiers, like many in the GI movement laid the blame squarely on the corporate elites who profited from the war, successive administrations and their political allies who were determined not to be the first Americans to lose a war and the brass, who in an effort to ensure victory unleashed the full force of American might upon the population of South Vietnam.
The fact they held the brass and the corporate and political elites responsible for what was occurring in Vietnam was made crystal clear, by William Crandall, who in his opening statement remarked “We intend to tell who it was that gave us those orders; that created that policy; that set that standard of war bordering on full and final genocide. We intend to demonstrate that My Lai was no unusual occurrence, other than, perhaps, the number of victims killed all in one place, all at one time, all by one platoon of us. We intend to show that the policies of Americal Division which inevitably resulted in My Lai were the policies of other Army and Marine Divisions as well. We intend to show that war crimes in Vietnam did not start in March 1968, or in the village of Son My or with one Lt. William Calley. We intend to indict those really responsible for My Lai, for Vietnam, for attempted genocide.”
In an effort to win the war, grunts and junior officers were ordered to “uproot … hundreds of thousands of peasants from their villages and … [move] … them into government refugee camps. The villages were then razed and the destroyed areas proclaimed free-fire zones. Vietnamese found in these zones were automatically considered Viet Cong and … subject to American fire without warning.” (Christian Appy, Working Class War 226-227) Reading through the transcripts of the hearings, most of the atrocities described occurred in these free fire zones.
The indiscriminate killing of Vietnamese, vividly described by the Winter Soldiers, within these free fire zones was driven by the equating iof “victory … [with] … a high body count. … The pressure on unit commanders to produce enemy corpses was intense, and they in turn communicated it to their troops.” (Ibid 227) As Philip Caputo observed, in his memoir a Rumor of War, “if it’s dead and Vietnamese, its VC” which resulted in “even the narrowly defined goal of killing communists proved, in practice, merely an effort to produce Vietnamese corpses.” (ibid 227).
While no detailed study of the political affiliations of the Winter Soldier Witnesses exist, Dr. Hamid Molwana and Paul Geffert detailed “profile study of members of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War”, published in 1971 as the appendix to The New Soldier allows one to draw some conclusions. The majority had enlisted, were politically conservative and had either felt the “US was justified in being there” (28.5%), or had “[n]o strong feeling about our intervention or non-intervention” (47.5%) in Vietnam. When asked what had radicalized them, Molwana and Geffert found the majority of the membership of VVAW (62%), and by implication the Winter Soldiers, had been radicalized by their experiences in Vietnam , not as been claimed over the last 30 years by either the undue influence of civilian activists in the United States or the various Communist Parties in power at the time. A similar drift is occurring among servicemen deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is this drift, not the machinations of washed up old communists and former VVAW members, that is the impetus for the Winter Soldier Hearings.
For the second time in 40 years, American Servicemen and veterans have felt it necessary to publicly challenge the synthesis of military action with the goals and needs of corporate imperialism. Unfortunately, for the last 30 years these servicemen have been successfully misrepresented [swiftboated] as accusing their fellow GIs of unspeakable acts, it is up to us, to support, stand with and amplify their challenge.