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 report, by Luis Montalvan, was originally posted to In These Times, July 22, 2008
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Gens. George Casey, David Petraeus and Ricardo Sanchez have not heeded the requests of their subordinate officers for more resources and more troops.
Instead, these top commanders have consistently misrepresented to Congress the strength and number of Iraqi Security Forces as Iraq falls deeper into civil war. Their misrepresentations should be grounds for criminal indictments and courts-martial.
During my tours of duty in Iraq in 2003 and 2005, I witnessed and participated in American military operations whose metrics for success were the numbers of detainees apprehended — without regard to the tribal, ethnic and sectarian strife they caused.
Sadly, since returning home in 2006 and departing the Army on Sept. 11, 2007, I’ve noticed a lack of scrutiny of our top commanders.
In September 2003, I was put in charge of 80 soldiers who entered Iraq without any weapons or ammunition. We were mortared for three days in Balad, north of Baghdad, before arriving in Al Anbar province to link up with our unit. We were unable to return fire.
Later that month, we had to secure the five-kilometer border crossing at Al Waleed, the largest crossing point between Syria and Iraq, with a mere 30 to 40 troops. We were also in charge of recruiting, training and equipping Iraqi Security Forces — uniformed and equipped militias — and redeveloping the local infrastructure and economy. I wrote countless memoranda to my superiors requesting more resources and personnel, but they went unanswered.
I asked myself then as I ask myself now: How could the commanders of the greatest Army in the world send soldiers into battle without the weapons and resources to accomplish their mission?
Also at Al Waleed, I witnessed American counterintelligence soldiers waterboard a prisoner. It was disturbing and wrong. Nonetheless, I was unable to intervene.
On another occasion, my higher headquarters ordered me (unlawfully) not to offer humanitarian assistance to refugees caught between the Syrian and Iraqi borders. Dozens would have died had we not disobeyed those orders.
I lost many friends in Iraq — American and Iraqi. The death toll of U.S. soldiers ticks on above 4,000, as the deaths of innocent Iraqis number in the hundreds of thousands, with millions more displaced and suffering.
In 2005, I was assigned to oversee the security of the northern half of the Syrian-Iraqi border and the port of entry at Rabiya. For that we needed an automated computer tracking system for immigration and emigration, known as a Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System, or PISCES.
At a high-level conference in Baghdad’s “Red Zone” in June 2005, I was told that Coalition Forces possessed a dozen PISCES and that they would soon be installed at the ports of entry. But as of March 2006, when the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment departed western Nineveh province, no PISCES — or equivalent tracking system — had been installed at Rabiya.
The PISCES system has proven effective abroad. British authorities were able to apprehend the terrorists responsible for the London subway bombing in 2005 after PISCES tracked their movements from the Middle East to Europe.
The lack of sufficient equipment along Iraq’s borders contributed to the country’s instability. For four years after the invasion, foreign fighters were free to move transnationally without fear of apprehension. Many Americans and Iraqis were wounded or killed as a result.
Petraeus, for one, has been nearly impervious to scrutiny for failures in Iraq under his command. Despite those failures, many senior leaders have been promoted again and again.
More than one year after the “surge” strategy was announced, credible voices charge that Iraq today is no better off than before. Petraeus and his “brain trust” of officers and diplomats have made every effort to convince the American and Iraqi people that progress has been made, but the reality is that their measures of success are fraught with fallacious assumptions and offer skewed perspectives.
Members of this administration, diplomats and high-level military leaders got us into this Iraq disaster. And they continue to proctor it with arrogant obstinacy and incredible incompetence. They must be held accountable.
this article, by Joey Wiltermuth, was originally posted to Downtown Express, July 11, 2008
At 18, Fabian Bouthillette joined the Navy. In his words, he wanted to “do something good and decent.” He served for several years, but then as the Iraq War began and raged on, he found what he was doing was for all the wrong reasons.
Bouthillette, now 27, found the antiwar group Iraq Veterans Against the War through an Internet search for “Veterans for Peace.” He connected with the mission of the group, as part of which he is now fighting to end military support for the war and to broaden outreach to local veterans.
For the past three years, Bouthillette, who lives on the Lower East Side, has studied the antiwar movement and Vietnam-era activism.
“I went from a very innocent, young Navy officer to becoming a veteran in the antiwar movement, instead of a veteran of the Navy,” he reflected recently during an interview at the Bluestockings Bookstore and Cafe on Allen St., near his home.
Now, Bouthillette is the secretary and outreach coordinator for Iraq Veterans Against the War’s New York chapter, which shares space with the War Resisters’ League in Noho, at 339 Lafayette St.
