Revolution#135, July 13, 2008
Testimony from Veterans
Winter Soldier Investigation:
Iraq and Afghanistan
March 13-16, Winter Soldier Investigation: Iraq and Afghanistan was held in Washington, D.C. At these hearings, organized by the Iraq Veterans Against the War, almost 50 American veterans testified about what they had done to the people and land of Iraq and Afghanistan. The audience, about 350 people at any time, were mostly American veterans, military families, and parents whose children were killed in the war.
The four-day event brought together veterans from across the country to testify about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan—and present video and photographic evidence. In addition, panels of scholars, veterans, journalists, and other specialists gave context to the testimony. These panels covered everything from the history of the GI resistance movement to the fight for veterans’ health benefits and support.
The following excerpts are from the testimony of Hart Vigas, one of the veterans who spoke at the first panel on “Rules of Engagement.” Excerpts from veterans who testified at the second “Rules of Engagement” panel appeared in Revolution #126 and #134, and a correspondence from a Vietnam vet on the hearings appeared in issue #125. Readers can listen to the testimonies from the hearings at ivaw.org/wintersoldier/testimony.
Hart Vigas: “We went to Baghdad and pretty much ran that town into the ground"
My name is Hart Vigas. I had joined the army right after September 11th and asked for airborne, asked for infantry, and ended up with 82nd Airborne Division, first 325 HAC Battalion Mortars, “hunters of the sky,” “death from above.” I went in November 2001 and left the army in December 2004. I was deployed to Kuwait in February 2003 and subsequently was part of the invasion in March. Originally we were going to jump inside Baghdad Airport but 3rd ID was ahead of schedule so we drove in and secured this town that was hitting a supply line, this town called Al-Samawa. This was my first experience with the job that I was trained to do. I was a mortar man, 81 millimeter mortar. We were set up outside the town of Al-Samawa in basically a dump; flies were so heavy you couldn’t eat. When the sun was up you’d eat a mouthful of flies with your MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) pudding.
What I saw there, more so even what I participated in—hearing the radio calls for the line companies that were in trouble or they spot some people going into a building. So we get that fire mission and we destroy the building with our mortars. I set the timers, I set the rounds, the chargers for the mortars. I was part of that team that sent those rounds down range. And this isn’t army-to-army you know, people live in towns. It’s beyond imagination to think that normal people, civilians, don’t live in towns, this is upside down thinking. So, I never really saw the effects of my mortar rounds in the towns. So that just leaves my imagination open to countless deaths that I don’t know, how many civilians, innocents I killed, help kill.
Another big piece of weaponry that they used on this little town of Al-Samawa was called a Spectre gunship. It’s a C-130 (plane) with belt-fed howitzer cannons, two of those and some super Gatling (machine) guns. I wouldn’t know the proper nomenclature for that. And they would sweep around Al-Samawa, just pounding the city, and this is definitely a sight to be seen. This airplane, it’s almost, even though the rounds are coming from up in the sky, it’s almost like the ground is shaking. And again, over the city, over neighborhoods, Kiowa attack helicopters with their Hellfire missiles, F-18s dropping bombs, shake you to the bone—all the while laying down mortar fire on this town full of people. The radio was always a, never a good thing came over the radio. One time they said to fire on all taxi cabs ’cause the enemy was using them for transportation, and in Iraq any car can be a taxi cab, you just paint it white and orange and there you have it. And one of the snipers across the radio replied back, “Excuse me, did I hear that right, fire on all taxi cabs?” and the Lieutenant Colonel replied back, “You heard me trooper, fire on all taxi cabs.” And once that conversation ended, the town pretty much lit up, all the units that were in there fired on numerous cars. Again, you know, people. Where’s the real proof? This was my first experience with war. That really kind of set the tone for the rest of the deployment.
