Monday, March 31, 2008

Another no buy month

Another no buy month (material stuff) has come and gone and no big temptations like the Mercedes last month, which every time I think of having to do stuff with the car such as park it or fill it up or go hunt for insurance and all those time consuming stuff, I am grateful. Tomorrow when I go to Geneva all I have to do is walk four minutes and get on the train, where I will settle down with a good book for a fraction of the cost driving back would cost. And who knows what interesting people I will talk with????

But back to this month’s no buy topic…I did find I needed to buy a few gifts but I bought consumables such as wine and soap from the soap place which has such original designs and perfumes that the receivers will never be able to duplicate. And I have supported local small business.

Now my big purchase…

My string mop was almost 15 years old and it broke…So I went to A DIX BALL and paid 2 Euros and was able to get one with a red handle to match my broom. I could have bought one that had to have covers or new sponges replaced regularly (all these products I think of as marketing tricks to keep you buying more and more)

I have discovered my no-buy year means I have a lot less trash from wrapping BUT, I still have mail and writing paper. Instead of having my paper recycling filling up every couple of days it a week or more.

And with the purchase of this mop, I suspect I have completed my mop buying chores for the rest of my life. Not bad for 2 Euros.

Now the question do I feel deprived yet???? Not at all.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Laundry haiku


The wind tossed laundry
to the ground where it lay still
no longer as clean

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Being relevant

I don’t know what made me think of Percy Bugbee when I first woke this morning. He had already retired from the NFPA where I held my first professional job when I joined the staff. I did meet him. He was sitting in the library with tears running down his cheeks. “It’s a terrible thing to get old and useless,” he said to me. Even in my late 20s I could imagine feeling irrelevant had to be a horrible fate.

I looked him up on the internet and found his death notice from 1989 at the age of 90. But I also found that there is a $5000 fire engineering scholarship in his name. Too bad he didn’t live to see that his existence is available to every human who has an internet connections and his scholarship furthers the education of people who in turn will hold down jobs that help society.

Sauf Riverains

When I stopped to take the picture of the sign that says “sauf riverains” an old man on his bike watched with a confused look on his face. The village has many more picturesque things to photograph, but I explained I love the word riverain. He broke into a smile as if it made sense to him even though it didn’t make total sense to me. Why should I photograph a word I like to hear?

The sound of the word rolls off my tongue, probably without the correct “R” sounds that French requires. After all, as a Bostonian by origin, I did not need the letter “R” for the first 48 years of my life. An “H” substitute did fairly well.

The translation is basically…no admittance except for residents…

But then if I wrote bodice rippers, which I do not, I believe the name River Rain might do for the hero. I do know one boy named River, although his last name is that of a real river, and I haven’t wanted to ask anyone if he’s teased because of it. Because he lives in the US where they don’t know geography and the river is in the Middle East, perhaps he isn't teased. I hope not.

Then there’s the sound of rain on the river. In Argelès, for most of the year, the river is dry, but a sudden storm either here or in the mountains can cause it to flash flood sending water cascading over the banks and carrying cars away. But the plashing (that’s not a typo) but I also love the word plashing rather than splashing as used in Amy Lowell’s Patterns

And the plashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden-paths.
The dripping never stops.

An old friend when I was in Italy on a rainy day when we heard the plashing of waterdrops in a marble fountain in the gardens of a villa almost château knew the poem much to my shock and we felt we were walking in the poem, a memory to treasure.

And the signs brings up memories of other rivers such as the Charles on the Fourth of July when the Boston Pops plays the 1812 Overture as fireworks shoot off and nearby church bells ring out or the Merrimack where I picnicked in the spring during my university years.

To return to the French meaning of the word, I can drive up this street when I have my friend’s car because she is a riverain and I wonder if anyone ever said something like “Oh you riverain, you.” Probably not.

Maybe I am just going senile getting such pleasure out of a single word and the old man on the bike recognized it. In any case, the pleasure is worth a photo and blog to me at least.

Point of View

As a writer deciding point of view is one of the first things in creating a story…do I look at it from Peggy’s or Pa’s point of view? Or both? Or from Katie’s and Ma’s? And how do I transition between them to get at the real depth of the story?

Likewise in politics: two people listening to the same speech may have different reactions. For example I’ve heard reactions to Wright’s speech that “he shouldn’t say those things about our country” and “Thank God, finally someone told the truth.” Strangely the two points of view can both be true, at least from the holder of the opinion.

Thus when I was walking from the post, I was surprised to look down over the bridge onto the tops of the flowers that I usually look up at. These purple beauties hang from houses often creating a lavender (also purple, lilac or mauve depending on what you want to call the colour of many names) forming canopies over the narrow streets of Argelès, creating magical walkways.

Unlike the ugly truths of Wright’s speech, the flowers are beautiful from both points of view... up or down…or maybe the beauty and ugliness of flowers and history are consistent and should be accepted for what they are.

Water haiku

Water tumbling
Down from the high mountain top
Slowing near the sea

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The missing wedding ring

The movie credits had finished and my neighbours and I stood up to leave.

A man and a woman were bending and standing, bending and standing. He explained he had lost his wedding ring.

All of us crawled between the seats until my neighbour said, "Violà, j'ai la trouvé."

Mercis were repeated over and over and we all filed out into the rainy night.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Rock me Amadeus

Amadeus…the name of my last Japanese chin…

Amadeus…Mozart’s middle name

Rock me Amadeus

Amadeus…restaurant in Argelès where we had Easter dinner

First Course: Regular fois gras and fois gras mousse brulée. The salad is wrapped in the lightest sliced cucumber I've ever seen. There is a chutney made of chestnuts and mangos.

Second Course: Roast duck. A three vegetable (white potato, yellow potato and courgette, eggplant slice over roast pepper and a mousse in a little jar...we never identified it other than hmmm, delicious

Third Course: Cheeses

Fourth Course: Pear sherbert, a raspberry coulée and a chocolate cake.

All this for 45 Euros including wine...

photos by Julia Schmitz-Leuffen

Sunday, March 23, 2008

More mailboxes with attitude

Who says mailboxes need to be boring...

The one on the left looks like the owners pasted tissue paper over a dull mailbox then painted it. I wonder if the snail pasted on the side was the idea of some child.

The artist mailbox is done by a man who also designs for the London Theatre and cannot leave a space unpainted. The grapes are part of his trompe d'oeil.

Easter in Argeles.

During the Easter Service at this church going back to the 1300s, the statues are paraded up and down the aisles and outside to each side of the doors where the bow to each other, a religious square dance. Meanwhile singers in native costume go around town singing and some give out fried bread and wine drunk from the spouts of local beakers.

Arthur C. Clarke Has Joined The Stars

That is the way the death of the creator of 2001 A Space Odyssey, was described in the Tribune De Genève. I am always amazed on the original and poetic ways to say someone died found by the francophone press, but it still doesn’t beat Arthur Miller has joined his Marilyn.

The photo is of a condolence table placed on the sidewalk outside the homes where Argelesiens have died for passers by to leave messages. Then the table is removed and taken to the church outside during the funeral, giving people a last chance to share their feelings.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

And More Horror

More tears listening. More emails to newspapers asking why they aren't covering this, although the Baltimore Sun did do an article, but only reading and listening will make people aware of how horrendous this is for the men and women we are allegedly supporting. I sent this to more Congressmen. If you are in the States, please, please, call your local media and ask why they aren't giving it more coverage. Print it out and put it under the windshields of those with We Support Our Troops ribbons.

We do not support our troops. We kill their souls and if their bodies survive, we do not take care of those when they return. We've destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis either through killing or through the death of their loved ones.

At what point will be accused for genocide...?

AMY GOODMAN: We return, on this fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, to Winter Soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan eyewitness accounts of the wars and occupations.

MIKE TOTTEN: […] Mike Totten, I served with the 716th MP Battalion in the 101st Airborne. I was deployed to Iraq in April of 2003 and returned home in April of 2004. For the first six months of my deployment, I served as a driver for a security vehicle for my command sergeant major and my lieutenant colonel. And for the last six months I served, I was put back in a line platoon with the 194th MP Company. Our mission was in part to run a jail in Karbala, not for enemy prisoners of war, but just for the general population prison. These prisoners would be brought into the—by the Iraqi police, and then we were to show them through the processing and how we do things in America.
We weren’t in charge necessarily of any prisoners of war, but on the night of October 17th in 2003, six people were brought in by the Iraqi police, who claimed that these six were participants in the actions the night prior, therefore they were enemy prisoners of war due to coalition standards. When these people were brought in, they were—appeared to be beaten already badly. They were lined up on the concrete wall, and they interlaced—they were—we were told—we told them to interlace their fingers, which is a form of control, because you can grab your middle finger and your index finger and squeeze them together, and it’s quite painful—interlace their fingers, place their foreheads on the concrete wall, cross your ankles, put your hands on top of your head, so we can search you and process you in. They were tagged, they were searched, and they were also beaten, not just by Americans, but by Bulgarian soldiers and by Polish soldiers, by Iraqi policemen and by me.
I grabbed a man by the jaw, and I looked him in the eye, and I slammed his head up against the wall. And I looked him again in the eye and said, “You must have been the one that killed Grilley.” And then he fell. I kicked him. An Iraqi policeman, probably the size of the biggest security man here, with hands to match the size of a Kodiak, hit a guy in the side of the head about six times, and I thought to myself—I’m looking at him, and I laughed—I’m like, yeah, these guys are getting what they deserve. I never found out whether or not—this all took place also in the presence of a lieutenant, my lieutenant, within earshot of many NCOs—I never found out what happened to these people, these six prisoners. I don’t know whether they—where they went. I don’t know anything about that. And I’m up here today to speak on behalf of all the people who haven’t returned home, who can’t speak. This isn’t just some isolated incident. This happened in the presence of NCOs, commissioned officers and coalition forces, not only as participants, but also as witnesses.
From the night before October 16th—or October 17th, the night of October 16th, my lieutenant colonel was also killed that night. My being up here displays my anger, both by—on multiple levels: by the Americans’ behavior overseas, by our presidents continuous rhetoric about Iraq being a success, about this country’s citizens—an apathy to this occupation. And this is why I’m here today, as well. These events happen in our name, and each and every single one of you are responsible for this, as well. I am very sorry for my actions, and I can’t take back what I did. I ask the forgiveness of the people of Iraq and of my country, and I will not enable this any further.
General Petraeus, you may not remember me, but you once led me. You’re no longer a leader of men. You’ve exploited your troops for your own gain and have become just another cheerleader for this occupation policy that is destroying America. General Petraeus, you pinned this on me in Babylon in 2003 following the October 16th incident. I will no longer be a puppet for your personal gain and for your political career.

