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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This press reslease, written by Zachary Miles Baddorf, was published on the Iraq Veterans Against the War website, October 1, 2009
Philadelphia – Iraq Veterans Against the War believes an escalation of the war in Afghanistan will only serve to exacerbate the plight of the Afghan people, destabilize the region, and further the breakdown of our military.
IVAW, which includes veterans who served in Afghanistan, opposes President Barack Obama’s planned expansion of the occupation and calls for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all occupying forces in Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people.
“We’re entering our seventh year of war in Afghanistan,” said Jose Vasquez, IVAW’s executive director. “Casualties among the Afghan people are rising while U.S. and Coalition forces are facing their deadliest year since the invasion. This war dehumanizes the Afghan people and denies them their right to self-determination. We have members who serve in Iraq and in Afghanistan and we believe it’s time for them all to come home.”
While IVAW was formed to call for an end to the war in Iraq, the anti-war organization’s membership, which includes more than 1,600 active-duty military members and veterans in 48 states, passed a resolution to declare their opposition to the war in Afghanistan.
The resolution states “there is no battlefield solution to terrorism, and any escalation of the war in Afghanistan will only serve to exacerbate the plight of the Afghan people, destabilize the region, and further the breakdown of our military.”
IVAW member Donna Perdue said she believes the war in Afghanistan is threatening our national security.
“The war becomes larger and more destructive, the number of necessary American forces will further increase, and the cycle will continue to rage on,” said Perdue. “This cycle will continue to strain the struggling economy and the already over-taxed military. It’s imperative that the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan end.”
IVAW is a national organization of veterans and active-duty service members who have served since September 11, 2001 – including those who took part in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. IVAW also is dedicated to fighting for adequate physical and mental healthcare, full benefits, and other support for returning veterans.
This article, by Kevin Dougherty, was published in Stars and Stripes, August 23, 2009/p>
With the U.S. military presence in Iraq expected to end by 2011, an organization of current and former servicemembers opposed to the war there is widening its mandate to include Afghanistan.
At its annual convention in College Park, Md., earlier this month, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War vigorously debated what the group’s stance should be on Afghanistan, according to some participants. Opposition to the war quietly became official policy earlier this year following an online membership poll. The vote was said to be close, though no details were publicly released.
"A decision has been made in terms of our position, which is we are against it," said Jose Vasquez, executive director of IVAW and co-founder of the New York City chapter.
With that, leaders are "working out the way forward."
Since its founding in 2004, the IVAW has focused almost exclusively on Iraq, though members have been free to speak out for or against the war in Afghanistan. The organization, which has a national office in Philadelphia, estimates its membership to be at least 1,700, with roughly one-quarter of its members still in uniform. Most members, active duty or not, have not deployed to Afghanistan, said Devon Read, a former Marine who wrote and introduced the resolution at the convention.
As is the case with Iraq, the existing IVAW resolution advocates "the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all occupying forces in Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people, and support (for) all troops and veterans working toward those ends."
Additionally, the IVAW supports full benefits and adequate health care for all servicemembers returning from Afghanistan or Iraq.
For now, the effort to develop a strategic approach to opposing the war in Afghanistan is being addressed at the local level. Among the most active on this front is the Los Angeles chapter, which Read heads. The L.A. chapter sponsors forums at which clips of a new documentary, "Rethink Afghanistan," are aired and discussed.
The meetings are intended to generate public and political support for IVAW’s position, which is that the continued presence of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is hurting, not helping matters.
"Chapters are trying to figure out where they want to go with this," Vasquez said. He added that IVAW members "don’t think Iraq was a good idea, and some of us think Afghanistan isn’t either."
One of the members who supports the war in Afghanistan is Army Sgt. Selena Coppa, an active-duty military intelligence specialist based at Wiesbaden, Germany.
"The organization is kind of split on that," Coppa said.
At times, she added, the issue of whether to oppose the war in Afghanistan "ran the risk of tearing us apart. IVAW is like a family. You don’t want members leaving."
Vasquez said many members, such as Coppa, "view Afghanistan as the good war," based largely on its role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. The notion of also opposing that war "met with a lot of debate," he said.
The strategy for the time being is to leave the issue to local chapters to sort out, and then possibly bring it up at next year’s convention. While there has been talk of amending the organization’s name to reflect its opposition to the Afghanistan campaign, that isn’t likely to happen soon.
