Speaking for the Soldiers

May 26th, 2008


Memorial Day 2008

In June 2005, Major General John Batiste, commander of the First Infantry Division in Iraq, leader of 22,000 troops fighting in the Sunni Triangle, passed up a third star, and quit the U.S. Army to speak out against the Iraq occupation.x10 Last August, he wrote:

I realized that I was in a unique position to speak out on behalf of Soldiers and their families. I had a moral obligation and duty to do so.x11

The only way to stabilize Iraq and allow our military to rearm and refit for the long fight ahead is to begin a responsible and deliberate redeployment from Iraq and replace the troops with far less expensive and much more effective resources — those of diplomacy and the critical work of political reconciliation and economic recovery.

In October 2005, Congressman John Murtha (D-PA), a long-time Marine, decorated Vietnam War veteran and then-ranking member on the defense appropriations committee, caused a stir when he proposed a complete pull-back of troops from Iraq to begin immediately.x12 When told that two Republican senators argued that they had never met a soldier that wanted to start pulling out, Murtha responded:

Is that right? What do you think they’re going to tell you? We’re here to talk for them! We’re here to measure the success. … We are here — we have an obligation to speak for them.

In March of this year, U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations testified at hearings called “Winter Soldier”.x13 Aaron Hughes, an Iraq veteran and an organizer of the hearings, described the idea of Winter Soldier:

This is a moment when veterans won’t let anyone else speak for us. We hear from the pundits, we hear from the politicians, we hear from the generals, but we don’t hear from the soldiers who’ve walked the streets, who’ve been there and know what it’s about. We’re the ones who can bring out the cruelties and dehumanization in US foreign policy.x14

Among those testifying at Winter Soldier was Jason Hurd, who was with Tennessee’s 278th Regimental Combat Team in Iraq.x15 Here is one of the stories he told:

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.

Hurd ended his testimony like this:

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.

Updates:

Sources

10 ‘Somebody Had to Speak Out. If Not Me, Who?’ — Maj. Gen. John Batiste Fired by CBS News for Anti-Iraq War ‘Advocacy’‘ – Democracy Now!, May 25, 2007

11 ‘Gen. Batiste’s Op-Ed That The WSJ And The Washington Times Didn’t Want You To See’ – Ret. Maj. Gen. John Batiste, 2007-08-22

12 ‘The Obligation to Speak for the Soldiers’ – The Paragraph, 2006-05-31

13 ‘Winter Soldier FAQ’ – Iraq Veterans against the War

What is the history of Winter Soldier? – In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” In 1971, a courageous group of veterans exposed the criminal nature of the Vietnam War in an event called Winter Soldier. Once again, we will demand that the voices of veterans are heard.

What will happen? – Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan will feature testimony from U.S. veterans who served in those occupations, giving an accurate account of what is really happening day in and day out, on the ground.

Why is IVAW doing this? – We are fighting for the soul of our country. We will demonstrate our patriotism by speaking out with honor and integrity instead of blindly following failed policy. Winter Soldier is a difficult but essential service to our country.

14 ‘Winter Soldiers to Testify Against War’ By Maya Schenwar, TruthOut.org, Saturday 01 March 2008

15 ‘Winter Soldier: US Vets, Active-Duty Soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan Testify About the Horrors of War’ – Democracy Now!, March 17, 2008

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By Quinn Hungeski – Posted at G.N.N. & TheParagraph.com
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