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 article, by Mark Paxton, was first published in The Pinnacle, July 3, 2008
It wasn't the blue-black starkness of Antarctica that left the most indelible impression upon Mateo Rebecchi during his four-year hitch with the United States Coast Guard.
It was the way people around the world reacted when they understood he was part of the U.S. military.
"Leading up to the [Iraq] war, I didn't realize how many people around the world were protesting it," Rebecchi said last week. "There was a lot of protest internationally - in Japan, a lot of places in Europe too. A lot of people had a magnifying glass on U.S. policy in Iraq. They were very critical of U.S. policy in other countries."
Rebecchi grew up in Hollister, the son of two local teachers. He graduated from San Benito High in 2001. After attending a community college in San Diego for a while the Coast Guard began looking pretty good.
There were talks with the recruiting officer, of course. But more important was the chance to make a contribution, something his parents, Margaret and Larry Rebecchi, instilled in each of their three children.
"One of the reasons for joining the Coast Guard is that I wanted to serve my country," Rebecchi said. "I didn't want to fight in Iraq. I'd hoped to protect our coast instead of working on ships and sending them overseas to fight this war."
Still he is grateful for the experience.
Rebecchi trained as an electrician's mate in Virginia before being posted to an icebreaker home ported in Seattle. From there, his travels spanned the globe - Asia, Antarctica and Europe.
"It was good times," he said. "Traveling around the world was a great experience. It was nice to be away. I met a lot of people and got perspectives of how hard it is to live in other countries."
Relaxing in the garden of the family home, Rebecchi conveys confidence beyond his 24 years. He is articulate and handsome enough to get a second look from any woman near his age.
In short, he is any recruiter's worst nightmare.
Rebecchi and two other local veterans spoke to some 50 local residents at St. Benedict's Catholic Church last Friday. They talked about their experiences and those of their comrades in arms. All are members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (www.ivaw.org). Jeff Patterson registered as a conscientious objector during his service as a nuclear technician in the first Gulf War. George Sanchez knows his life was saved by a thin layer wrapped around the bottom and sides of his Humvee, flimsy armor that saved his life when his convoy came under attack in Iraq.
Today Rebecchi is a student, attending community college in Seattle. But, like other members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, he's been on the road as well.
"We went to Washington, D.C., in April," he said. "There were over 200 vets attending the event. We testified to Congress. Some of the accounts of war crimes and atrocities were kind of blacked out by corporate media."
But in Seattle, the group promoted its own event and more than 800 people showed up on May 31. "We just wanted the public to have access to our accounts and eyewitness testimonies," he said.
The group is also active around Fort Lewis, an enormous military reservation near Tacoma, Wash., south of Seattle.
"We're trying to do different things in the area," he said. "We encourage active duty military to come out against the war."
It is Rebecchi's sense of duty that propelled him into the anti-war movement.
"I've always wanted, when I got out, to speak out for vets," Rebecchi said. "I feel that, as someone who served in the military not actually having gone [to war] myself but who's seen people who maybe aren't able to speak out, perhaps because of their medical status, that I have something to say."
"I hope I can help inspire people in communities, so people can come together and try to bring an end to this war. If we can get enough people, eventually they can't just turn a blind eye."
About their Hollister engagement last Friday, Rebecchi said the three veterans share a common dream.
"I hope what we can do is start a movement in Hollister," he said. "Conservative or not, over 70 percent of the people in this country don't feel good about this war."
Hollister already is home to an anti-war movement. Hollister in Black members have been holding a silent weekly vigil on corners around town since 2002.
Mary Zanger has been a regular participant, and she attended the presentation last Friday.
"I've been thinking a lot about them," she said this week. "They were sincere and honest. They've found themselves. I don't even think they had any prepared notes."
Far from being an isolationist, Rebecchi said his experience in learning how the rest of the world greets U.S. foreign policy spawned a new dream.
"I'd like the U.S. eventually to be seen in a peaceful role … helping other nations be the best they can be."
It seems like more than a hollow hope. Rebecchi hopes to eventually transfer to a university to study international relations. A career as a diplomat, where he can help facilitate that dream, is the ultimate goal.
This press release, by Julie Nickson, was distributed by Capitol Hill Press Releases, May 15, 2008
Washington, DC - At a forum this morning organized by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), ten veterans of the Iraq War provided gripping first person accounts of their time spent serving in combat operations. The veterans, who had served in the National Guard, the Army, and the Marines, shared their experiences on the ground at various stages of the occupation and throughout the country. They testified regarding violence against civilians, the destruction of civilian property, rules of engagement, the inadequate training that they received prior to deploying, and the personal struggles with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that many of the testifiers faced upon their return from combat.