Read, who initially backed the war in Afghanistan, characterized his endorsement as "blind support," a view that has changed over the past year.
"To me," Read said, "it feels like we are creating more enemies."
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.
On the morning after reaching the National Labor College and our friends and allies, it was only appropriate that he begin the testimony. If I have met a man more befitting of his name, I do not remember. Hart Viges, however, was not always the kind, deep-thinking man he is today, according to his testimony today. Iraq changed him, like it has so many of our youth, including me. Hart has felt many of the same emotions we all have and testified to the guilt he has felt after mass-mortaring Iraqi towns and not having to see the effects of his work. He is particularly ashamed of not taking a trophy picture with a dead Iraqi . . . not because of his moral opposition to it, but instead because it wasn't his kill.
Clifton Hicks began his testimony by making it clear how much he loves and respects the men he served with in Iraq. They kept him safe and they kept him sane and many of them truly believed in the mission they were undertaking, and that is okay; he will always love them and would never betray them.
Clifton Hicks and his comrade, Steve Casey, are giving testimony about their experience in a "free-fire zone" because there were "no friendlies." According to a numbers cruncher later on, their company had killed between 700 and 800 enemy combatants, however, Hicks and Casey never saw any enemy combatants. In November of 2003, according to Hicks, an AC-130 gunship opened fire on an apartment complex. There was prior-notice given to the company, according to Hicks, by a Lieutenant Colonel about "putting on a show" for the boys. Later, the apartment was annihilated as Casey and his comrades watched and cheered from the roof of a nearby building. Casey states that he never thought about it at the time, but now the loss of so much civilian life truly bothers him.
Hicks is testifying that this building demolition was the most destructive act he's seen in his entire life, and it was not a legitimate military target. A sniper team could have neutralized the enemy sporadically firing from that location, but leadership instead chose to destroy the entire building and the civilians inside.
Hicks is testifying now about a wedding party that was fired upon by an infantry patrol that that had confused their celebratory gunfire for the gunfire that they had received across the street. In the end, there were several members of the family wounded and one killed . . . a young girl, maybe six or seven years old. After realizing their folly, all the men could do was move on after their leadership told them to continue mission.
The testimony was just interrupted by an older man yelling "Carried live while good men die!" before being escorted away. Yes, sir, good men are dying. Good American men are dying and good Iraqi men are dying. Just like you, we want it to stop, and that is where we share commonality. We are not "betraying" anyone as you assert, sir; we are those who are giving a voice to those who cannot speak their mind in the conformist, oppressive culture of the US military.
Steve Casey is now continuing the testimony and speaking about a house raid where the squad destroyed the contents of an entire house while a woman shrieked, only to find out they were at the wrong house. He is now showing a video of that raid, and answering questions about the mistaken raid. The woman's voice is haunting, and I now wonder what it must have been like for her to clean up that house after the US had left. Casey reiterates that this is not an indictment on those he served with; they were products of the environment they were in.
Steven Mortillo served in the army from 2002 to 2005 as a scout. March 17th, 2004, Mortillo arrived in Iraq and spent most of his time conducting "presence patrols", walking down the street waiting for something to go wrong. On one of these patrols, his squad received RPG fire and could not return fire, due to the angle of the Bradley weapon system. They fired warning shots into a wall in order to prevent any more action. They showed remarkable restraint, but that would not be the case for the entirety of their tour. Once they started taking casualties and losing men, they started losing patience and growing resentful. It became more and more difficult to restrain their anger.
On a dismounted patrol that December, Mortillo's squad came under fire. He called up the contact reports on his manpack radio and suppressed the area with M203 grenades; the fighting was intense and fast-paced. After breaking contact, his unit EVACed their platoon leader, who had been wounded, into an awaiting Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The enraged Bradley crew asked where the attack had come from and directed all their firepower at the area, a highly populated residential neighborhood. The sincerity in his voice and periodic pauses in his speech are convincing; this man feels horrible for what he and his comrades did in that theater. According to Mortillo, it was difficult to even know if you are following the ROE when you are in the thick of it and especially when you believe you are getting revenge for the death of a friend.
Thus far, every participant has taken great pains to make it clear that they are not here selling out their buddies or betraying anyone.
