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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Reality of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

Veterans speak at Winter Soldier on the Hill

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The stories you are about to hear are not easy to listen to, but believe me, they are much harder to relive,” former military police officer Kelly Dougherty testified on May 15 before the Congressional Progressive Caucus in Washington, D.C. We have witnessed firsthand the ultimate violence, chaos, fear and suffering of war and occupation and are intimately familiar with the indelible mark it left on our lives.”

  As Dougherty, the executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), explained while introducing her fellow veterans to the small panel of lawmakers, the soldiers’ testimony, in contrast to the spin created by the Bush administration, Ambassador Ryan Crocker and military brass, was truthful—and ignored by policy-makers.

  “Congress continues to look to their fellow politicians, to pundits, to generals, to see what is happening in Iraq,” Dougherty said. “But rarely are the veterans and active duty men and women themselves, many of whom have served repeated tours, been asked for their insight into what is happening. If Congress’ aim is to know the true cost of the war in Iraq, then you must listen to the testimony of the soldiers, the Marines, these service members, who have served during this occupation and the Iraqi people who have survived it.”

  The nine combat veterans who participated in Winter Soldier on the Hill testified that the war in Iraqhas been mismanaged, that U.S. soldiers are being ordered to do unspeakable things and that the physical and emotional wounds of war were not being adequately addressed by the veterans’ health care system.

Negligence, Corruption, Excessive Force
  Most alarming, perhaps, is the soldiers’ testimony on how the war is being conducted in Iraq, in the name of the United States.

  The picture painted by the veterans stands in stark contrast to the war being reported by the mainstream media and supported by the American government. Luis Montalvan is a 17-year veteran of the Army and attained the rank of captain. Montalvan testified that when he was sent to Iraq’s Al Anbar Province, “We were deployed without any weapons.” His requests for more resources and personnel went unanswered.

  He added that the United States “has never had close to the amount of troops we needed,” and the reality of war is nothing like the “perpetually rosy picture” portrayed by the commanders. “In Iraq, I witnessed many disturbing things,” Montalvan testified. “I witnessed waterboarding. I was given unlawful orders by superiors to not offer humanitarian assistance to refugees caught between Syrian and Iraqi borders. I disobeyed those orders. I witnessed and participated in countless massive operations led by American commanders whose metrics for success were numbers of detainees apprehended without regard to the real effects—tribal, ethnic and sectarian strife conducted by American taxpayer-uniformed and -equipped militias the U.S. military calls Iraqi security forces.”

  Montalvan placed the blame squarely on those at the top of the chain of command, because Gens. George Casey, Ricardo Sanchez and David Petraeus have given a false and overly optimistic view of the strength of Iraqi security forces the number of U.S. troops necessary to conduct the war. “These generals consistently overstated strength and number of Iraqi security forces Congress and still do,” Montalvan said. “Their misrepresentation of the facts should be grounds for courts-martial and criminal indictments.”

  Jason Lemieux, a former sergeant in Marines, served three tours of duty in Iraq, including participating in the 2003 invasion. Lemieux stated that American soldiers were ordered to use excessive force and to shoot unarmed civilians. Lemieux said his testimony “illuminates unit loyalty and camaraderie, psychological trauma, lack of strategic guidance, command complicity and our national insistence on minimizing short-term casualty rates all lead to widespread destruction of life and property in Iraq and make rules of engagement for all practical purposes unenforceable.”

  He said soldiers are ordered to shoot any Iraqi “who seemed suspicious or made us feel uncomfortable with the assurance that the chain of command would ‘take care of us.’” Lemieux detailed one instance of excessive force used during a firefight. The unit only four rounds of “poorly aimed enemy fire” civilian area.

  Yet after careful documentation, Lemieux found that U.S. forces used thousands of rounds of M-16 ammunition; thousands of rounds medium and heavy machine gun ammunition; hundreds of rounds of an automatic grenade launcher; several rifle grenades; an explosive rocket that can level two-story buildings down their foundation; and gun rounds from Abrams tank.

  “Marines routinely used such excessive force Iraq,” Lemieux testified. Lemieux also testified that his commanding officer falsified his report so that the skirmish didn’t look so one-sided. The soldiers said that even the “hearts minds” efforts of the U.S. military are being botched.

  Kristofer Goldsmith testified that he deployed to Iraq in 2005 to provide humanitarian aid to the residents of Sadr City. But his job, clear out overflowing sewers, was mostly show—to show that the Army was making attempt to clean up unsanitary conditions in city and to show Iraqis that American soldiers were always present.

  Goldsmith showed photos of a school that didn’t have an operating sewage system, so students were forced to defecate on the floors. He said the unit made no attempt to repair it. “Kids are being exposed to massive amounts sewage,” Goldsmith said.

  Goldsmith’s service during the war has taken heavy toll on him. He said he attempted suicide before being deployed a second time to Iraq. He then received a general discharge and lost his college benefits, about $40,000. To learn more about Winter Soldier on the Hill, go to www.ivaw.org, or view testimony YouTube.com.

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