AMY GOODMAN: Former US Army Specialist Mike Totten ripping up the medal General Petraeus had pinned on him in Iraq. He served with the 716th MP Battalion in the 101st Airborne and was deployed to Iraq in April 2003 ’til April 2004. As we turn now to the Luceys, a mother and father who lost their son, not in Iraq, but after he returned home.

JOYCE LUCEY: My name is Joyce Lucey, and I’m the mom of Corporal Jeffrey Michael Lucey. The last month of his life, he had this flashlight by his bedside, and he was looking for the camel spiders that he could hear running around the room. And when he went over to Iraq, he asked me to hold this coin for him every day, so he’d come home safely. I had no idea that it was after he came home that I should have been holding this coin.
Jeffrey’s death should never have happened. The young man, who in January of 2003 was sent to Kuwait to participate in an invasion in which he did not agree, was not the same young man that stepped off the bus in July. Our Marine physically returned to us, but his spirit died somewhere in Iraq. As we celebrated his homecoming, Jeff masked the anger, the guilt, the confusion, pain and darkness that are part of the hidden wounds of war behind his smile.
Jeff was in Kuwait with the 6th Motor Transportation Battalion. He was a convoy driver. On the 20th of March, he entered in his journal, which I have here, “At 10:30 p.m., a scud landed in our vicinity. We were just falling asleep when a shockwave rattled through our tent. The noise was just short of blowing out your eardrums. Everyone’s heart truly skipped a beat, and the reality of where we are and what’s happening hit home.” The last entry is, "We now just had a gas alert, and it’s past midnight. We will not sleep. Nerves are on edge.” The invasion had begun, and Jeff never had time to put another entry in.
Several months after his return, he said that he would like to complete it. We never knew that he did not—he would never get the time to do that. Our fear the whole time he was over there was that he would be physically harmed. We never imagined that an emotional wound could and would be just as lethal.
The letters we received from him were brief and sanitized. But to his girlfriend of six years, he said in April of 2003 he felt he had done immoral things and that he wanted to erase the last month of his life. “There are things I wouldn’t want to tell you or my parents, because I don’t want you to be worried. Even if I did tell you, you’d probably think I was just exaggerating. I would never want to fight in a war again. I’ve seen and done enough horrible things to last me a lifetime.” This is the baggage that my son carried with him when he stepped off that bus that sunny July day at Fort Nathan Hale, New Haven, Connecticut.
Over the next several months, we missed the signs that Jeffrey was in trouble. We had no way of knowing that during his post-deployment briefing at Camp Pendleton he was told to watch the direction that he was going in his survey, or else he’d be kept there another two to four months. He was careful from then on.
In July, he went to the Cape with his girlfriend, and she found him rather distant. He didn’t want to walk the beach. He later told a friend at college that he had seen enough sand to last him a lifetime. At his sister’s wedding in August, he told his grandmother, “You could be in a room full of people, but you could feel so alone.” He resumed college in 2003. That fall, we found out that Jeff had been vomiting just about every day since his return, and that kind of kept up right until the day he died.
On Christmas Eve, his sister came home early to see how he was doing. He had been drinking. He was standing by the refrigerator, and he grabbed his dog tags and he tossed them to her, and he called himself a murderer. We were to find out that these dog tags included two Iraqi soldiers that he feels—or he knows he’s personally responsible for their deaths. His private therapist, who saw him the last seven weeks of his life, said he didn’t wear them as a trophy, but he wore them to honor these men. He had a nightmare in February. He told me he was having a dream that they were coming after him in an alleyway. After his death, we kind of checked the VA records, and he had talked to them also about having nightmares in which he was running from alleyway to alleyway.
Spring break 2004 began, three months in which our family watched the son and brother we knew fall apart. He was depressed and drinking. When college classes resumed, he found attending classes very difficult. He had panic attacks, feeling that the other students were staring at him, even though he realized they weren’t. He was placed on Klonopin and Prozac to see if it could keep him in class. Jeff’s problems just worsened. He was having trouble sleeping, nightmares, poor appetite, isolating himself in his room. He was unable to focus on studies, so he could take his—so he could not take his finals. An excellent athlete, his balance was badly compromised by the mixture of Klonopin and alcohol.
He confided in his younger sister that he had a rope and a tree picked out near the brook behind our home, but told her, “Don’t worry. I’d never do that. I wouldn’t hurt Mom and Dad.” He was adamant that the Marines not be told, fearing a Section 8 and not wanting the stigma that is connected to PTSD to follow him throughout his life.
He finally went to the VA, after being assured that they were not part of the military and would not relay any information without Jeff’s permission. His dad called and explained what was happening with our son, and they said it was classic PTSD and that he should come in as soon as possible. The problem was getting Jeffrey to actually go in. It was—he kind of—every day it was “Tomorrow. I’ll go in tomorrow. I’m tired.” He just didn’t have the energy to get up. The day he went in, he blew up .328, and it was decided he needed to stay. As it was decided he needed to stay, it took six employees to take Jeffrey down. He had gotten out the door and ran out into the parking area.
Involuntarily committed for four days, the stay did nothing but make him feel like he was being warehoused. After seeing an admitting psychiatrist, he would not see another one until the day of his discharge. After answering in the affirmative that he was thinking of harming himself and revealing the three methods—overdose, suffocation or hanging—he was released on June 1st, 2003, a Tuesday. We found out later that he told them on Friday, the day that he was admitted, that he had a hose to choke himself. None of this was ever relayed to us.
They told us while he was there that he would not be assessed for PTSD until he was alcohol-free. But Jeffrey was using this alcohol as self-medication, and he had told us often that’s the only way he could sleep at night. That we might—and the VA said that we might have to consider kicking him out of the house so he would hit rock bottom and then realize he needed his help. That wasn’t an option for us.
On his discharge interview, Jeff said there were three phone calls that the psychiatrist took, one of them being just before he was going to tell her about the bumps in the road, the children they were told not to stop their vehicles for and just not to look back. He decided not to, after she took the call, feeling she wasn’t really interested.
On June 3rd, on a Dunkin’ Donut run—and this was two days after he was released from the hospital—he totaled our car. Was it a suicide attempt? We’re never going to know. No drinking was involved. I was terrified I was losing my little boy. I asked him where he was. He touched his chest, and he said, “Right here, Mom.”
On the 5th, he arrived at HCC, Holyoke Community College, where he was a student. But because of not taking the finals, he would not be graduating. But he arrived there to watch the graduation of his sister. This was supposed to be his graduation also. How he drove his car there, we’ll never know. He was so impaired. We managed to get him home, but his behavior got worse. He was very depressed.
My parents, who saw their grandson often, never saw him like this. His sisters and brother-in-law and my dad took him back to the VA. He did not want my husband to go, because he felt he was going to be involuntarily committed again. They were waiting for him, but he refused to go in the building. He was intelligent, didn’t want to get committed again like the weekend before. They decided, without consulting someone with the authority to commit him involuntarily, that he was neither suicidal or homicidal, there was nothing they could do. Our daughters called home in a panic saying it didn’t look like they were going to keep their brother. In their records, they say the grandfather pleaded for someone to help his grandson. Neither our veterans nor their families should ever have to beg for the care they should be entitled to.
My father lost his only brother in World War II. He was twenty-two years old. He was now watching his only grandson self-destructing at twenty-three because of another war.
Kevin and I went through the rooms when we knew Jeff was coming back. We took his knives, bottles, anything we felt he could harm himself with, a dog leash. I took a stepstool, anything that I thought could trigger something in his mind. His car was disabled not only to protect himself, but to protect others from Jeffrey. Kevin called the civilian authorities. They said they can’t—“We can’t touch him. He’s drinking.” My child was struggling to survive, and we didn’t know who to turn to. There was no follow-up call from the VA, no outreach, though they knew he was in crisis. We had no guidance—what to say to him, how to handle his situation. You hear a lot about supporting our troops, but I’ll tell you: we felt isolated, abandoned and alone.
While the rest of the country lived on, going to Disney World, shopping, living their daily lives, our days consisted of constant fear, apprehension, helplessness, while we watched this young man being consumed by this cancer that ravaged his soul. I sat on the deck with this person who was impersonating my son and listened to him while he recounted bits and pieces of his time in Iraq. Then he would grind his fist into his hand, and he’d say, “You could never understand.”
On Friday, June 11th, around midnight, my daughter got a call from a girl down the street. She asked me, “Where’s your son?” And I said, “Debs, he’s in his room. He’s sleeping.” Well, apparently not. He had climbed out the window and gotten into this girl’s car. He wanted some beer. She was—this girl who had known Jeffrey all her life was a little bit scared of him. When I saw him get out of the car, I froze. Jeff was in—dressed in his cammies with two k-bars, a modified pellet gun, which the police wouldn’t know, and carrying a six-pack. He had just wanted that beer. There was a sad smile on his face like a lost soul. When I told him how concerned I was about him, he said, “Don’t worry, Mom. No matter what I do, I always come back.”
KEVIN LUCEY: So later that evening, we had decided that we were going to try to go out, because he had become reclusive in the house. We were going to try to go out for a steak dinner the following night. At about 11:30, quarter to 12:00, Jeffrey asked me, for the second time within the past ten days, if he could just sit in my lap and I could rock him for about—well, for a while. And we did. We sat there for about forty-five minutes, and I was rocking Jeff, and we were in total silence. As his private therapist that we had hired said, it was his last harbor and his last place of refuge.
The next day, I came home. It was about quarter after 7:00. I held Jeff one last time, as I lowered his body from the rafters and took the hose from around his neck.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin and Joyce Lucey, their son, Marine Lance Corporal Jeffrey Lucey, served five months in Iraq in 2003 with the 6th Motor Transport Battalion. Almost a year later, he committed suicide, June 22nd, 2004. He was twenty-three years old. We’ll be back in a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: On this fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, we return to the testimony of soldiers this past weekend speaking about the horrors of war. This is Winter Soldier.