I.V.A.W. was founded in 2004, by a group of Iraq War soldiers who were united in their opposition to the conflict. They were no longer willing to remain silent about their experiences or their desire to see the war end.
The group’s second-floor office is reached by climbing a dark, cramped staircase. The narrow hall is littered with tacked-up fliers and old posters. It opens to a cluttered, sunlit space.
“You walk in there and you feel like you’re in the ’60s protesting Vietnam,” Bouthillette said.
I.V.A.W. offers support to fellow soldiers and provides a forum to those willing to talk about their experiences.
“It’s not about being anti-military. It’s just about being anti-occupation,” he explained.
Army Captain Luis Carlos Montalván served two combat tours in Iraq. He joined I.V.A.W. because he said no other organization was as genuine in its commitment to extricating the United States from Iraq.
“Too many irresponsible acts by utterly loathsome politicians and military leaders have caused our national woes for the past eight years,” Montalván said. He said I.V.A.W. veterans have a shared understanding that foreign policy changes need to be made.
The organization sponsors Winter Soldiers, a speakers panel of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, in which Montalván has been a participant. The group collects testimony and talks to the public about day-to-day life on the ground, for soldiers and civilians, in these war zones.
Once a month, I.V.A.W. heads out to local armories. Bouthillette said their presence lets soldiers know there is an active antiwar movement led by veterans. They hand out fliers and try to talk about the war.
“Our troops need to feel that America has their back if they want to resist,” he said. “We are the ones that really understand where they come from.”
.V.A.W. has built up a network of local therapists offering free mental health services.
“The guys that really are emotionally struggling come really motivated,” he said, but added that they risk burnout from opening up about their feelings. “They talk about their experiences a lot. They want to get if off their chests.”
Bouthillette grew up in Arlington, Va., about a mile from the Pentagon. He graduated high school in the late 1990s and promptly enrolled in the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., to get a good education.
“I’m a guy who grew up poor. It was just that simple,” he said of his joining the military.
He graduated from the Naval Academy in 2003, with a five-year commitment. But in a strange twist of fate, the Navy commissioned too many officers, and in November 2004, it requested volunteers to waive their active-duty requirement.
“I was quick to jump on it,” Bouthillette said of his decision to leave the service. “I was not going to work hard to support the war machine anymore. Once I came to that realization, I could no longer do it.”
Still, there are elements of the military that Bouthillette misses.
“You’re just part of a huge community that works really hard together,” he said. He remembers navigating the U.S.S. Curtis Wilbur, a guided-missile destroyer, in the Sea of Japan. “Just looking at that alone — not why we were doing it or the political reasons — was awesome,” he said. “And, I will never do that again. I’ll never be the officer on deck on a warship.
“One second I am an officer in the Navy and next second I am just an unemployed guy,” he said, recalling his retirement from active duty. He walked off the base, took off his uniform and got into a friend’s car. “That was it. I was happy, but it was weird.
“You just feel betrayed,” he said about the toll the Iraq War is taking on the military. “I think a lot of guys feel that way, in whatever they were doing.”
The best thing that could happen is that the war just ends, Bouthillette said.
“Then we are all left without a job. I’m dying for that day to come,” he said. “But until that day comes, we are pushing forward.”
This article, by Cynthia and Michael Orange, was published in AlterNet, April 18, 2008
Soldiers of the 'War on Terror' Speak Out
If all of America were to hear these voices, the occupation of Iraq would already be over.
We're not bad people; not monsters. We're normal people caught in a horrible situation."
-Statement from Clifton Hicks, a tank gunner with the Army's 1st Cavalry Regiment and testifier at "Winter Soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan"
Over four days, we witnessed thirty hours of vetted statements from seventy two veterans, active duty soldiers, experts, and Iraqis who had the great courage to go public with their first-hand experiences as part of "Winter Soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations." A common thread emerged of soldiers who struggled with a questionable mission as occupiers of a country in the midst of a civil war, and Iraqi families being torn apart and terrified, terrified by-not grateful for-the presence of American soldiers and private mercenaries. The soldiers and veterans transfixed us with their words and graphic images that exposed the dark underbelly of the Iraq Occupation that the mainstream media have chosen to ignore, just as they ignored these groundbreaking hearings.
The national veterans organization, Iraq Vets Against the War (IVAW), held these hearings near Washington D.C. from March 13 to 16. They patterned them after the 1971 Winter Soldier hearings held in Detroit by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which are now thought to be one of the turning points of that conflict. The title for the hearings comes from Thomas Paine who wrote in 1776, "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of [their] country; but he that stands [by] it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." Unlike the "summer soldiers" who often deserted their duties in Paine's time, "winter soldiers" carry on courageously through the darkness.
