Revolution #150, December 14, 2008

San Francisco:
Operation First Casualty Brings the War Home

Union Square in San Francisco was shopping ground zero in the city on “Black Friday.” It was also ground zero for Operation First Casualty, a guerrilla theater put on by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). As thousands of shoppers and tourists walked by, former Iraq War veterans dressed in battle fatigues rounded up “suspects,” who were thrown to the ground, brutalized, and had imaginary guns pointed at their heads. The “suspects” were shoved to a staging area where they were yelled at and forced to kneel while black bags were placed over their heads. Later they were marched through the shopping district and finally led to a fountain where questions were yelled at them while their heads were submerged in the fountain. People from World Can’t Wait did a waterboarding demonstration.

“Today is the busiest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, and while people are going about their day in Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, etcetera, we are bringing the war to them. We are making them see that this is a reality and not just something on the evening news,” IVAW member Matt Edwards told Revolution.

“Operation First Casualty is a guerrilla theater where there are no actors. We are veterans of the Iraq War and these scenarios that were done today happen every single day in Iraq, where we have to go on patrol and round up people from the community in places like Baghdad. Then they get hauled off to prison and places where they get tortured, like the torture scenario like we did. They are interrogated in a very dehumanizing process that happens every day. We are bringing the truth of the occupation to people in America,” said IVAW spokesperson Eddie Falcon.

Falcon knows firsthand of the brutality that the U.S. troops dish out to the people of Iraq. “I used to have to move detainees from Baghdad to Basra in a plane,” Falcon told Revolution. “I was the loadmaster of the plane, so my job for the detainees was to take out all the chairs first—you don’t give them a chair to sit in. You take out all the seating and the seat belts. You put tarp down under the floor, you put diapers under their butt, blindfold them, get them in the plane, strap them down with cargo equipment. We’d be really rough with them. The security police who were there were doing the same type of stuff we were doing today, telling them to shut up, putting bags over their heads, pointing rifles in their faces, pointing tasers at them, letting them hear the sound of the taser, different things like that. It’s a real dehumanizing process. I would take these prisoners to Basra to get dropped off to interrogate like 70 of them, and pick up 70 more and release them. Take 70 out and put 70 back in. It was a systematic process of interrogating the whole community in Baghdad. I don’t feel good about what I did: putting them on a plane and strapping them down and blindfolding them. I realize now that that was torture too that I was doing to them.”

While Falcon was giving his interview an older man came up and shook his hand, thanking him for what they were doing and saying, “You are right on the money.” The man, an Iranian living in the United States, said that he thought that either Iran or Pakistan would be attacked next and that there needs to be more opposition to this from people in the U.S.

Some of the members of IVAW have themselves been tortured by the military for refusal to participate in the war and other war crimes. “When I tried to apply for conscientious objector status I was denied, saying that there was no legal justification,” Matt Edwards told Revolution. “The response to that was a month of sleep deprivation. They didn’t allow me to eat. They would influence others to beat me, all to force me to go back to train. When that failed the beatings got more severe. They began putting me in stress positions, like the ones they were using in Afghanistan. They sat me on the ground for 8 or 10 or 12 hours. Your legs swell and they turn to jelly. It’s extremely painful. Finally after a combination of no sleep and no food for quite some time, while on a run my hip was broken and I was denied medical attention for over a month.”

A second scenario IVAW presented, in an area where hundreds of tourists line up for a ride on the famous SF cable cars, depicted a military checkpoint in Iraq. This was the scene acted out: As civilians came to try to cross the line they were turned away by the U.S. troops. When some sniper fire broke out injuring one of the soldiers they responded by opening fire on the civilians, leaving piles of dead bodies covered with blood littering the plaza in front of a multi-story Gap superstore.

The final exercise of the day showed a protest of Iraqis protesting with fists in the air, demanding U.S. occupiers out and breaking through the line of U.S. soldiers. “That’s also what we have to do here at home if we want to end the war in Iraq,” said IVAW member Falcon. “We’re not going to wait for a political leader like Obama who says he wants to end the war in Iraq when he really wants to keep troops there and beef up the war in Afghanistan. I was in Afghanistan and when the war in Iraq beefed up they just sent me there. The same things going to happen. We’re tired of getting deployed. We don’t need to go fight these bullshit wars any more for corporate interests.”

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