TANYA AUSTIN: […] Tanya Austin, and I am a US Army veteran, but I am not here speaking on—about my own story today. I am actually here to give a story of an incredibly strong and brave individual. This is a story of a female in the Coast Guard who was raped and then discharged and punished for being raped. I’m—I’ve been lucky enough to meet this young woman and see the amazing things she has done to bring not only her story out, but the story of men and women who have been raped in the military.
If you guys could throw up the website, please? What we have up here is—or dot-org, sorry. And what’s really cool about this website is it was this individual’s way of telling her story and trying to make progress, because the military didn’t do anything to help her. So, finally, she decided, well, if the military won’t help me, I’m going to help me and everyone like me.
As you see there on the homepage, these are some really frightening statistics. 25 percent of women will be sexually assaulted on college campuses. 12 percent of women will be raped while in college. 28 to 66 percent of women in the military report sexual assault. The reason the number varies so much is military reports versus VA reports. It’s a lot easier to tell someone at the VA that you’ve been sexually assaulted than it is to tell your own command, which is not right. And 27 percent of women are reported raped. And what’s interesting about this statistic is if you report that you’ve been raped and no charges are brought against your rapist, you haven’t been raped. You’re not part of that statistic. And, unfortunately, for our military, this is something that happens way too often, is the cover-up of sexual assault, of rape of individuals experiencing the worst from their comrades.
So here is what they’re currently doing about it. According to the Department of Defense’s own statistics, 74 to 85 percent of soldiers convicted of rape or sexual assault leave the military with an honorable discharge, meaning rape conviction does not appear in their records anywhere. Only two to three percent of soldiers accused of rape are ever court-martialed. And only five to six percent of soldiers accused of domestic abuse are ever court-martialed. In fact, several multiple homicides have recently taken place on military bases that have not even been criminally prosecuted. The Department of Defense’s definition of morale booster for male soldiers: female soldiers—take as needed, dispose when finished and continue serving with honor. Please remember that many suffer in silent shame and never forget what’s going on.
Now I’d like to tell this individual’s particular story. And having experienced sexual harassment in the military myself, this is kind of difficult, as it is for everyone on this panel up here. But our stories need to be told.
We are often asked how we get started with Stop Military Rape, Military Rape Crisis Center. I’m a veteran of the United States Coast Guard and a survivor of military sexual trauma. I was raped in May of 2006 by a fellow shipmate. I followed all the necessary steps, including reporting the assault and providing evidence: a confession letter written by my rapist. In August of 2006, I was informed that I will be discharged. According to the Coast Guard Academy psychologist, surviving rape makes deployment—makes one ineligible for worldwide deployment, and as a result, I can no longer serve in the Coast Guard. What follows was a nine-month battle between the Coast Guard and myself, while I tried to keep my job and change the Coast Guard’s unofficial policy that rape survivors shouldn’t be allowed to serve in the Coast Guard.
I was a female in my early twenties, brand new to the Coast Guard. I admit it: I did not know every Coast Guard policy or try to know something beyond my E3 rank. All I know is that what was happening to me was not—was just not right. I felt powerless. I didn’t know how to fight the military. I was taught how to fight with them, for them. But how could I fight for my rights to stay with them?
Out of the need to vent and needing an outlet to express the horror I was experiencing as a result of being raped, I started an online blog on MySpace. I was not expecting much of it. I just wanted to let out all the pain in me and share with the public. I almost immediately started receiving emails from active-duty military members and veterans alike, each wanting to share their story. Everybody’s story was so different, yet so similar. I received one email from an eighteen-year-old female who was raped two hours prior by a member of her command and was scared and had no one else to turn to. I received an email from a Coast Guard veteran who was raped ten-plus years ago while serving, and I was the first person he ever told.
I started doing research online about military rape. I learned about Tailhook and read the brave story of Army Specialist Suzanne Swift. What was happening to me in the Coast Guard was very common and had been going on for a long time. I knew that I was in for the biggest battle of my life. I could not abandon my fellow men and women in uniform. Something’s got to change.
Stop Military Rape and the Military Rape Crisis Center was formed. We are the nation’s largest support group for the survivors of military sexual trauma. In 2007, we assisted over 12,000 men and women of military sexual trauma and their families. We are starting to work with Congress to change the military policy of sexual assault. Every man and woman that volunteer to serve their country should have the right to serve without the fear of being sexually assaulted, harassed and/or raped. In addition, no one should be reprimanded or punished for reporting a crime that was done to them.
May 30th is International Stop Military Rape Awareness Day. Write to your representatives, contact the media, do what we’re doing now, and let them know that military rape is something we just can’t stand for.
This young woman is remarkable, her story, powerful. And unfortunately, because of time, we can’t tell her whole story. But every person up here has a story to tell. Every veteran out there, every active-duty member that’s sitting in this audience knows someone that has either been assaulted or raped or harassed. And that has got to change.

AMY GOODMAN: Tanya Austin was an Arab linguist in Military Intelligence, testifying at Winter Soldier in Silver Spring this weekend. It’s the largest gathering of active-duty and Iraq and Afghanistan war vets. We continue with Winter Soldier.

JEFFREY SMITH: My name is Jeffrey Smith. I enlisted in the Army as an infantryman in September 1997. I served three years active-duty in the 3rd Infantry Division and then enlisted for six further years in the Florida National Guard. I was a grenadier with Bravo Company, 2nd of the 124th Infantry, and was deployed to Camp Anaconda, Balad, Iraq, in early May 2003. I was honorably discharged in January 2004.
I reside in Orlando, Florida, and was raised as a military brat. My father served two tours in Vietnam and is currently rated 100 percent disabled by the Veterans Administration due to PTSD and Agent Orange exposure.
Upon deployment to Balad, my unit was primarily tasked with gate and perimeter security at Camp Anaconda, the largest of the enduring presence bases in Iraq. Providing security at the front gate, one of the daily rituals we were tasked with was clearing Iraqi nationals who came to work on a daily basis on post, doing such jobs as filling sandbags, clearing rubble and trash, etc. These Iraqi nationals were paid a dollar a day and were given an MRE for lunch. They worked under extreme conditions of heat and dust, oftentimes 130-degree temperature, and were always escorted by armed guards.
One of the other missions that we were occasionally tasked with was raiding houses in the local area, especially when we first arrived in country. One of the houses that we first raided was supposedly the home of a former Baath official. It was the middle of the day when we raided this house. When we arrived in the neighborhood, we were told that we were going to try to force the front gate open to the house, but apparently the armored cavalry unit that was with us had other plans in mind. They rolled over the front wall of the house, destroyed the vehicle that was inside, and upon entry to the house, I was second in the stack of a formation of troops that went through the gate. There was an older female who was in the courtyard by this time, and she was screaming something unintelligible in Arabic. I didn’t see her as a threat, so I continued on past her into the building itself. One of the soldiers behind me apparently thought that she was a threat, butt-stroked her in the face, knocked her to the ground, and someone after him apparently zip-tied her and took her out into the front yard.
Then we proceeded to ransack this house. I was in the master bedroom. There was dressers and wardrobes. Wardrobes were locked. We pulled the doors off. We turned everything in the room upside-down. We went through everything. Personnel in my unit that were in the kitchen turned the refrigerator upside-down, pulled the stove—actually broke the stove, pulled it out of the wall, broke the line to it.
After we searched through the house and we had everyone, including the children, zip-tied on the front lawn, apparently someone in my chain of command realized that we had the wrong home, we were on the wrong street, that the home we were supposed to have raided was actually behind this house on another street. So we went over to that home and raided that house. Actually, going through that gate of that home, I actually almost fired on a person that I believe was mentally disabled. He apparently—he didn’t understand what was going on. He was standing in a window directly in front of us, and in the initial first few seconds of going through the wall, I actually thought that he was a threat, almost fired, and then realized that there was something wrong with him and he just didn’t realize what was happening.
We searched through that home, detained the person that we were supposed to detain. And, you know, upon searching the home, we started coming across all this paperwork in his office and in his bedroom, and it looked to me like he was an algebra instructor, maybe at the local high school, maybe at a local university, because there was just reams of stuff that was math problems. This guy is supposed to be a former Baath official.
We took him, put a sandbag over his head, loaded him on a truck, and we started back towards Camp Anaconda. He was actually on my vehicle with my squad, and on the way back to Camp Anaconda—it was about a forty-five-minute drive—my squad leader thought that it would be funny to pose for a picture next to this guy, and he asked me to take a photo of him and this detainee. And I refused to do so. I didn’t believe that that was the right thing to do. And upon arrival back at our quarters, I was disciplined for quite some time for this, including physical punishment, because I had disobeyed him in front of the rest of the squad.
Really, the turning point for me on my experience in Iraq was an incident that occurred when I was off duty at night. There was a platoon in my company who were—how shall I put this? They were the hardcore platoon. You know, every unit has one platoon that is more extreme than the rest. This platoon happened to have a squad that was on—well, they called it an ambush, but really what it was is they were hiding out in the farms in the surrounding area outside the perimeter, and they were trying to detain and stop people who were out past curfew. So they were out there one night, and apparently a farmer was on his property—I think it was about 3:00 in the morning—and, you know, electricity was intermittent, and he was out there, I think, trying to work on his farm, work on a pump or something. They told him to halt and stop. He panicked and ran. They opened fire, and they killed this individual.
The next day, Civil Affairs came and spoke with us and said—as a company—and said, “We are not going to pay any benefit to this family.” They also informed us that his brother was a close ally of us, who was work-–had up until this time had been working with us and was a respected leader of the local community and that this individual that we killed also had fourteen children. The Civil Affairs officer suggested that we take up a collection and donate a dollar or two apiece to the family, and that he thought that that would go a long way in helping to ease the family’s suffering. There’s 125 members of a rifle company, roughly, so you’re talking about anywhere probably between $125 and $150. In reality, I don’t think anyone donated any money.
And finally, just to wrap things up, I want to take this time to apologize to the Iraqi people for the things that, you know, I helped to do, and the actions that people in my unit and myself did while I was there. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeffrey Smith, an infantryman for six years, served in Iraq in May 2003, honorably discharged January 2004, testifying at Winter Soldier in Silver Spring, an echo of an earlier gathering in Detroit, Michigan in 1971, when Vietnam vets spoke about their experiences there. 200 years earlier, in the winter of 1776, Thomas Paine wrote, "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.” Referencing Thomas Paine, the soldiers testifying about the horrors of war two centuries later called themselves “Winter Soldier.” Today, five years after the invasion began, nearly 160,000 troops remain stationed in Iraq, close to 4,000 have died. The number of Iraqis dead is still unknown. It could be more than a million.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

