Tuesday, June 03, 2008
WINTER SOLDIERS TALK THE TALK AND WALK THE WALK
Demonstrations against the Iraq war are old hat in Seattle, but this one was a little different. It was led by a contingent of Iraq veterans fresh from a regional Winter Soldier hearing in that city. They were out front of hundreds of others marching through the streets of downtown Seattle on Saturday.
Before the march, at the Seattle Town Hall, some 800 people gathered to hear the testimonies of veterans from Iraq. The event was sponsored by the Northwest Regional Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), and endorsed by dozens of local and regional anti-war groups like Veterans for Peace and Students for a Democratic Society.
"I watched Iraqi Police bring in someone to interrogate," Seth Manzel a vehicle commander and machine gunner in the U.S. Army (and pictured here), told the audience. "There were four men on the prisoner...one was pummeling his kidneys with his fists, another was inserting a bottle up his rectum. It looked like a frat house gang-rape."
The Washington University Daily told of another vet, twenty-three-year-old Sergio Kochergin, who served two tours with the 7th Marines as a scout and sniper, and who testified that the dehumanization and racism was institutionalized even before they were in Iraq.
"We were told we'd be deploying to Iraq and that we needed to get ready to have little kids and women shoot at us," Kochergin told the audience. "It was an attempt to portray Iraqis as animals. We were supposed to do humanitarian work, but all we did was harass people, drive like crazy on the streets, pretending it was our city and we could do whatever we wanted to do."
IPS wrote as the other veterans on the panel nodded in agreement, Kochergin testified, "We were constantly told everybody there wants to kill you, everybody wants to get you. In the military, we had racism within every rank and it was ridiculous. It seemed like a joke, but that joke turned into destroying peoples' lives in Iraq."
"I was in Husaiba with a sniper platoon right on the Syrian border and we would basically go out on the town and search for people to shoot," Kochergin said. "The rules of engagement (ROE) got more lenient the longer we were there. So if anyone had a bag and a shovel, we were to shoot them. We were allowed to take our shots at anything that looked suspicious. And at that point in time, everything looked suspicious."
Kochergin added, "Later on, we had no ROE at all. If you see something that doesn't seem right, take them out." He concluded by saying, "Enough is enough, it's time to get out of there."
Former Army Sgt. Joshua Simpson served in Mosul with an intelligence team trying to get information about insurgent forces attacking Americans reported the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
"Ninety-five percent of the people we arrested had nothing to do with the insurgency, but we were still told to interrogate them," Simpson told the crowd.
He'd scream and yell at the prisoners, sometimes reducing them to tears or self-abuse such as hitting their heads repeatedly against the wall. He saw prisoners horribly bruised and bloodied by Iraqi interrogators. He wants the war to end.
The veterans called for better medical support for returning soldiers, saying they'd see friends suffering from untreated post-traumatic stress, leading to suicide, domestic violence and divorce.
"Where is our government when they need them the most?" asked Tracy Malzan, who spoke along with her husband, Seth. "We must talk about these issues every day ... until every service member comes home."
Interestingly when the UW Daily asked Master Sgt. Corey Sanders, senior military science instructor at the UW’s ROTC, what his feelings were about the hearings, the vets who testified and who marched, he replied he defended these former military members’ right to demonstrate against the war. He said he would continue to do so as long they told the truth and did not resort to violence or violate the law.
“Mistreating civilians serves no purpose, as it only makes an already tough job even harder,” Sanders, a soldier of 22 years and veteran of both the Iraq war and Desert Storm, wrote in an e-mail. Soldiers dislike war and have an obligation to report atrocities, he wrote.
And that is exactly what they are doing.
The following is from IPS.
Winter Soldiers Hit the Streets
By Dahr Jamail
SEATTLE, Jun 3 (IPS) - In a clear change of strategy to energise public anti-war sentiment, Iraq veterans led a determined demonstration of hundreds through the streets of downtown Seattle last Saturday, following regional Winter Soldier hearings at the Seattle Town Hall.
A larger Winter Soldier event occurred at the National Labour College in Silver Spring, Maryland from Mar. 13 to Mar. 16 earlier this year. But the strategy for those hearings appeared to be based on keeping the event from being directly affiliated with any demonstrations or anti-war activities in an attempt to reach a broader audience. Those hearings were closed to the public, and no demonstrations or other overtly public actions were tied to the event.
This tactic was apparently meant to draw in more national mainstream media coverage of the event, which, with few exceptions, did not materialise.
Chanan Suarez Diaz, the Seattle Chapter president of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), which organised last weekend's event, had told IPS that his chapter, along with others in the northwest region, intended to make a major effort to draw the public into both the testimonials and taking action afterwards.
The Seattle regional Winter Soldier event was open to the public.
A late April poll conducted by CNN/Opinion Research Corp. found that nearly three-quarters (68 percent) of respondents opposed the Iraq war. The strategy of the regional IVAW groups is clearly meant to capitalise on the growing opposition to the occupation of Iraq among the U.S. public.
Christopher Diggins, a psychotherapist who attended the demonstration, reflected the feelings of many -- that this strategy is important.
"This tactic is better because you have to get the community involved," Diggins told IPS. "You have to have community awareness and support."
"I want to show my solidarity for vets who are against the war, because it is the only way this war is going to stop," he added. "It's hard to have the war if nobody is going to fight."
Diggins founded the Soldiers Project Northwest in Washington State (www.soldiersproject.org). The project is a group of therapists that volunteer to work one hour per week each with soldiers and their families who need assistance.
Saturday's event found veterans leaving their testimony to lead a crowd directly onto the streets to begin a demonstration. Protestors chanting "U.S. out of the Middle East, No Justice, No Peace," and carrying signs such as "You Can't Be All You Can Be If You're Dead!" stopped traffic for nearly an hour.
"I'm here to support the war resisters," Theresa Mosqueda, a Seattle resident who works on health policy advocacy for children and marched behind members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), told IPS, "They are the core part of ending this war. This is an illegal and immoral war, and the resisters have the power to stop it."
At least one Iraq war veteran joined IVAW as a result of attending the hearings last weekend.
Several of the vets urged onlookers to join the march, and many did as the demonstration passed by Seattle's bustling Pike Place Market.
Nick Spring, a student from Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, was one of the marchers. "I came down today because it's a great way to be informed by the vets, support GI resistance, and try to end the war," Spring told IPS.
The regional winter soldier hearings were a smaller event, and there was no national mainstream media coverage. However, there was heavy local and alternative media coverage. At least one of the major Seattle television stations covered the testimonials, as well as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the largest paper in the region.
The group Just Foreign Policy estimates that over 1.2 million Iraqis have died since the U.S.-led invasion began in March 2003. The Opinion Business Research group in Britain estimates the same number.
According to the U.S. Department of Defence, at least 4,086 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq.
Many of the demonstrators were vets themselves who had just given testimony about their time in Iraq. They included Josh Simpson, Sergio Kochergin, Seth Manzel, Mateo Rebecchi, Jan Critchfield, Doug Connor, and many others.
Children numbered among the demonstrators as well. Nine-year-old Wes Cunningham, accompanied by his father, was asked by IPS why he was in attendance.
"It's a cool march," he said. "And I think it's bad to kill other human beings."
IVAW now boasts over 1,200 members, a 50 percent increase since the March Winter Soldier hearings in Maryland. The fastest growing segment of their membership is active-duty soldiers.