"This morning's event was an opportunity to hear not from the military's top brass, but directly from the very soldiers who put their lives on the line to carry out President Bush's failed policies in Iraq," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Co-Chair of the CPC.
"These first-hand accounts really highlight some of the tragic costs and horrific consequences of this Administration's utterly failed policies in Iraq," said CPC Co-Chair Rep. Barbara Lee (D- CA). "We must redouble our efforts to end the occupation and to truly honor our troops by bringing them home."
The veterans were members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), a non-profit organization created in 2004 to organize and represent the growing number of active duty service members, and veterans, who have turned against the occupation of Iraq, but continue to face pressure to remain silent.
One of the morning's most gripping testimonies came from Kristofer Goldsmith, a former Army Sergeant from Long Island, New York, who spoke about his own psychological struggles following a stop-loss order that kept him from returning home after serving in Iraq.
"As we were preparing to leave Iraq, we were given a mental screening test, which was supposed to identify possible mental ailments," Goldsmith said in his written statement. "But we were warned by the medical staff issuing the test that 'should you come up positive for mental problems, you could be forced to stay in [Iraq] for three to four more months before you can go home.' Most lied while completing the test because they wanted to get home as soon as possible. No one was held in Iraq any longer due to this test, but in hindsight, it is clear that verbal warning was used to prevent the inconvenience to the Army of having Soldiers that needed medical attention."
The psychological struggles of returning veterans was a consistent theme that emerged throughout the morning, and other testifiers spoke of the strain that PTSD put on their relationships with families and friends.
"The majority of my platoon went through divorces and or separations many of the time with children involved," said Vincent Emanuele, a Marine machine gunner who served in Iraq near the Syrian border. Emanuele also spoke of the pressure that he faced when dealing with his PTSD, "the idea being that 'REAL' Marines do not complain when coming home from combat they suck it up and do the job we are tasked to do," Emanuele said referring to how he and other veterans were treated like outcasts when they sought help. "This resulted in many of the Marines I served with, including myself turning to alcohol and drugs to cope with the horrors of this bloody occupation."
The forum was a follow-up to an event that IVAW organized earlier this year at the National Labor College in Silver Spring Maryland. Dubbed 'Winter Soldiers,' and modeled on a similar campaign during the Vietnam War, dozens of veterans shared their personal stories, and testified over three days on their own experiences on the ground in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Your testimony this morning should serve as a reminder to every Member of this body that the occupation of Iraq is not something that we can simply discuss and debate in the abstract," Woolsey told the veterans. "You speak today not just for yourselves, but for countless others who have served in Iraq. You are doing all of us a great honor by sharing your stories and unique perspectives."
This article by Dahr Jamail, was distributed by IPS (Latin America), June 3, 2008
Dozens of veterans from the U.S. occupation of Iraq converged in this west coast city over the weekend to share stories of atrocities being committed daily in Iraq, in a continuation of the 'Winter Soldier' hearings held in Silver Spring, Maryland in March.
At the Seattle Town Hall, some 800 people gathered to hear the testimonies of veterans from Iraq. The event was sponsored by the Northwest Regional Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), and endorsed by dozens of local and regional anti-war groups like Veterans for Peace and Students for a Democratic Society.
'I watched Iraqi Police bring in someone to interrogate,' Seth Manzel, a vehicle commander and machine gunner in the U.S. Army, told the audience. 'There were four men on the prisoner...one was pummeling his kidneys with his fists, another was inserting a bottle up his rectum. It looked like a frat house gang-rape.'
Manzel joined the army after 9/11 for economic reasons -- he'd just been laid off, and his wife had just had a baby. Manzel told another story of military medics he was with in Tal Afar who refused to treat an elderly man in their detention centre. Manzel described the old man as being jaundiced and lying on the ground, writhing in pain.
'The medics said the old man was just being lazy and they were not authorised to treat detainees,' Manzel said.
Jan Critchfield worked as an army journalist while attached to the 1st Cavalry in Baghdad during 2004. 'I was with a unit that shot at a man and wife near a checkpoint,' Critchfield said, 'She had been shot through her shinbone, and that was the first story I covered in Iraq.'
Critchfield told the audience that his unspoken job in Iraq was to 'counter the liberal media bias' about the occupation.