It is not getting better.

Four men recount the needless deaths, the fears, the lack of following the rules of engagement and the actions that make "winning" in Iraq possible. By our silence we condone the killing as sure as if we were making and selling the bullets our selves, putting them in guns and killing. Meanwhile I am not just blogging, I am sending copies to the newspapers and news stations asking why they are not covering this. I am sending it to each and every senator.

Three and four year children are not terrorists. Shooting every taxi kills more non terrorists. Killing a woman who was carrying food robbed a family of a mother.

Iraq was not responsible for 9/11. However, what we have done with new estimates of 150,000 dead, of them living for years without clean water, food or basic necessities is so many times worse I can't even contemplate. And even as I cry as I listen to one of the men speaking break down, I know if I don't do something, even a futile something, I have negated my very humanity.
Listen if you prefer to read:

Hart Viges, he fought with the 82nd Airborne Division. After he returned from Iraq, he was granted conscientious objector status.

Jason Washburn, served three tours in Iraq from 2003 to 2006 as a corporal. He took part in the invasion and was deployed in the cities of Najaf and Haditha.

Jason Lemieux, Former Marine sergeant who served three tours in Iraq from 2003 to 2006. He currently heads the Los Angeles chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Geoff Millard, Spent nine years in the National Guard and served thirteen months in Iraq at the rank of sergeant. He heads the Washington, D.C. chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Domingo Rosas, Former sergeant who served in Iraq with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment from April 2003 to April 2004.

AMY GOODMAN: Tomorrow night the US invasion and occupation of Iraq will enter its sixth year. On Monday, at least seventy-two Iraqis were killed in violence around Iraq, including forty-two Shiite worshippers in a suicide bombing in Karbala. Two US troops were also killed, bringing the US death toll to 3,990, ten deaths away from the 4,000 mark.
If the Bush administration’s drive to invade Iraq was aided by corporate media cheerleading, the five-year mark today is being met with near-silence by the corporate media. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the US occupation of Iraq has accounted for just three percent of news stories in television, print and online media so far this year. On cable news networks, it’s accounted for just one percent.
That silence was on display this past weekend when the corporate media largely ignored a monumental gathering just outside the nation’s capital. For four days, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and active-duty soldiers convened at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland for Winter Soldier, an eyewitness indictment of atrocities committed by US troops during the ongoing occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War, the event was modeled after the historic 1971 Winter Soldier hearings that took place in Detroit held during the Vietnam War.
Yesterday, we brought you some of the testimony from the current Winter Soldier hearings. We continue with more of their voices today, as we mark this fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. This is Winter Soldier.

HART VIGES: My name is Hart Viges. I joined the Army right after September 11th and asked for Airborne, asked for Infantry, ended up with 82nd Airborne Division, 1st/325 HHC, Battalion Mortars, Hunters in the Sky, Death from Above, and 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 supply lines, a town called Al Samawa. This was my first experience with the job that I was trained to do. I was a mortarman, 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 have a—you get a mouth full of flies with your MRE pudding.
But what I saw there, you know, more so even what I participated in, you know, hearing the radio calls over for the line companies that are in trouble, or they spot some people go 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 charges for the mortars. I was part of that team that sent those rounds downrange.
And, you know, 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’ve killed, helped kill.
Another big piece of weaponry that they used on this little town of Al Samawa was called a Spectre gunship. It’s a C130 with belt-fed howitzer cannons, two of those, and some like super-Gatling 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. I mean, you—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 Hellfire missiles, F-18s dropping bombs that would shake you to the bone, all while I was laying down mortar fire on this town full of people.—letting down mortar fire on this town full of people.
And the radio was always—never a good thing came over the radio. One time they said that—to fire on all taxicabs, because the enemy was using them for transportation. And in Iraq, any car can be a taxicab. 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 taxicabs?” The lieutenant colonel replied back, like, “You heard me, trooper. Fire on all taxicabs.” 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, 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 had my weapon thirty meters away from me, working on my tan in a man-made lake. But hearing the stories come back from inside town, but—
And 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 in just overall viewpoints. I mean, myself, I never really consider myself a racist person, but everything was “haji this,” “haji that,” “haji smokes,” “haji burger, “haji house,” “haji clothes,” “haji rag.” “Haji” is the same as “honky.” It’s the same thing. I had to 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 run out in front of us in the road, and there’s a lot of yelling and screaming. And they’re huddled themselves with women and children that were there. And we’re all screaming, “Drop your weapon! Drop your weapons!” They 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 anymore, and I swung my rifle around, 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 bogeyman, 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, you know, it’s a pretty good history in Iraq. You know, if you got beef with your neighbor back in Saddam’s day, you just say, “Hey, police, he 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 US, we’re asking, “Who are the troublemakers?,” and we hear from the people in the village that these people are 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 anyways.” 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, 82nd Airborne Division, Infantry, with Apache helicopters, Bradley fighting vehicles and armor and my M4—I was powerless. I was powerless to help her.
And I was very naive back then. I thought that, you know, they would just take them and find out, yeah, they don’t know anything. But later I found out people who were detained were—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 at it in back, 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, you know, big old smiles on their faces, you know. And they said, “Hey, Viges, you know, you want your picture with this guy?” And I said no, nut “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.

