Revolution#125, April 6, 2008
Winter Soldier Investigation, March 13-16
Vets’ Testimonies Bring Home U.S. Horrors in Iraq and Afghanistan
The following letter is from Joe Urgo, a Vietnam vet:
I thought I knew about what the U.S. war and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has meant to these countries and their people. But the real horror of this was vividly brought home to me when I attended the March 13-16 Winter Soldier Investigation: Iraq and Afghanistan, organized by the Iraq Veterans Against the War. Over four days, almost 50 American veterans testified about what they had been trained to do and what they did to the people and land of Iraq and Afghanistan. These hearings were broadcast around the world over the Internet, television and radio, and could be seen by the troops on U.S. bases and ships all over the world. Interspersed throughout the testimony were videos of Iraqi men, women, and kids describing the terror of living under American military occupation.
The audience, about 350 people at any time, were mostly American veterans, military families, and parents whose children were killed in the war.
Those testifying tried to expose how the policies and orders came from the very top levels of their military chain of command, up to Gen. Petraeus and beyond. Some of the terms will be familiar to Vietnam veterans: “Free Fire Zones,” and “Recon By Fire”—both of which give you permission to fire on anyone you please without consequences. There was testimony about policies developed for these wars today, new counterinsurgency doctrine in urban situations like the massive number of home invasions, many in the middle of the night, and whole families are terrorized, beaten, living quarters ransacked, and the young men and boys carted off to jail and worse.
Some of the starkest testimony was on the Rules of Engagement panels. Jason Washburn testified, “We were allowed to shoot whatever we wanted. We opened fire on everything. There were no rules governing the amount of force we were allowed to use. This is what we were expected to do. We were told to fuck them up.” He described several incidents of killing civilians, that they were common and were encouraged. He and other vets also described how “with a wink and a nudge we were encouraged to carry ‘drop weapons’ or shovels. In case we accidentally did shoot a civilian, toss the weapon or shovel on the body to make them look like an insurgent.”
It was also on this panel that Jon Turner began his testimony by repeating one of the Marine Corps slogans, pausing and saying, “and then there is ‘fuck the apple, eat the Corps.’” Then he ripped his medals off his chest, threw them on the and floor and said, “I don’t work for you anymore!” In half a second, the entire audience was on their feet cheering Jon’s defiance of the Marines and their medals. He then went on to describe his senior officers commending him for his first kill, what it was like doing house raids at three in the morning, “kicking in doors and terrorizing families.” Trying to hold his emotions in check, Jon ended his testimony saying, “I am no longer the monster I once was.” The post traumatic stress among many of the vets as they tried to come to grips with what they had done to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan made it necessary to have a team of therapists on call during the conference.
As you listen to or read the testimony, a picture begins to emerge: These crimes are not mistakes, “misuse” of the Rules of Engagement, or “strategic incompetence.” This is the way imperialism and its military fight their wars. Kill the people; the only valuable lives are American lives. One vet started his testimony by saying, “To the people of the world ..."
We need to act with the courage and determination demanded by those people of the world—to put a stop to this. These vets, driven by guilt, anger, and a growing sense of betrayal that they had been lied to and used to commit a great crime against humanity, made powerful statements that need to be heard by all who are not yet convinced that these occupations are wrong, by those sitting on the fence, by those who, yes, like me, think they know what’s happening over there.
In future issues, Revolution will publish transcripts of testimony from the Winter Soldier Investigation: Iraq and Afghanistan. Readers can hear testimony at: ivaw.org/wintersoldier/testimony
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