We tried to comprehend the enormous scale of the so-called "collateral damage" in Iraq as speakers cited surveys that estimated about a million Iraqi civilians have died since the U.S. invasion, and that over four million Iraqis were forced from their homes. The speakers told of Iraqis, being without power and water, begging for food and fuel, and only wanting foreign troops and the 180,000 private contractors and mercenaries to leave so they can begin to rebuild their devastated country.
The presenters at Winter Soldier went deeper than telling stories that once again confirm what we all should know: war is hell. They addressed the anguished question that naturally arises: How do you explain actions that would be criminal even in a war zone?
The soldiers and veterans explained how trickle-down abuse starts at the top ranks of the military hierarchy with institutionalized racism, sexual harassment, and assault on the lower ranks. They talked about their complete lack of training in Iraqi culture and language and their conditioning before leaving U.S. soil to think of Iraqis as "less than," as "Hajis;" a term once reserved for pilgrims to Mecca, now turned inside out to demean and dehumanize. "Haji" has become to the Iraq occupation what "Gook" became to the Vietnam and Korean wars. When people are dehumanized, it becomes easier to kill them.
We could not listen to the four days of accounts and imagine our country invaded Iraq to export the American dream of freedom and democracy. Even the ultraconservative former Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, declared that "the prime motive for the war in Iraq was oil." It didn't take long for the soldiers and vets who spoke to come to the same conclusion once they experienced the reality on the ground.
As in all wars, if you haven't experienced it, it's hard to grasp the white-hot frustration, anger, and vengeful wrath that results when our soldiers have no reliable way to discern friend from foe and are under extreme duress at virtually all times in a near-country-wide combat zone. As the disillusionment over the injustice and the impossibility of the mission grows, so does the abuse of civilians. When soldiers, deployed two, three, four, and even five times, experience more and more casualties in their units-people with whom they share a bond that can be even stronger than family-their rage understandably erupts and they need to blame someone for their grief. Similar circumstances produced similar results in the jungles of Vietnam.
Kristofer Goldsmith was a good soldier, graduating at the top of his basic training class and receiving a 94.6 percent average in his Warrior Leadership Course. But after four deployments in Iraq and almost shooting a six-year-old boy, he said he became a "broken soldier." He was due to get out of the service when he, like some 80,000 other soldiers, was "stop-lossed" and ordered to redeploy to Iraq for a fifth time. Plagued by mental anguish the day before he was to leave, he tried to kill himself with alcohol and prescription pills. Although finally released, his discharge papers state, "Misconduct: Serious Offense" because of his suicide attempt. He showed the audience a picture of himself in uniform as the proud soldier, then slammed it down on the table saying "This boy is dead."
So many soldiers and veterans spoke of their noble motives for joining the military-especially after 9/11-but then having to face the ignoble inhumanity of this occupation that so compromised their values. Then they returned to a country that anointed them as the heroes they so wished to be. Is it any wonder they are conflicted and disillusioned with the contradictions? Is it any wonder that government statistics report that one in three returning soldiers has mental problems and that CBS News recently described the suicide rate among today's soldiers and vets as "epidemic?" As we continue to see with Vietnam vets, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a normal human response to the inhumanity of war.
We listened to Jason Hurd, a medic with ten years of Army service including tours of duty in Iraq: "But as time went on and the absurdity of war set in, they started taking things too far. Individuals from my unit indiscriminately and unnecessarily opened fire on innocent civilians as they were driving down the road on their own streets." He asked us all to see the war through the eyes of an Iraqi and consider how we might respond if a foreign army invaded our communities and terrorized our families.
The soldiers and vets described the shear mechanics of killing so many people. In story after story, we heard how Rules of Engagement slowly eroded to the point where it was too often left up to these young, very frightened, soldiers to determine for themselves if they "felt" threatened. Jason Lemieux, who served almost five years with the Marines, including the invasion and three tours in Iraq, described the rules he received: "[M]y commander told me that our mission was-and I quote-'to kill those who need to be killed and save those who need to be saved.' And with those words, he pretty much set the tone for the deployment." Too often, the Rules were reduced to "Shoot anything that moves."
Two Marines talked about trashing the country during the invasion. One of them, Brian Casler, served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. As part of the invasion force, he said he and others in their unit defecated and urinated into the containers of food and water they threw at the welcoming children they encountered. To relieve the boredom during his first deployment, they demolished Babylonian ruins and "drove over the rubble for fun." After describing how they ransacked a public building, he said, "We found out later that we had shredded all of the birth certificates for the City of Fallujah."