AMY GOODMAN: Hart Viges, speaking at Winter Soldier. Viges fought with the 82nd Airborne Division. After he returned from Iraq, he was granted conscientious objector status. A correction on the number of soldiers killed in Iraq: at last count, 3,990. We’ll have more after break.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C., as we mark this week’s fifth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. We return now to our coverage of Winter Soldier. The term “winter soldier” is a play on Thomas Paine’s words in 1776 when he spoke of the sunshine patriot and summertime soldiers who deserted at Valley Forge. These are the voices of “winter soldiers.”
JASON WASHBURN: My name is Jason Washburn. I was a corporal in the United States Marine Corps, in which I served four years. I did three tours in Iraq. My first two tours were with the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines Charlie Company. And my third tour was with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines Weapons Company. I was in the initial invasion, and eventually, after the invasion was done, we settled down in Al Hillah. This was in ‘’03. From ’04 to ’05, I was in Najaf, and from ’05 to ’06, I was in Haditha.
During the course of my three tours, the rules of engagement changed a lot. It seemed like every time we turned around we had different rules of engagement. And they told us the reasons they were changing them was because it depended on the climate of the area at the time, what the threat level was deemed to be. And the higher the threat level was, the more viciously we were permitted and expected to respond.
And, for example, during the invasion, we were told to use target identification before engaging with anyone. But 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—we were allowed to shoot whatever we wanted. It was deemed to be a free-fire zone. So we would roll through the town, and anything that we saw, everything that was saw, we engaged it and opened fire on everything. And there was really—I mean, there was really no rule governing the amount of force we were allowed to use on targets during the invasion.
I remember one woman was walking by, and she was 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.
After the invasion ended and Bush declared “mission accomplished,” the rules changed pretty drastically. Instead of actually firing, we used a lot of, I guess, close combat, just hand-to-hand-type stuff, just simple hand-to-hand violence to subdue people. There were a lot of times where we would be out on foot patrols, and, you know, we were ordered to not allow people to pass through our patrol formation. And unsuspecting villagers would try to pass through or cut through the formation, and we would butt-stroke them, jab them with the muzzle, you know, kick them or whatever, you know, just get them out of the formation. And one time, there was a guy on a bicycle with a basket full of groceries, and he tried to, you know, just roll through. And, you know, we clotheslined him and smashed up his bicycle. For what? You know, passing through the formation. And—but this is like what we were expected to do.
And in another instance, we were ordered to guard a fuel station. At the end of the day, like nothing had happened, and we had mounted up into our trucks. And right when we were about to take off, a bunch of people, Iraqi people, rushed to the fuel pumps to try to take some fuel. And our squad leader called it in. And the response was—over the radio was “What do you think we want you to do? You know, go F them up!”—obviously in more colorful, you know, language, but—so we jumped off the trucks and charged at the Iraqis, and we really beat the hell out of them and with rifles, fists, feet, everything else that we had available. You know, so once they had either fled or were broken and bleeding, you know, unconscious on the ground, we mounted back up in our trucks and left. We were never told to detain anyone there or, you know, question anyone—just mess them up, you know.
And most of the innocents that I actually saw get killed were behind the wheel of a vehicle, usually a taxi driver. I’ve been present for almost a dozen of those types of people that got killed just driving. During my third deployment, there was a rule in place where all Iraqi traffic had to pull off of the road to let military convoys pass by. If they didn’t comply or somebody got back on the road too early, they would get shot up. If they approached a checkpoint too fast or too recklessly, they would get shot up. Also, we were often told to be on the lookout for vehicle-borne IEDs, improvised explosive devices, matching the description of every taxi in Iraq. You know, be on the lookout for a car that has orange panel doors and, you know, front that’s white, or vice versa. And it’s like every taxi in Iraq, that’s exactly what it looks like, and those are the cars that we’re supposed to be looking out for that could be, you know, VBIEDs. And so, quite a few of those guys got shot up just because their car looked like what we were told to look out for.
In another instance, it was actually a mayor of a town in our AO near Haditha that got shot. Our command showed us pictures from the incident. They had gathered the whole company together, and they were showing pictures of all of this, you know, what everything looked like, and pointed out the—that the reason that they did this was because there was a really nice, tight shot group in the windshield, and he announced to the company that this is what good Marine shooting looks like. And that was the mayor of the town. And it was actually my squad that was, after that, tasked with going to apologize to the family and pay reparations. But it was kind of like, basically, all we did was go there and, you know, give them some money and then leave. You know, “Oh, well” is the way it seemed they wanted us to apologize to them. It was really a joke.
Something else we were actually encouraged to do, almost with a wink and a nudge, was to carry drop weapons or, by my third tour, drop shovels. What that basically is, is we would carry these weapons or shovels with us, because in case we accidentally did shoot a civilian, we could just toss the weapon on the body and make them look like they were an insurgent. Or, you know, like my friend here were saying, we were told by my third tour that if they were carrying a shovel or—you know, and a heavy bag, if they were digging anywhere, especially near roads, that we could shoot them. And so, we actually carried these tools and weapons in our vehicles in case we accidentally shot an innocent civilian, and we could just toss it on them and be like, “Well, he was digging. I was within the rules of engagement.” And this was commonly encouraged, but only behind closed doors. It wasn’t obviously a public announcement that they would make. But, yeah, it was pretty common.

AMY GOODMAN: Corporal Jason Washburn, speaking at Winter Soldier this weekend in Silver Spring, Maryland. Jason Washburn served three tours in Iraq from 2003 to 2006. He took part in the invasion, was deployed in the cities of Najaf and Haditha. Speaking on the same panel was former Marine Sergeant Jason Lemieux.

JASON LEMIEUX: My name is Jason Wayne Lemieux, and I’m a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. I served four years and ten months in the United States Marine Corps Infantry and was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant. During my time in the Marine Corps, I served three deployments to Iraq, including the invasion. And in case any inquiring minds want to know, I served four years and ten months because I voluntarily extended my enlistment contract by ten months to redeploy with my unit for the third tour. My first tour started in January 2003 and ended in September of that year. My second tour was from February to September of 2004. And my last tour was from September 2005 to March 30, 2006.
Proper rules of engagement serve an important strategic purpose, which is to legitimize military force. By projecting an image of restraint and professionalism, militaries seek to reinforce the idea that they’re protecting local residents, rather than oppressing them. Not only do these rules undermine support for any local opposition, they also deflect accusations of occupation and oppression from foreign countries and, in some cases, the people of the country the military is supposedly serving. Martin van Creveld, who is an Israeli military historian, even asserted some years ago that the British had not yet been driven from Northern Ireland, because they were taking more casualties than the Irish were. The US, on the other hand, has not chosen to use rules of engagement in the same way in Iraq. The rules of engagement have been broadly defined and loosely enforced to protect US service members at the expense of the Iraqi people, and anyone who tells you different is either a liar or a fool.
During the invasion of Iraq, during the push north to Baghdad, the rules of engagement given to me were gradually reduced to the point of nonexistence, similar to the cases that you’ve already heard. When we first crossed the Kuwait-Iraq border at Az Zubayr in March 2003, we were operating under Geneva Convention guidelines and were authorized to shoot anyone wearing a military uniform, except for medical and religious personnel, unless they had surrendered. By the time we got to Baghdad, however, I was explicitly told by my chain of command that I could shoot anyone who came closer to me than I felt comfortable with if that person did not immediately move when I ordered them to do so, keeping in mind I don’t speak Arabic. The general attitude that I got from my chain of command was “better them than us.” And the guidance that we were given reinforced that attitude across the ranks. It was an attitude that I watched intensify greatly throughout the course of my three tours.
I remember in January of 2004 attending the formation where we were given what was going to be our mission for the second deployment, and I was sitting there like a good Marine with my pen and paper ready to write down those carefully chosen, thoughtful words that would justify my existence in Iraq for the next seven months. And my 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 that was it. And with those words, he pretty much set the tone for the deployment.
At the start of that second deployment, our standing rules of engagement were that someone had to be displaying hostile intent and committing a hostile act before deadly force could be used. I won’t get into the absurdity of asking one to discern what is going on in the mind of another individual, except to say that it was the individual Marine’s job to determine what is hostile intent and a hostile action.
However, during the April offensive of 2004 in which attacks erupted all over Anbar province, my unit was involved in a two-day firefight. Shortly after the firefight was underway, the same commander who had given us the mission issued an order that everyone wearing a black dishdasha and a red headscarf was automatically displaying hostile intent and a hostile action and was to be shot. An hour or two later, he gave another order, this time that everyone on the streets was considered an enemy combatant. I can remember one instance after the order was given that afternoon when we came around a corner, and an unarmed Iraqi man stepped out of a doorway. I remember the Marine directly in front of me raising his rifle and aiming at the unarmed man, and then I think just for some psychological reason my brain blocked out the actual shots, because the next thing I remember is stepping over the dead man’s body to clear the room that he came out of. I remember that it was a storage room, and it was full of some Arabic brand of Iraq—or some Arabic brand of cheesy puffs, like Cheetos. There weren’t any weapons in the area, except for ours. The commander told us a couple of weeks later that over a hundred “enemy,” quote-unquote, had been killed, and to the best of my knowledge that number includes all of the people who were shot for simply walking down the street in their own city.
After the firefight was over, the standing rules of engagement for my unit were changed so that Marines didn’t need to identify a hostile action anymore in order to use deadly force; they just had to identify hostile intent. The rules also explicitly stated that carrying a shovel, standing on a rooftop while speaking on a cell phone or holding binoculars, or being out after curfew were automatically considered hostile intent, and we were authorized to use deadly force. And I can only guess how many innocent people died during my tour because of those orders.
On my third tour, the rules of engagement were stricter, but they really only existed so that the command could say there were rules of engagement that were being followed. In reality, my officers explicitly told me and my fellow Marines that if we felt threatened by an Iraqi’s presence, we should just shoot them, and the officers would, quote-unquote, “take care of us.”
By this time, many of the Marines who were on their second or third tour had suffered such serious psychological trauma, having watched friends die and lose limbs, that because of these experiences, they were moved to shoot people who, in my opinion, were clearly noncombatants. There was one incident when a roadside bomb exploded, and a few minutes later, I watched a Marine start shooting at cars that were driving down the street hundreds of meters away and in the opposite direction from where the IED had exploded. We were too far away to identify who was in the cars, and they didn’t pose any threat to us. And for all I could tell, as I was standing about twenty meters away from the Marine and about 300 meters from the cars, they were just passing motorists. It was long enough after and far enough away from the explosion that the people in the cars might not have even known that anything was going on or that anything had even happened, but the Marine was shooting at them anyway.
This Marine had had his best friend get killed on our last deployment and had also related to me a story about the two-day firefight that I mentioned earlier, when he watched the commander, who had given us the order to shoot anyone on the street, shoot two old ladies that were walking and carrying vegetables. He said that the commander had told him to shoot the woman, and when he refused, because they were carrying vegetables, the commander shot them. So, when this Marine started shooting at people in cars that nobody else felt were threatening, he was only following the example that his commander had already set.
I don’t have anywhere near enough time to tell you every related experience that I had in Iraq, but in general, the rules of engagement changed frequently, contradicted themselves, and when they were restrictive, they were either loosely enforced, or escalations of force, as shootings of civilians were known, were not reported because Marines did not want to send their brothers in arms to prison, when all they were trying to do was protect themselves in a situation they had been forced into, where there was a constant ambiguous and deadly threat, and any citizen of the country that they were supposedly liberating could have been wearing an explosive vest.
With no way to identify their attackers and no clear mission worth dying for, Marines viewed the rules of engagement as either a joke or a technicality to be worked around so that they could bring each other home alive. Not only are the misuse of rules of engagement in Iraq indicative of supreme strategic incompetence, they are also a moral disgrace. The people who have set them should be ashamed of ourselves, and they are just one of the many reasons why the troops should be withdrawn immediately from Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Marine Sergeant Jason Lemieux. He served three tours in Iraq from 2003 to 2006. He currently heads the Los Angeles chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War. If you’d like a copy of today’s program, you can go to our website at