Then I went to Fallujah for a couple of weeks and our Charlie Company picked a fight there and so we had to skip out. My Fallujah story is not like other Fallujah stories, I was out in this resort area that got stripped up, that we took over and I had my weapon 30 meters away from me, working on my tan in a man-made lake. But hearing the stories come back from inside town. Then we went to Baghdad and pretty much ran that town into the ground. You know there was no real structure there, no police, no authority except for us and we took full advantage of that in the treatment of the people and just overall viewpoints. I mean myself, I never really considered myself a racist person but everything was haji this, haji that, haji smokes, haji burger, haji house, haji clothes, haji rag. Haji’s the same as honky. It’s the same thing, I catch myself.
And then with raids, we never went on a raid where we got the right house, much less the right person, not once. We were outside of Baghdad, this water treatment plant and it seemed like a pretty nice area, you know, trees, green. But then as we were leaving two men with RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades) run out in front of us in the road and there’s a lot of yelling and screaming and they huddled themselves with women and children that were there and we’re all screaming “drop your weapon, drop your weapon.” They all had RPGs slung on their backs, and I was watching my sector on the left, they were on the right. You know I was very adamant about watching my sector over there, but I just couldn’t take it any more. And I swung my rifle around and I had my sight on the dude in the doorway, RPG on his back, had my sight on his chest, this is what I’m trained to do. But when I looked at his face, he wasn’t a boogeyman, he wasn’t the enemy, he was scared and confused, probably the same expression I had on my face during the same time. He was probably fed the same BS I was fed to put myself in that situation. But seeing his face took me back and I didn’t pull the trigger. He got away.
We get backup with Apache helicopters, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and we go back into this nice little village asking questions. And it’s a pretty good history in Iraq, you know, if you got a beef with your neighbor back in Saddam’s day you just say “hey, police, they said something bad about Saddam, why don’t you go get him” and they take him and they torture him. Well now here with the U.S. we’re asking who are the troublemakers and we hear from the people in the village that “these people” are the troublemakers “over here.” So we go and myself and another soldier steps off and we toss the hut. Well the only thing I find is a little 22 pistol, not AK-47s, not RPGs, not pictures of Saddam, not large caches of money, but we end up taking the two young men, regardless. And I looked at my sergeant and I was like, “Sergeant, these aren’t the men that we’re looking for.” And he told me, “Don’t worry, I’m sure they would have done something anyway.”
And this mother all the while is crying in my face, trying to kiss my feet, and you know, I can’t speak Arabic. I can speak human. She was saying, “Please, why are you taking my sons, they have done nothing wrong,” and that made me feel very powerless. You know I was 82nd Airborne infantry with Apache helicopters, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and armor and my M4 and I was powerless, I was powerless to help her. And I was very naïve back then. I thought that they would just take ’em and find out “yeah, they don’t know anything.” But later I found out people who are detained are being detained for years. Parents don’t even know where their children are. And the lack of humanity in war. The place where you put yourself, is when you look back at it and it’s almost alien.
We were driving down Baghdad one day and we found a dead body on the side of the road. So we all pulled over to secure it and wait for MPs or whatever authorities would come and take care of this dead man here who was clearly murdered. And my friends jumped off and started taking pictures with him with big old smiles on their faces, and they said, “Hey Vigas, you want a picture with this guy?” And I said “no,” but “no” not in the context of, “that’s really messed up because it’s just wrong on an ethical basis.” But I said no because it wasn’t my kill. You shouldn’t take trophies for things you didn’t kill. I mean that’s what my mindset is, was, back then, because I wasn’t even upset that this man was really dead, they shouldn’t have been taking credit for something they didn’t do. But then, that’s war y’all, that’s war. But instead of a soldier, I’m a soulja now, you know, I’ve switched it around, I’d like to just give you this little poem here now.
A soulja has put down their rifles and has picked up their souls.
Instead of bullets, a soulja has their words.
Instead of dogma, a soulja listens to their heart.
Instead of secret codes, a soulja reflects their feelings and their thoughts.
Instead of stealing land, a soulja expands intellect.
Instead of taking aim, a soulja takes reason.
Instead of building fortifications that divide, a soulja grows with unity for all human kind.
And that’s what I feel we’re doing now. Thank y’all for listening.
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.