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Winter Soldier hearings

Troops confirm U.S. war crimes

Published Mar 19, 2008 11:20 PM

Hundreds of military veterans of the Bush administration’s so-called war on terror attended the Winter Soldier 2008 hearings held here March 13-16 at the National Labor College, an AFL-CIO affiliate just outside Washington. The four-day event was organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).

Most of the veterans had taken part in the occupations of Iraq and/or Afghanistan—many doing multiple deployments of up to 15 months each. Some are still on active duty.

They described the systematic beating, jailing, torture, humiliation and killing of civilians by U.S. forces. And they explained that it was not just the work of a few deranged individuals but was part of standard military operations, especially as the opposition of the people to the occupation of their country became more obvious.

Many were wracked with traumatic memories and remorse for having participated in such acts.

The hearings were conducted in eyewitness panel formats with topics such as Rules of Engagement; Corporate Pillaging and Military Contractors; Divide To Conquer: Gender and Sexuality in the Military; and Racism and War: The Dehumanization of the Enemy.

Besides the panelists, the everyday brutality of the occupation was documented by more than 100 other veterans, who submitted detailed statements about their experiences.

Speaking on the first day of the hearings in the Rules of Engagement panel, Iraq veteran Adam Kokesh, who had been in Fallujah, Iraq, for a year beginning in February 2004, said his commanders “changed the RoE more often than we changed our underwear.” These RoE are the rules that determine when a soldier can use deadly fire. “At one point, we imposed a curfew on the city and were told to fire at anything that moved in the dark. I don’t think soldiers should be put in the position to choose between their morals and their instinct for survival.”

Steve Casey, who spent a year in Iraq beginning in mid-2003, not long after the U.S. invasion that was supposed to “liberate” the Iraqi people, said: “I watched soldiers firing into the radiators and windows of oncoming vehicles. Those who didn’t turn around were unfortunately neutralized one way or another—well over 20 times I personally witnessed this.”

Jason Hurd was on duty in central Baghdad for a year, beginning in November 2004. He told how, after his unit took stray rounds from a nearby firefight: “We fired indiscriminately at this building. Things like that happened every day in Iraq. We reacted out of fear for our lives, and we reacted with total destruction.”

Hurd told how the calloused attitude toward Iraqi civilians worsened as the occupation dragged on. “Over time, as the absurdity of war set in, individuals from my unit indiscriminately opened fire at vehicles driving down the wrong side of the road. People in my unit would later brag about it. I remember thinking how appalled I was that we were laughing at this, but that was the reality.”

Jason Wayne Lemieux, a Marine, served three tours in Iraq. He told how the rules of engagement were changed each time to encourage even more slaughter of civilians. By his second tour, if a person “was carrying a shovel, or standing on a rooftop talking on a cell phone, or being out after curfew, they were to be killed. I can’t tell you how many people died because of this. By my third tour, we were told to just shoot people, and the officers would take care of us.”

One Marine veteran, machine gunner John Michael Turner, pulled the medals off his shirt and threw them to the floor as he testified about shooting down people he knew were innocent. “I want to say I’m sorry for the hate and destruction that I and others have inflicted on innocent people,” he concluded. “It is not okay, and this is happening, and until people hear what is going on, this is going to continue. I am no longer the monster that I once was.”

The event was streamed live over the Internet but was boycotted by almost the entire U.S. corporate media. It was well organized, with logistical and support staff provided by Veterans for Peace and Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Mental health and legal professionals were available at all times.

While most of the panelists were IVAW members, expert witnesses also testified. Iraqi civilians, including refugees, described their experiences with the occupation through detailed interviews that had been video recorded in Iraq, Jordan and Syria. IVAW Advisory Board member Dr. Dahlia Wasfi raised the occupation of Palestine

IVAW is a growing organization with over 800 members. The leadership is diverse: the chair of its Board of Directors was born in Nicaragua and the co-chair is African-American. The treasurer and executive director are women. The group is LGBT-friendly.

Most members come from the enlisted ranks and are under 30 years old. They are from both urban and rural areas. Many were on track to be career noncommissioned officers—the foundation of any military organization. Their membership in IVAW is a major defeat for the U.S. imperialist war machine.

Readers are urged to check out the hearings and testimonies at www.ivaw.org.

The writer is a member of Veterans For Peace—Chapter 021 and was part of the support staff at the Winter Soldier hearing.