GEOFF MILLARD: My name is Geoff Millard. I’m the Washington, D.C. chapter president of Iraq Veterans Against the War. I spent nine years in the New York Army National Guard. Thirteen months of that was spent as a sergeant in Operation Iraqi Freedom, stationed at Forward Operating Base Speicher the majority of that time. At the end of my tour of duty and the end of my military career, I went UA for nine months. They mailed me my honorable discharge in May of 2007.
It’s no surprise for anyone who’s been in the military since September 11th, especially not for those of us who have been deployed since September 11th, that the word “haji” is used to dehumanize people not just of Iraq and Afghanistan, but anyone there who is not us. We bought haji DVDs at the haji shops from the hajis that worked there. The KBR employees that did our laundry that were from Pakistan became hajis. The KBR employees who worked inside of our chow halls became hajis. Everyone that was not a US force became a haji, not a person, not a name, but a haji. I used to have conversations with members of my unit, and I would ask them why they use that term, especially members of my unit who are people of color. It used to shock me that they would. And their answers were very similar, almost always, and that was, “They’re just hajis. Who cares?”
And that came from ranks as low as mine, sergeant, all the way up to lieutenant colonel in my unit. The highest-ranking officer that I ever heard use these words was the highest-ranking officer during my deployment in Iraq: General Casey. During a briefing that my unit, the 42nd Infantry Division Rear Operations Center at FOB Speicher, gave to General Casey, I heard him refer to the Iraqi people as hajis. I have heard several generals, including the 42nd Infantry Division Commander, General Taluto, and my own general that I worked for, Brigadier General Sullivan, use these terms in reference to the Iraqi people. These things start at the top, not at the bottom.
I have one story that I want to share with you. One of the most horrifying experiences of my tour that still stays with me was during a briefing that I gave. It was actually in the early summer of 2005. For those who have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, we know that a year becomes a month, a month becomes a day, and a day becomes a second, a second that repeats over and over and over again, not just for your tour, but the rest of your life. So I wish I could name the exact date, but unfortunately that day has become a second that has repeated and repeated and repeated.
But on a day in the early summer of 2005 in the area of operation of the 42nd Infantry Division, there was a traffic control point shooting. Traffic control point shootings are rather common in Iraq; they happen on a near or daily basis. What happened was, a vehicle was driving very quickly towards a traffic control point. A young machine gunner made the split-second decision that that vehicle was a threat, and in less than a minute put 200 rounds from his .50-caliber machinegun into that vehicle. That day, he killed a mother, a father and two children. The boy was age four, and the daughter was age three.
I was in the briefing that evening when it was briefed to the general. And after the officer in charge briefed it to the general in a very calm manner, Colonel Rochelle of the 42nd Infantry Division, DISCOM Commander, turned in his chair to the entire division-level staff, and he said—and I quote—“If these [expletive] hajis learned to drive, this [expletive] wouldn’t happen." I looked around the TOC at the other officers, at the other enlisted men, mostly higher enlisted. As a sergeant, I think I was the lowest-ranking person in that room. And I didn’t see one dissenting body language, one disagreeing head nod. Everyone was in agreeance that it’s true, if these F-ing hajis learned to drive, this S wouldn’t happen. I couldn’t believe it, but it was true. That stayed with me the rest of my tour.
I looked around every time that word “haji” was used, and I thought about that soldier who will carry that with him for the rest of his life, and I thought about the four Iraqis whose bloodline was ended on that day. And Colonel Rochelle could not think of any of that, but only his own racism and dehumanization that has started at the commander-in-chief of this war and worked its way down the entire chain of command.
I would like to thank my fellow panelists and everyone who has testified and offered testimony that will not be heard publicly for Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan—Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupation. It has been the utmost honor, more honor than I ever gained from putting on a uniform, to sit up here with the greatest patriots of American history. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Sergeant Geoff Millard, spent nine years in the National Guard, served thirteen months in Iraq, he heads the Washington, D.C. chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Former Sergeant Domingo Rosas testified next.

My name is Domingo Rosas. I was a sergeant. I was deployed to Iraq with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Division—or 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, excuse me, from April 2003 to 2004. I am a combat veteran.
I was stationed in the Al Anbar presence on the western edge on the Syrian border. We occupied a local train station there in an area called Al Qaim and which we called Tiger Base. While at Tiger Base, I was put in charge of the detainee site, which consisted merely of one of those shipping containers that we’re all familiar with, at least most of us, and the shipping container and just a single building surrounded by barbed wire. I had two soldiers to back me up when I was handling the detainees. And I was briefed by the sergeant that I relieved that the men in the shipping container were captured combatants, and I was to deprive them of sleep. So I had them standing inside the shipping container facing the walls, no talking. I let them have blankets, because it was cold, but they were not allowed to sit down or lay down. Any time they started falling out or dozing off, they put their heads on the wall, I would be on the outside of the shipping container, and I’d just smack the shipping container with a pickax handle, try to wake them up and keep them awake.
The men in the building were noncombatant detainees just being held for questioning. There were ninety-three men altogether. Using one of them to translate, I told them that they had a clean slate with me. If they didn’t give me any trouble, then the next twenty-four hours will pass calmly. If they did, I told them it was going to be a long twenty-four hours. And I just prayed that they didn’t give me any trouble, because I didn’t know what I would have had to do. They even told me I was a good man while I was in charge of them.
One day, a body bag was dropped off to me. When the soldiers came to retrieve it the next morning, they just threw it on top of some junk in the back of a truck, but the rigor mortis had already set in and it wouldn’t fit down inside the truck on top of the stuff, so the soldiers started stomping on it. I mean, like really stomping on it. I couldn’t imagine. You know, I was like, how can you do that?
I also had a former Iraqi general some of you may have heard of who was taken from my custody. I was told to keep him separated from the other noncombatants and give him everything he needs. If he asks for anything, hook him up, you know, take care of him, and don’t harass them. And I was like, well, I don’t need somebody to tell me to not harass somebody. He ended up—a soldier came up to me later and ended up telling me that, you know, hey, he died during questioning during his interrogation. And I’m thinking to myself, how tough does a question have to be to kill? I don’t know exactly what went on during his interrogation, but he was fine when I had him.
Days after he was taken from my custody, I had in my custody his fourteen-year-old son, a very bright child, spoke four languages. He was supposed to be taken to his father. I was told that—you know, loosen his tongue up, get him to talk a little more, you know, just try to get him to cooperate more. And instead, that boy was being taken to identify his father’s body. Now, I’m not sure, but it’s possible that if he wasn’t—that child—if that child was pro-American or just one of our friends and possible ally of us, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t an ally of ours anymore.
Sometime later, the detainee site was taken over and rebuilt by men that we were told to call OGAs, which stood for “other governmental agency.” However—you know, that’s a pretty vague term. They built—they built high walls around the detainee center, and I figured, well, yeah, you know, they’re terrorists, you know? You don’t want them seeing out. You don’t want them—you know, you want to contain them, deny them like any kind of possible information that they could use to possibly escape. And then later on, I realized that it wasn’t just so detainees couldn’t see out, it was so we couldn’t see in.
One night, I was told to give a message down to the detainee site. I knocked on the door. And when they opened it, I witnessed one detainee being kicked around on the ground in the mud, rolled over again and again. The agent was just kicking him with his foot, just rolling him over in the mud, pouring water on his face, you know, the whole waterboarding thing. And another detainee was standing there with a bag over his head and was forced to carry a huge rock until he just physically couldn’t do it anymore and just collapsed. That image seared itself into my mind’s eye, and I can’t forget it. I won’t forget it. Sorry.
As I wrap this up, I just want to say two things. The longer we live as a human race, we’re supposed to be getting smarter and wiser and better. And to the vets that we’re trying to bring home alive, decades from now, when you’ve got your grandchild sitting on your knee, bouncing in front of you, just try to remember what we did here today under the flag, IVAW. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Sergeant Domingo Rosas, served in Iraq with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment from April 2003 to April 2004. Again, in the winter of 1776, Thomas Paine wrote, "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 said, “he that stands [by] it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Referencing Thomas Paine, the soldiers testifying about the horrors of war 200 years later called themselves “winter soldiers.” We’ll continue to bring you the voices of Winter Soldier tomorrow to mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Death in our name

They look like the kids next door, but what they have lived no one should live. Again I sit crying as I listen to the horror. Yet the main stream media do not cover this event because that would mean everyone would know we are not bringing democracy but destruction to Iraq. One person has accused me of being a traitor because I want the Iraqis to win. They deserve to win and we no matter what we have done to help the war from Hillary’s vote to just ignoring it and going happily about our daily lives should suffer as the Iraqis have suffered as pennance. I include myself. I have not made enough phone calls, I have not sent enough emails, I have not written enough letters to the editor. I have not returned to the States to fight what the government is doing, so I am also guilty for the deaths of these Iraqis and these Americans in that order.
Reading it is painful. It is more painful to watch And yet these kids are both innocent and guilty. Guilty because they did not get the education to look through the lies, innocent because they were sent to protect the interest of the few.
Winter Soldier: US Vets, Active-Duty Soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan Testify About the Horrors of War

US veterans gathered in Maryland this past weekend to testify at Winter Soldier, an eyewitness indictment of atrocities committed by US troops during the ongoing occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers spoke of free-fire zones, the shootings and beatings of innocent civilians, racism at the highest levels of the military, sexual harassment and assault within the military, and the torturing of prisoners. While the corporate media ignored the story, we broadcast their voices.

