Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans Speak Out [Photo Essay]
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An old woman killed for carrying groceries. Taxi drivers fired upon at will. A man shot dead for opening a door. Anyone carrying a shovel, speaking on a cell phone, standing on a roof, or wearing a green head band risked death.
"People were shot for simply walking down the street of their own city," testified Marine Sgt. Jason LeMieux.
He was joined by several other soldiers and marines who testified to the daily horrors of occupation I Iraq and Afghanistan on the opening day of Winter Soldier, a 4 day event organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War, (IVAW) at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Iraq veteran Steven Casey, appearing at his first public event, played a video from a house raid. A woman is screaming. The soldiers raided the wrong house. "Going to the wrong place, destroying the wrong place. This woman will never forget what happened," said Casey about the humiliation and destruction he caused.
Marine Jon Turner spoke of his first kill. He called the person "the fat man," and said he was an innocent. His commander celebrated the death. According to Turner, his commander would have given him or any other marine a 4 day leave pass, if his first kill had been by stabbing.
Staring into the audience of veterans, friends, and members of the press, Turner said, ."I am sorry for the hate and destruction I inflicted on innocent people. I am sorry for the things that I did. I am not the monster I once was. "
He was not the only one to apologize. Many testifiers asked forgiveness for what they had done, had seen, had believed, and called for an immediate end to the occupation.
They challenged the notion that a tightening of the rules of engagement would have any effect.
"These are the consequences of sending young men and women to battle, "said Marine Lance Cpl. Vincent Emanuele.
Emanuele testified to mishandling of corpses saying when bodies were seen on the road, standard procedure was to drive over and smash them or if so inclined, take souvenir photographs. One picture of a decomposed body, ended up as a screen saver.
Perry O'Brien, a medic in Afghanistan, said during an interview, that
Bodies of dead civilians were used as practice cadavers for medics.
The sensational testimony cast a silence over the audience. People shook their heads, stared at the floor, trying to make sense of it.
Sometimes the grimmest stories were not the goriest. Small details cataloguing the daily indignities added up to a sickening picture.
Army veteran Steven Casey would ram his Bradley vehicle into buildings, or take out water lines. He remembers whooping and hollering on a roof top while watching a several buildings being destroyed in an air strike.
Army private Clifton Hicks remembers his friends throwing water bottles, MREs filed with shit, at passing Iraqis. He called it a childish game played in revenge and frustration.
Marine Cpl. Jason Washburn who served 3 tours in Iraq said,
"we would butt stroke them, jab them with muzzles, kick them.
One time there was a guy on a bicycle with a bag filled of groceries, and we smashed up his bicycle."
In another incident he said, "We were ordered to guard a fuel station - and a bunch of people rushed to get fuel, and we jumped off the truck and charged at the Iraqis and we really beat the hell out of them with rifles, fists, feet, and so once they had fled, broken and bleeding, we mounted up our trucks and left."
.Many soldiers in different units, deployed at different times and locations, spoke about carrying drop weapons and shovels that could be planted on people in order to make the dead look like they were insurgents.
This was commonly encouraged, but only behind closed doors," said Washburn.
The panel testimony ended with videotaped stories of Iraqis who had been wounded or lost loved ones as a result of U.S. military action.