Several speakers talked about the disrespect of the Iraqi dead. Michael Leduc, for example, told us about "Rotten Randy" and "Tony the Torso," the nicknames his Marine unit gave to the corpses they used for rifle practice.
Soldiers and vets also explained the practice of "reconnaissance by fire," where they'd shoot first into a house or a neighborhood in order to draw return fire. Then, instead of moving on the source of the return fire and incurring more risk to the unit, they'd respond with overwhelming firepower that devastated the entire building or area. Hart Vigas, a mortarman who served with the Army's 82nd Airborne for the invasion of Iraq, painted a word picture of the indiscriminate, "ground-shaking" destruction from C-130 Specter gunships. The students have learned from their teachers. A forward observer and drill instructor with the Army's 101st Airborne Division, Jessie Hamilton stated that the Iraqi forces "showed little or no restraint" when they responded to the slightest attack with such indiscriminate firing that the U.S. troops gave nicknames to their methods: 'spray and pray' and 'death blossom.' "Once the shooting started," he said, "death would blossom all around."
Clifton Hicks described an operation that resulted in an official estimate of 700 to 800 enemy dead. "Judging from what I saw on the ground," he said, "I'm willing to swear under oath in all honesty that while many enemy combatants were in fact killed, the majority of those so-called KIAs were in fact civilians attempting to flee the battlefield.
The gripping presentation and images from Jon Michael Turner, who served in Iraq with the 8th Marines, were, like so many personal stories we've heard, still bleeding with its raw truthfulness. "A lot of the raids and patrols we did were at night around three in the morning . . . . And what we would do is just kick in the doors and terrorize the families." After he described segregating the women, the children, and the men, he said, "If the men of the household were giving us problems, we'd go ahead and take care of them anyway we felt necessary, whether it be choking them or slamming their head against the walls. . . . On my wrist, there's Arabic for 'F you.' I got that put on my wrist just two weeks before we went to Iraq, because that was my choking hand, and any time I felt the need to take out aggression, I would go ahead and use it."
He was one of the first to speak of these things but far from the last. Like so many other speakers, he said this kind of situation was the norm for him and for others, not the exception. With a forced smile that constrained his quivering lips, he closed with an apology to the Iraqi people: "I just want to say that I am sorry for the hate and destruction that I have inflicted on innocent people. . . . until people hear about what is going on with this war, it will continue to happen and people will continue to die. I am sorry for the things that I did. I am no longer the monster that I once was."
Describing the heartache that results from not being able to identify your enemy, Jason Washburn, a Marine who served four years and completed three tours of duty in Iraq, said this: "If the town or the city that we were approaching was a known threat, if the unit that went through the area before we did took a high number of casualties, we were basically allowed to shoot whatever we wanted. . . . I remember one woman was walking by, carrying a huge bag, and she looked like she was heading towards us. So we lit her up with the Mark 19, which is an automatic grenade launcher. And when the dust settled, we realized that the bag was only full of groceries. And, I mean, she had been trying to bring us food, and we blew her to pieces for it."
Soldiers and vets told how superior officers instructed them on the official ways to torment and beat detainees. Andrew Duffy, a medic who served on the trauma team at the Abu Ghraib military prison, put it this way, "You can't spell abuse without 'Abu.'" They were told to use the term "detainee" because, unlike "prisoner of war," there are no laws protecting detainees. While he rocked back and forth in his seat nervously, Mathew Childess, a Marine infantryman who served two tours in Iraq, referred to beating detainees and "breaking fingers." When a particular detainee begged for food and water, he took the man's hat, wiped himself with it, and stuffed it into the man's mouth.
Like Turner, numerous soldiers and veterans stared into the cameras that were recording the hearing for broadcast and pled for forgiveness from the Iraqi people now that they were distanced from the madness in Iraq in an apparent attempt to regain some of what had been lost. For many, their hands trembled as they talked and, along with us witnesses, were moved to tears. At other times, so many only revealed that thousand-yard stare we've seen too many times on the faces of Vietnam vets who carry the scars of that war.
We sat engulfed in the horror, sorrow, and grief of the soldiers' experiences and wondered how we could transform this to help our children and grandchildren reach an understanding so that they can make wise decisions when they have the opportunity to serve their community and country at the local homeless shelter, the voting booth, the peace march, or the armed forces.