AMY GOODMAN: Iraq and Afghanistan veterans gathered in Maryland this past weekend to testify at Winter Soldier, an eyewitness indictment of atrocities committed by US troops during the ongoing occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War, the event was modeled after the historic 1971 Winter Soldier hearings held during the Vietnam War.

Over the weekend, war veterans spoke of free-fire zones, the shootings and beatings of innocent civilians, racism at the highest levels of the military, sexual harassment and assault within the military, and the torturing of prisoners.

Although Winter Soldier was held just outside the nation’s capital, it was almost entirely ignored by the American corporate media. A search on the Lexis database found that no major television network or cable news network even mentioned Winter Soldier over the weekend, neither did the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times or most other major newspapers in the country. The editors of the Washington Post chose to cover Winter Soldier but placed the article in the local section.

On Friday, Democracy Now! broadcast from Winter Soldier. This week, we play excerpts from the proceedings. We begin with Jon Michael Turner, who fought with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines.

JON MICHAEL TURNER: Good afternoon. My name is Jon Michael Turner. I currently reside in Burlington, Vermont. I served with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines as an automatic machine gunner. There’s a term, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” But there’s also the term, “Eat the apple, F the corps, I don’t work for you no more.”

AMY GOODMAN: That was Jon Michael Turner, stripping his medals and ribbons from his chest and throwing them into the audience to the applause of attendees at Winter Soldier. Turner then went on to describe some of his time in Iraq.
JON MICHAEL TURNER: On April 18, 2006, I had my first confirmed killed. This man was innocent. I don’t know his name. I called him “the fat man.” He was walking back to his house, and I shot him in front of his friend and his father. The first round didn’t kill him, after I had hit him up here in his neck area. And afterwards he started screaming and looked right into my eyes. So I looked at my friend, who I was on post with, and I said, “Well, I can’t let that happen.” So I took another shot and took him out. He was then carried away by the rest of his family. It took seven people to carry his body away.
We were all congratulated after we had our first kills, and that happened to have been mine. My company commander personally congratulated me, as he did everyone else in our company. This is the same individual who had stated that whoever gets their first kill by stabbing them to death will get a four-day pass when we return from Iraq.
There was one incident, where we got into a firefight just south of the government center about 2,000 meters. We had no idea where the fire was coming from. And the way our rules of engagement were, pinpoint where the fire is coming from and throw a rocket at it. So, at that being said, we still didn’t know where the fire was coming from, and an eighty-four-millimeter rocket was shot into a house. I do not know if there was anyone in it. We do not know if that’s where the fire was coming from. But that’s what was done.

Please go to the next image. This man right here was my third confirmed killed. As you can see, he was riding his bicycle. Later on in the day, we went ahead, and we had CBS’s Lara Logan with us, but she was with the other squad, and so she wasn’t with us. So, myself and two other people went ahead and took out some individuals, because we were excited about the firefight we had just gotten into, and we didn’t have a cameraman or woman with us. With that being said, any time we did have embedded reporters with us, our actions would change drastically. We never acted the same. We were always on key with everything, did everything by the books. The man on the bicycle, he was left in the street for about ten minutes until we realized that we needed to leave where we were. And his body was dragged about ten feet to the right of him, where his body was thrown behind a rock wall and his bicycle was thrown on top of him.

Another thing that we used to do a lot was recon by fire, where we would go ahead and try to start a firefight if we felt threatened in any way, shape or form. There was one particular incident where we were working with the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Special Forces in downtown Ramadi, and with our squad and the Iraqi Army there was also lieutenant colonels, majors, first sergeants and sergeant majors—sorry, sergeants major. With that being said, the Iraqi Army would go into the house, kick in the doors and then go ahead and shoot. And there were loud bursts of machinegun fire. We thought we were taking fire, but then we later found out that it was them.

House raids—because we were a grunt battalion, we were responsible for going on several patrols. A lot of the raids and patrols we did were at night around 3:00 in the morning, around there. And what we would do is just kick in the doors and terrorize the families. That was an image taken around 3:00 in the morning through night vision goggles. And that is the segregation of the women and children and the men. 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. If you go back to that one picture, that was one man that wasn’t taking—that was taken care of in a very bad way, because of all the wiring that he had. We considered it IED-making material.

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.

Please go to the next picture. Next, there’s an instance of detainees and how they were treated in a nice manner.

Next, that is the Fatima Mosque minaret. As you can see, it is ridden with bullet holes and holes in the top of it. Those were from mortars. And the next video that I’m going to show you is a tank round that went into that minaret, where we weren’t sure if we were taking fire or not. Actually, I’ll talk about this one. This is after one of the guys in a weapons company had gotten shot. This is a way that we would take out our aggression. For those of you who don’t know, it is illegal to shoot into a mosque, unless you were taking fire from it. There was no fire that was taken from that mosque. It was shot into because we were angry.
Can you please play the next video?

[clip] We are on [inaudible], trying to suppress the blue-and-white minaret named Madinat al-Zahra. Hellraiser, Hellraiser, go ahead. You can move the tank around that door over—at that mosque door. Another round Kilo Two.

Next image. That—OK, with that being said, there’s many more stories and incidents for me to talk about, although we don’t have the time to. But this just goes to show you that that was the aftereffect of the tank round. This just goes to show you that everyone sitting up here has these stories, and there’s been over a million trips that have gone in and out of Iraq, so the possibilities are endless.

Next image, please. The reason I am doing this today is not only for myself and for the rest of society to hear, but it’s for all those who can’t be here to talk about the things that we went through, talk about the things that we did.

Next image. Those four crosses and this memorial service were for the five guys in Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines that we lost. Throughout our unit, we had eighteen that got killed. With that being said, that is my testimony. I just want to say that I am sorry for the hate and destruction that I have inflicted on innocent people, and I’m sorry for the hate and destruction that others have inflicted on innocent people. At one point, it was OK. But reality has shown that it’s not and that this is happening and that 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. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Marine, Jon Michael Turner, fought with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines. The videos and photos the soldier showed can be seen at our website,

JASON HURD: My name is Jason Hurd. I recently completed ten years of honorable service to my country in both the US Army and the Tennessee National Guard. I served in central Baghdad from November of ’04 to November of ’05. I’m from a little place nestled in the mountains of East Tennessee called Kingsport, and hence the mountain man beard. People don’t really trust you if you’re clean-shaven there. Kingsport is truly small-town America. There is a Baptist church on every street corner, and even the high-class restaurants serve biscuits and gravy.

My father, Carl C. Hurd, who died in 2000—he was seventy-six years old—he was a Marine during World War II. Obviously, I was a latecomer in his life; he didn’t have me until his late fifties. As a matter of fact, when he died, shortly after that, I have the two World War II battles he participated in tattooed on my arm, and my father had the same tattoo. He was in the Pacific campaign and participated in the battles of Tarawa and Guadalcanal, which were some of the bloodiest occurrences of that war.

I decided to join the military in 1997. I was seventeen years old. I had just graduated from high school, and I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with my life. My father was adamantly opposed to me serving in the military. My father was one of the most warmongering, gun-loving people you could ever meet, but he didn’t feel that way when it came to his son, because he knew the negative psychological consequences of combat service. Looking back—looking back, I know for a fact that my father had post-traumatic stress disorder. He had the rage, he had the nightmares, and he had the flashbacks.

AMY GOODMAN: Jason Hurd went on to describe his time in Iraq. In 2004, he was deployed to central Baghdad with Tennessee’s 278th Regimental Combat Team.

JASON HURD: One of the observation points that overlooked the Tigris River looked out at the old Republican Guard barracks, which were across the river. And there was one of those buildings that was sort of dilapidated; however, we knew that squatters had taken this building over, and we actually used to make jokes that this place looked like a crack house and that they were running drugs out of there. We had no evidence of that; it was just joking.

One day, Iraqi police got into an exchange of gunfire with some unknown individuals around that building. Some of the stray rounds came across the Tigris River and hit the shield of one of our Hummers. The gunner atop that Hummer decided to open fire with his fifty-caliber machinegun into that building. He expended about a case and a half of ammunition. And I’m no weapons expert—I’m a medic—but I talked to some of my colleagues just the other night, and to put this into perspective for you all, each case of fifty-cal ammunition holds about 150 rounds. A case and a half is well over 200 rounds. Over 200 rounds of fifty-caliber ammunition could take out just about every single person in this room. We fired indiscriminately and unnecessarily at this building. We never got a body count, we never got a casualty count afterwards. Another unit came through and swept up that mess.

Ladies and gentleman, things like that happen every day in Iraq. We react out of fear, fear for our lives, and we cause complete and utter destruction.