'Our target audience was in the U.S., and the emphasis was reporting on humanitarian aid missions the military conducted,' Critchfield said. 'I don't know how many stories I reported on chicken drops (distributing frozen chickens in a community). I don't know what else you can call that, other than propaganda. I would find the highest ranking person I could get, and quote them verbatim without fact checking anything they said.'
Other veterans told of lax rules of engagement that led to the slaughter of innocent civilians in Iraq.
'We were told we'd be deploying to Iraq and that we needed to get ready to have little kids and women shoot at us,' Sergio Kochergin, a former Marine who served two deployments in Iraq, told the audience. 'It was an attempt to portray Iraqis as animals. We were supposed to do humanitarian work, but all we did was harass people, drive like crazy on the streets, pretending it was our city and we could do whatever we wanted to do.'
As the other veterans on the panel nodded in agreement, Kochergin continued, 'We were constantly told everybody there wants to kill you, everybody wants to get you. In the military, we had racism within every rank and it was ridiculous. It seemed like a joke, but that joke turned into destroying peoples' lives in Iraq.'
'I was in Husaiba with a sniper platoon right on the Syrian border and we would basically go out on the town and search for people to shoot,' Kochergin said. 'The rules of engagement (ROE) got more lenient the longer we were there. So if anyone had a bag and a shovel, we were to shoot them. We were allowed to take our shots at anything that looked suspicious. And at that point in time, everything looked suspicious.'
Kochergin added, 'Later on, we had no ROE at all. If you see something that doesn't seem right, take them out.' He concluded by saying, 'Enough is enough, it's time to get out of there.'
Doug Connor was a first lieutenant in the army and worked as a surgical nurse in Iraq. While there he worked as part of a combat support unit, and said most of the patients he treated were Iraqi civilians.
'There were so many people that needed treatment we couldn't take all of them,' he said. 'When a bombing happened and 45 patients were brought to us, it was always Americans treated first, then Kurds, then the Arabs.'
Connor added quietly, 'It got to the point where we started calling the Iraqi patients 'range balls' because, just like on the driving range (in golf), you don't care about losing them.'
Channan Suarez Diaz was a navy hospital corpsman who returned from Iraq with a purple heart, among other medals. He served in Ramadi from September 2004 to February 2005 with a weapons company. He is now the Seattle Chapter president of IVAW.
'Our commanding officer wanted us to go through a route that another platoon did and was completely wiped out in an ambush,' Diaz explained. 'We refused. They canceled that mission and we didn't go. I don't think these are isolated incidents. I think this is happening every day in Iraq. The military doesn't want you to know about this, because it's kind of like lighting a fire in a prairie.'
The first Winter Soldier event was organised in 1971 by Vietnam Veterans Against the War in response to a growing list of human rights violations occurring in Vietnam.
From Mar. 13-16, 2008, IVAW held a national conference titled 'Winter Solider: Iraq and Afghanistan' outside Washington, DC. The four-day event brought together veterans from across the country to testify about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This article, by Dahr Jamail, was distributed by IPS, June 4, 2008
In a clear change of strategy to energise public anti-war sentiment, Iraq veterans led a determined demonstration of hundreds through the streets of downtown Seattle last Saturday, following regional Winter Soldier hearings at the Seattle Town Hall.
A larger Winter Soldier event occurred at the National Labour College in Silver Spring, Maryland from Mar. 13 to Mar. 16 earlier this year. But the strategy for those hearings appeared to be based on keeping the event from being directly affiliated with any demonstrations or anti-war activities in an attempt to reach a broader audience. Those hearings were closed to the public, and no demonstrations or other overtly public actions were tied to the event.
This tactic was apparently meant to draw in more national mainstream media coverage of the event, which, with few exceptions, did not materialise.
Chanan Suarez Diaz, the Seattle Chapter president of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), which organised last weekend's event, had told IPS that his chapter, along with others in the northwest region, intended to make a major effort to draw the public into both the testimonials and taking action afterwards.
The Seattle regional Winter Soldier event was open to the public.
A late April poll conducted by CNN/Opinion Research Corp. found that nearly three-quarters (68 percent) of respondents opposed the Iraq war. The strategy of the regional IVAW groups is clearly meant to capitalise on the growing opposition to the occupation of Iraq among the U.S. public.
Christopher Diggins, a psychotherapist who attended the demonstration, reflected the feelings of many -- that this strategy is important.
'This tactic is better because you have to get the community involved,' Diggins told IPS. 'You have to have community awareness and support.'
'I want to show my solidarity for vets who are against the war, because it is the only way this war is going to stop,' he added. 'It's hard to have the war if nobody is going to fight.'
