Thirty seven years ago, discharged servicemen from every branch of the military service were Winter Soldiers when they bore witness through their testimony to the atrocities that they had observed during the Vietnam war. The Vietnam Veterans Against the War sponsored that event, called the Winter Soldier Investigation, which ran from January 31 to February 2, 1971 in Detroit. Appalled by the My Lai massacre, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War wanted to show that this massacre was not a rare occurrence, but was a frequent and predictable result of official American war policy.
Today's Winter Soldiers are following in the footprints of their namesakes. From March 13 to March 16, 2008, over 200 veterans gathered in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C., to offer testimony to the atrocities that they have observed in Iraq and, for some, in Afghanistan. They hope their testimony will inspire public opposition to the war as it enters its sixth year.
Meet Jason Washburn, a corporal in the marines who served three tours in Iraq, his last in Haditha from 2005-2006:
During the course of my three tours, the rules of engagement changed a lot. . .the higher the threat level was, the more viciously we were permitted and expected to respond. . .if the unit that went through the area before we did took a high number of casualties, . . .we were allowed to shoot whatever we wanted. So we would roll through the town, and anything that we saw, we engaged it and opened fire on everything.Jason Wayne Lemue is a Marine who served three deployments to Iraq, his last being September 2005 to March, 2006.
. . .we were told to guard a fuel station. . . (when a number of Iraqi people rushed the station to take some fuel), the squad leader's response (over the radio) was 'go F... them up,' 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. 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 actually encouraged to . . .carry drop weapons or, by my third tour, drop shovels. . .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.
By the time we got to Baghdad, 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.'During his second deployment, and after a firefight was over, Lemue noted 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 his third tour, '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, quoteunquote, 'take care of us.'John Michael Turner, a Marine who served two tours as a machine gunner in Iraq, described his first kill that took place on April 18, 2006:
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 . . .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. . .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 fourday pass when we return from Iraq.Jason Hurt, a soldier with Tennessee's 278th Regimental Combat Team in Iraq, summed up his testimony with a statement most likely representing the feelings of all the Winter Soldiers:
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.These are only a few examples of testimony taken over a four day period. Major excerpts can be found at (democracy now.org). Through their testimony, the Winter Soldiers not only reveal the dreadful and mentally crippling realities of war; they also take a major step toward peace by bringing the war's inevitable atrocities to light. It's time to listen to Jason Hurt and bring all of our troops home.