After we finished the mission manning those observation points, we moved on. My platoon specifically was tasked with running security escort for two explosive ordnance teams, one US Navy and one Australian EOD team. On day one, the US Navy team took us all aside for some specialized training. They took us aside and said, “Look, EOD teams are some of the most highly targeted entities in Iraq. The reason being is because, hey, we’re the guys that go out and we disarm car bombs, we mess up the tactics and the operations of the insurgency. That’s why we’re highly targeted. So you guys have to use more aggressive tactics to protect us.”

And they explained to us that what we were to do is keep a fifty-meter perimeter, a fifty-meter bubble around our trucks at all times, whether we were driving down the road or whether we’re stationary. And if anything comes in that fifty-meter bubble, we’re to get it out immediately. If it doesn’t want to move, we use what are called levels of aggression. Your first option is to try to push it out by using hand signals, hand and arm signals. Your next option is to fire a warning shot into the ground. And from there on, you walk bullets up the car. And your last option is to shoot the person driving the car. This is for our own protection. Car bombs are a real danger in Iraq. In fact, that’s the vast majority of what I saw in Baghdad, is car bombings. My unit adhered strictly to these guidelines for a few weeks.

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’re driving down the road on their own streets. My unit—individuals from my platoon would fire into the grills of these cars and then come back in the evenings after missions were done and brag about it. They would say, “Hey, did you guys see that car I shot at? It spewed radiator fluid all over the ground. Wasn’t that cool?” I remember thinking back on that and how appalled I was that we were bragging about these things, that we were laughing, but that’s what you do in a combat zone. That is your reality. That is how you deal with that predicament.

After we finished the EOD escort missions, we moved on to another mission: patrolling the Kindi Street area, which is right outside of the Green Zone. Kindi Street is a relatively upscale neighborhood. Some of the houses in the Kindi area would cost well over $1 million here in America. This area, from what we were told, had no violent activity at all, up until the point we started patrolling this area. We were the first US military to do so on any regular basis. So we went in. We started doing patrols through the streets. We started getting out and meeting and greeting the local population, trying to figure out what sort of issues they had, how we could resolve those issues.

I remember we were out on a patrol one day, a dismounted patrol, and we were walking by a woman’s house. She was outside in her garden doing some work. We had our interpreter with us, and our interpreter threw up his hand and said “Salaam aleikum,” which is their greeting in Iraq. It means “Peace of God be with you.” And he translated back to us what she said. She said, “No. No peace of God be with you.” She was angry, and she was frustrated. And so, we stopped, and our interpreter said, “Well, what’s the matter? Why are you so angry? We’re here protecting you. We’re here to ensure your safety.”

And that woman began to tell us a story. Just a few months prior to this, her husband had been shot and killed by a United States convoy, because he got too close to their convoy. He was not an insurgent; he was not a terrorist. He was merely a working man trying to make a living for his family. To make matters worse, a few weeks later, there was a Special Forces team who operated in the Kindi area. And as you know, Special Forces do clandestine operations. And so, even though this was my unit’s area of operation, we didn’t know what the Special Forces teams were actually doing there. They holed up in a building there in the Kindi Street area and made a compound out of it. A few weeks after this man died, the Special Forces team got some intelligence that this woman was supporting the insurgency. And so, they conducted a raid on her home, zip-tied her and her two children, threw them on the floor. And I guess her son was old enough to be perceived as a possible threat, so they detained him and took him away. For the next two weeks, this woman had no idea whether her son was alive, dead or worse. At the end of that two weeks, the Special Forces team rolled up, dropped her son off and, without so much as an apology, drove off. It turns out they had found they had acted on bad intelligence. Ladies and gentleman, things like that happen every day in Iraq. We’re harassing these people, we’re disrupting their lives.

I want to tell you a very personal story, and I want you all to bear with me, because this is always difficult for me to tell. One day, we were on another dismounted patrol through the Kindi Street area. We were walking past an area we called “the garden center,” because it was literally a fenced-off garden. As is policy, we are to keep all cars and individuals away from our formation. And so, a car was approaching us from the front. I was at the rear of the formation, because I was the medic and the medics hang out at the back with the platoon sergeant in case anything happens up front so you can respond. They waved the car off down a side street, so that it would not come near our formation.

As I made it up to that side street, the car had turned around and was coming back towards us, because the street was blocked off by a concrete T barrier at the other end. So I began doing my levels of aggression. I held up my hand, trying to get the car to stop. The car sped up. And I thought to myself, oh, my god, this is it. This is someone who is trying to hurt us. And so, instead of doing what I should have done according to policy and raising my weapon, instead, I did what you should never do, and I took my hands off of my weapon altogether and began jumping up and down, waving my hands back and forth, trying to get this car to stop and see me. The car kept coming. And so, I raised my weapon, and the car kept coming. I pulled my selector switch off of safe, and the car kept coming.

I was applying pressure to my trigger, getting ready to fire on the vehicle, and out of nowhere, a man came off of the side of the road, flagged the car down and got it to pull over. He walked around to the driver’s side door, opened it up, and out popped an eighty-year-old woman. Come to find out, this woman was a highly respected figure in the community, and I don’t have a clue what would have happened had I opened fire on this woman. I would imagine a riot.
Ladies and gentlemen, I hate guns. I spent ten years in the military, and I carried two of them on my side in Iraq, but I think they should be melted down and turned into jewelry. To this day, that is the worst thing that I have ever done in my life. I am a peaceful person, but yet in Iraq I drew down on an eighty-year-old geriatric woman who could not see me, because I was in front of a desert-colored vehicle—or, excuse me, desert-colored building wearing desert-colored camouflage.

Another personal story from my experience, the next mission that we got was to man the main checkpoint that entered into the Green Zone. We called this checkpoint Slaughterhouse 11, because the very first day we got into country, a car bomb went off in that checkpoint. We were a couple of blocks away at the time, and none of us knew what it was, so we were asking around, “What was that? What was that?” Oh, that’s the car bomb that goes off every single morning at checkpoint 11. And that’s where the name Slaughterhouse 11 comes from. You could literally set your watch by the time a car bomb would explode in that checkpoint every day.
Towards the end of my tour, we got the mission to take that checkpoint over. And my unit said, “What is the matter with you people? We’re getting ready to go home in just a couple of months. Why are you giving us Slaughterhouse 11? Are you wanting us to die?”

Day one that we took that checkpoint over and ran it ourselves, a car bomb drove into it and exploded. We found out that there was over a thousand pounds of explosives in that car afterwards. Luckily, it did not hurt any of my guys. My guys were able to find cover, and it didn’t hurt them. But it killed untold numbers of Iraqi civilians in queue to come into the checkpoint and injured so many more. I treated five people that day myself, and I would imagine twenty or thirty others got carted off into civilian ambulances before I could get to them.
But I have an image that is burned into my mind to this very day. And I remember a man running towards me at the front of the checkpoint, carrying a young seventeen- or eighteen-year-old Iraqi guy, very thin, very sort of pale. He came running to me with this guy and laid him at my feet. I looked down at him, and the guy was missing from here to here of his arm, and his forearm was only held on by a small flap of skin. The bones were protruding, and it was bleeding profusely. He had shrapnel wounds all over his torso. And when I log-rolled him onto his side to check his rear for wounds, I noticed that his entire left butt cheek was missing, and it was bleeding profusely, and it was pooling blood. And to this day, I have that image burned in my mind’s eye. Almost every couple of days, I will get a flash of red color in my mind’s eye, and it won’t have any shape, no form, just a flash of red. And every time, I associate it with that instance. So not only are we disrupting the lives of Iraqi civilians, we’re disrupting the lives of our veterans with this occupation.

You know, conservative statistics say that the majority of Iraqis support attacks against coalition forces, the majority of Iraqis support us leaving immediately, and the majority of Iraqis see us as the main contributors to the violence in Iraq. This gives us a view at the prevailing sentiment in Iraq. And I’d like to explain it to everyone this way, especially in the South, because it rings with some semblance of truth to people down there. If a foreign occupying force came here to the United States, and regardless of what they told us, whether they told us they were here to free us, to liberate us and to give us democracy, do you not think that every person that owns a shotgun would not come out of the hills and fight for their right to self-determination?
And I’d like to sum it up like this: the prevailing sentiment in Iraq is this—another time that I was out on patrol in the Kindi Street area—as I said, part of our mission was to meet and greet the local population and find out what their problems were—and so, I approached a man with my interpreter on the side of the road, and I asked him, I said, “Look, are your lives better because we’re here? Are you safer? Do you feel more secure? Do you feel like we are liberating you?” And that man looked at me straight in the eye, and he said, “Mister, we Iraqis know that you have good intentions here. But the fact of the matter is, before America invaded, we didn’t have to worry about car bombs in our neighborhoods, we didn’t have to worry about the safety of our own children as they walked to school, and we didn’t have to worry about US soldiers shooting at us as we drive up and down our own streets.”

Ladies and gentlemen, the suffering in Iraq is tearing that country apart. And ending that suffering begins with a complete and immediate withdrawal of all of our troops. Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Jason Hurd was with Tennessee’s 278th Regimental Combat Team in Iraq. He testified at the Winter Soldier hearings this weekend at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland, joining hundreds of other active-duty and veterans from both Afghanistan and Iraq. The Winter Soldier hearings were modeled on what happened thirty-seven years ago in Detroit, Michigan, the Winter Soldier Investigation, where soldiers from Vietnam came back and described atrocities they themselves had been involved with. We will continue to run these testimony throughout the week on this fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.