Some vets like Jeff Lucey couldn't speak, so his parents spoke in his stead. His father said his grown Marine son came home so haunted by what he had done and witnessed that he drank heavily to anesthetize his pain-a coping strategy mentioned by many of the vets who spoke. His parents said Veterans Affairs (VA) told them they couldn't assess him for PTSD until he was alcohol free. Although he wouldn't talk about the trauma he experienced, Jeff would ask his father to hold him on his lap and rock him so he could feel safe. Jeff's father said the last time he was able to hold his son was when he cut his body down from the rafters at their home where Jeff had hung himself with a hose.
Those who sell the invasion and occupation as a "just war" will deny that these first-hand accounts are part of the whole truth or they will simply dismiss the speakers as liars and traitors, which is already happening. They will continue to entice new advocates and a never-ending stream of recruits, all made possible by a gutless Congress, a compliant media, an apathetic public, and a bottomless military budget, including $4 billion annually for recruiting.
Repeatedly, the speakers stated that they welcomed the opportunity to testify as to the accuracy of their statements in a legal proceeding. Luis Montalvan, a captain with 17 years of service in the Army, stated, "I would like nothing better than to testify under oath to Congress." He then quoted President Theodore Roosevelt: "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
Former 10th corporal speaks out against war
Winter Soldier: Event in Maryland attracts dozens who participated in U.S. mission in Iraq
Posted, by Marc Heller, to the Watertown Daily Times, March 15, 2008
WASHINGTON — Philip Aliff isn't afraid to admit he was in the Army for the money. But even that — his salary, a $7,000 signing bonus and money for college — wasn't worth what he learned in Iraq.
The war, he discovered, was not for him. Neither was the Army.
Mr. Aliff, who finished his tour as a corporal with the 10th Mountain Division last week, was among the current and former soldiers speaking out against the mission in Iraq at Winter Solider, a four-day conference in Silver Spring, Md., sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War.
"My experiences in Iraq were what radicalized me," Mr. Aliff, 21, said in an interview Friday. "I really didn't understand the dynamic of what was happening in Iraq."
Mr. Aliff, who was with the 10th Mountain Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team from Fort Drum, said the situation was far more violent than the rebuilding effort commanders advertised or were prepared to handle.
The result, he said, were contradictory messages for Iraqi civilians as U.S. forces arrested scores of fighting-age men on flimsy suspicion of wrongdoing, only to let them go a few days later.
"We'd hand kids soccer balls," said Mr. Aliff, whose duties included daily combat patrols in Abu Ghraib City and, later, the more violent area near Fallujah in 2005. "They'd see us on the one hand giving them things, and on the other hand arresting their families."
The anti-war conference attracted dozens of soldiers and former soldiers, and possibly a comparable number of reporters and television crews.
In a twist, it also attracted pro-war protesters on the road outside the campus of the National Labor College, where the event was staged. Dozens of armed police officers and hired security guards, including a handful of Vietnam War veterans recruited by IVAW, kept pro-war demonstrators out.
The war supporters held banners proclaiming support for troops and accusing IVAW of undermining the U.S. mission to lay the groundwork for democracy and fight terrorists.
Journalists and other visitors admitted to the event were asked to sign a pledge not to disrupt the proceedings, and organizers warned that any outbursts could lead to expulsion, escorted by security.
On a table outside a conference room was a stack of yellow fliers advertising the New York State Marches for Peace walk May 8 to 17 that starts in Western New York and ends in Watertown.
Former and current soldiers spoke at a series of panel discussions about the killing of innocent civilians; waste, fraud and abuse by defense contractors; poor care for wounded veterans, and other issues. Many of the panelists were longtime soldiers who had re-enlisted more than once and said they did not regret their military service.
"I gained a huge experience," Mr. Aliff said, although he decided not to re-enlist. He said he was drawn to the Army by the signing bonus, college money and what seemed like a solid way to start out his adult life.
Other IVAW members spoke of longer commitments to the Army and said they would not dissuade potential recruits from joining as long as they "seek the truth" about the Army and its missions.
"My service in the military has been the greatest honor in my life," said Luis Montalvan, who left the Army as a captain with 17 years of experience and said he suffers post-traumatic stress syndrome. He wore his Army medals at a press conference Thursday, ahead of the event.
Mr. Aliff said his own unit's exposure to violence was probably a lingering result of the tough tactics used by the previous unit in the same area — the 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
"From the moment we took over, it was like this," Mr. Aliff said. "People saw the same patches."
Although some IVAW members spoke of punishment for their anti-war views, Mr. Aliff said he received only a talking-to from his squad leader when he joined IVAW as an active-duty soldier.
When he spoke out, he said, "it was reinvigorating. I felt like I finally had a voice."
Mr. Aliff, who is single and from Atlanta, said he hopes to start art school next fall, but he is not sure where.