Jesse Hamilton was a former drill sergeant and gung ho soldier who volunteered to go to Iraq to help mentor the Iraqi army, even though he disagreed with the war. In Fallujah from 2005 to 2006, Hamilton served mostly with a ten man team and many Iraqi personnel. In his opinion, there are no true ROE in Iraq because the Iraqi forces and the civilian resistance paid no attention to ROE. The Iraqi forces were poorly trained or poorly concerned about the matter of firing their weapons in a responsible manner. Anyone who has trained these men, as I have, knows what he means Hamilton says, "Spray and Pray." I understand what Hamilton means when he says that it seemed as if the Iraqis didn't treat their own civilians very well. The Iraqis could be very brutal, especially after Iraqi soldiers had been killed. After taking prisoners, the cruel nature of the men was exposed and Hamilton and the other American advisers did all they could to quell that. The main goals of Hamilton's squad were to keep the Iraqis from having negligent discharges of their weapons and keeping the Iraqis from torturing their prisoners. Such a mission made apathy inevitable and wore Hamilton's squad down emotionally and mentally. Yes, the Iraqi Army made improvements tactically while Hamilton was in the theater, but their cruelty to each other never did. As a soldier, it is impossible to change the culture of another country; Hamilton maintains, that if that is our mission, it is a lost cause. If the Iraqis want self-governance, give it to them. These are the words of a man who wanted so badly for things to be different. He cared for these men and sacrificed much to train and mentor them. It's just not worth it, he ends.
IVAW's most famous (or infamous, depending on your opinion of him) member, Adam Kokesh, did not agree with the war, but he did volunteer to serve in Iraq in order to "do the right thing" and "clean up our mess". Adam is reading the ROE card that every soldier or Marine is given.
Adam was in Fallujah shortly after the four Blackwater contractors were killed and hanged from a bridge. In that city, the ROE was always changing.
On the screen is a picture of a vehicle that was destroyed by a .50 caliber machine gun at a checkpoint because it seemed suspicious and the Marines felt threatened. As the car and the people inside burned, the Marines tried to justify their action by discussing what they asserted were rounds inside the vehicle cooking off . . . after bringing the car inside, however, they found that there were no rounds and the inhabitants of the car were unarmed.
During the waning days of the siege of Fallujah, fires broke out and Iraqi firefighters and police raced to the scene. US forces saw the silhouettes up against the area where they had taken fire and started firing on the men. Miscommunication was often the cause of scenes like this.
It was relayed to Kokesh's unit that al Zarqawi was fleeing the city in a Black Opal and to stop all black Opals . . . black Opals were everywhere in Iraq. Kokesh testifies that, whether they are guilty or innocent, all the detainees get treated the same, and it leads to more and more "innocent" ones becoming part of the insurgency.
Kokesh truly believed that he would be doing great things when he went to Iraq with the Civil Affairs team. "We care, so you don't have to" became the mantra as he spent more and more time in Iraq trying to catch rides with infantry squads in order to do his job. Kokesh was proud of what he could do on a local scale and he did the best job that he could.
Jason Hurd served in Baghdad from November 2004 to November 2005. Jason's father, a truly gung-ho WWII veteran and gun enthusiast, was vehemently opposed to Jason joining the army, and Jason is now convinced that he had severe PTSD. Jason joined anyway and found himself in Iraq serving as a combat medic. His first mission involved manning observation points along the International Zone . . . or Green Zone. After a stray bullet from an Iraqi Police-led firefight across the river hit the shield of an American humvee, the gunner fired over 200 .50 caliber machine gun rounds into a building that may or may not have had civilians inside; they never knew.
After following the rules of escalation and rules of engagement to a tee for months, the absurdity of war crept in and soldiers started taking liberties. They escalated force before they were allowed to do so.
Jason is now telling the story of an Iraqi woman who told them about her husband, who had been killed by US forces after merely getting too close to a convoy. Shortly after, her husband's death, her house was raided, and her son was detained and taken away and returned two weeks later. The intelligence was faulty, and the raid never should have been conducted in the first place.
The personal anguish in Jason's voice as he provides accounts of car bombs, dying Iraqi teenagers, "drawing down" on an eighty-year old Iraqi woman, and the effects of PTSD since his return. He points out that every survey shows the majority of Iraqis approve of attacks on Americans, who they believe are to blame for their situation. It is much like how we react if we were invaded by another country. An Iraqi man once told Hurd that they did not question the intentions of the US soldiers, but that their presence is what has caused so much pain and suffering.
Jose Vasquez is concluding this panel and summing up the point of this event.