Diggins founded the Soldiers Project Northwest in Washington State (www.soldiersproject.org). The project is a group of therapists that volunteer to work one hour per week each with soldiers and their families who need assistance.
Saturday's event found veterans leaving their testimony to lead a crowd directly onto the streets to begin a demonstration. Protestors chanting 'U.S. out of the Middle East, No Justice, No Peace,' and carrying signs such as 'You Can't Be All You Can Be If You're Dead!' stopped traffic for nearly an hour.
'I'm here to support the war resisters,' Theresa Mosqueda, a Seattle resident who works on health policy advocacy for children and marched behind members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), told IPS, 'They are the core part of ending this war. This is an illegal and immoral war, and the resisters have the power to stop it.'
At least one Iraq war veteran joined IVAW as a result of attending the hearings last weekend.
Several of the vets urged onlookers to join the march, and many did as the demonstration passed by Seattle's bustling Pike Place Market.
Nick Spring, a student from Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, was one of the marchers. 'I came down today because it's a great way to be informed by the vets, support GI resistance, and try to end the war,' Spring told IPS.
The regional winter soldier hearings were a smaller event, and there was no national mainstream media coverage. However, there was heavy local and alternative media coverage. At least one of the major Seattle television stations covered the testimonials, as well as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the largest paper in the region.
The group Just Foreign Policy estimates that over 1.2 million Iraqis have died since the U.S.-led invasion began in March 2003. The Opinion Business Research group in Britain estimates the same number.
According to the U.S. Department of Defence, at least 4,086 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq.
Many of the demonstrators were vets themselves who had just given testimony about their time in Iraq. They included Josh Simpson, Sergio Kochergin, Seth Manzel, Mateo Rebecchi, Jan Critchfield, Doug Connor, and many others.
Children numbered among the demonstrators as well. Nine-year-old Wes Cunningham, accompanied by his father, was asked by IPS why he was in attendance.
'It's a cool march,' he said. 'And I think it's bad to kill other human beings.'
IVAW now boasts over 1,200 members, a 50 percent increase since the March Winter Soldier hearings in Maryland. The fastest growing segment of their membership is active-duty soldiers.
This article, by Richard Ouzounian, was originally published in the Toronto Star, April 13, 2008
If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?
By the same token, if hundreds of veterans of the Iraq war gathered to share their experiences and no major media covered it, did they act in vain?
That's the question that has motivated Ravi Jain to present a project called Winter Soldiers tomorrow at 8: 30 p.m. night at the Theatre Centre, 1087 Queen St. W.
"I couldn't bear the thought that all these men with so much valid information to share," said Jain, "were ignored by the right wing corporate media."
The failure of this set of revelations to attract much attention is particularly disheartening in the light of the ultimate impact that the original "Winter Soldiers" demonstration had in 1971.
It was composed of several hundred Vietnam vets who wanted the world to know what had been going on behind the battle lines.
Like the recent event it too was initially ignored except for Pacifica Radio, but the tenacity of several journalists brought it to the world's attention. A documentary film was made and a complete transcript entered into the Congressional Record, which eventually led to the Fulbright Hearings on the war.
"I'm not trying to have an effect as grand as that," insists Jain, "but I do want to engage people, to make them think and empathize with what both sides have been going through in this war."
To that end, the talented young director (who earned critical plaudits earlier this season for his experimental production, The Prince Hamlet) has put a together a one-night-only evening made up of sound and fury that he hopes will signify far more than nothing.
He's also added an all-important visual element as well, courtesy of renowned photojournalist Rita Leistner, who has donated a lot of her work and is presenting a slide show as well.
"There's one photo," says Jain, "that truly says it all. She shot it in an Iraqi prisoner camp and there's five huge American soldiers carrying away one small, elderly Iraqi man."
But then come the stories that prove truth is not only stranger than fiction but far more cruel.
Geoff Millard, Washington chapter president of the Iraq veteran's organization, says "we grew into a mindset where everyone who wasn't American was a hajji (Muslim) or a towel-head."
He tells of how he was standing guard at a checkpoint and a car was approaching too fast, so he killed the family inside it.
There was an investigation, but he wasn't reprimanded.
"If those f -king hajjis would learn how to drive that this s t wouldn't happen," his commander told him.
Then there's the testimony from two U.S. soldiers who admitted they used to "beat the hell out of prisoners for no reason, or maybe because we were given no order to do otherwise."
Jain asks "As a human race, aren't we supposed to be better than this?"
The answer - for better or worse - will be on view tomorrow.