Iraq Vet to Congress: Don't Cover Up Wikileaks' Iraq Revelations
Editor's note: the following is an open letter to Congress by Iraq war veteran Josh Stieber. Assigned to a district near Sadr City in Baghdad, the infantry company that Stieber deployed with was shown in the Wikileaks’ "Collateral Murder" video released in April. Stieber has shared his experiences on two cross-country tours and has met with elected representatives to inform them of the reality on the ground.
Dear members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and other willing parties,
This is an anticipatory letter aimed to advise you on your response and responsibility for the coming Wikileaks release, expected on October 23rd. Based on the White House’ s response to the last leak about Afghanistan, the temptation seems strong to once again divert attention away from accountability.
I write as a young veteran who once fully embraced the concept of a preemptive war to keep my fellow citizens safe and, as President Bush declared, because “ America is a friend to the people of Iraq.” I now hope to preempt your response to the information regarding that war in which I fought. When I learned in school about the design of the American system of government and all the noble qualities it represented, invading Iraq seemed to me, at the time, to be a surefire way to make the world a better place.
On the front-lines however, I saw those very values that had so inspired me seldom put into practice. Despite claims of goodwill, infantry training left my comrades and I desensitized; how could we scream “ Kill them all, let God sort them out” on a regular basis and still believe that we were caring for the oppressed people of Iraq? The glorious history I’ d been taught--where colonists could no longer tolerate harsh British rule and revolted over taxes, lack of representation, quartering of homes, and other offenses--was turned on its head when we displaced Iraqi families from their homes to build an outpost. The will of the people—what a democracy is supposed to rest on—was brushed aside as we stormed past a peaceful protest where Iraqi men, women, and children had gathered, asking us not to occupy their neighborhood.
Though many of those ideals have fallen, one American ideal that can still be shown, depending on how you react, is that of accountability. Our founding fathers established a system of checks and balances to keep decision makers accountable. However, there has been little accountability in the wars that my friends and I once thought represented everything that was noble about our country. Of course it highlights some of those qualities when investigations find soldiers who kill Afghans for sport; but if legislators, the media, and the American public had been paying attention to the testimonies of veterans, instances like these would be understood a systemic, perhaps extreme, but certainly not exceptional.
While government statements may be able to divert the attention of U.S. media and public opinion, our national reputation continues to fade in the eyes of people who have been at both ends of the gun. Do you think an Afghan whose loved one was killed by mistake—perhaps the families of the seven children mistakenly killed by Task Force 373 on June 17, 2007 in the Khelof province(1) cares what Bradley Manning, accused leaker, said to a hacker? Do you think a soldier who was asked to betray his or her beliefs and conscience cares if Jullian Assange, Wikileaks founder, has a fierce temper?
The coming leak about Iraq is your chance, your obligation to make up for what was largely ignored last time. For every question you ask of Manning and Assange and their characters, the much greater question needs to be asked of where the accountability in U.S. foreign policy has gone. Pentagon officials said there was blood on Assange’ s hands over the last leak; can you back those claims? And how do you respond to the blood that has been needlessly spilled throughout the war? Just as you demand accountability for leakers, you owe accountability to those whose names these wars are carried out in. While you focus on only questioning the messengers, it seems highly likely that allies of the U.S. will question our priorities and honor, while our adversaries will be further assured that our noble claims of caring for humanity and wanting to save their countries is cheap rhetoric.
Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, griped that he "was ashamed to have to sit there and listen to the president express his great angst about the leaking that is going on here in this town." (2)
I write on behalf of those around the world who are ashamed to have to listen to the President, along with military and political officials, express their great angst over leaks while seeming to ignore the realities of what those leaks reveal about the very nature of these wars. When you fail to take account for what has been done in
our names, funded by our taxes, and fought by those who believe that the U.S. should represent something noble, we will search for and tell the truth; if you are ashamed by citizens practicing the accountability that our country was designed to demand, then that says more about you than about us.
Please do something different; take accountability for these wars and the full truth about them. More specifically, please take account for what is detailed in both the Iraq and Afghanistan leaks by running the needed investigations, addressing the policies and practices that have gone unchecked, and beginning a much needed reconciliation process. If you need soldiers who are willing to collaborate what is detailed in the reports, I will be the first to step forward for this rounds of leaks.
Veterans have been stepping forward, partnered with civilian allies, to tell the truth that the “ official story” chases away: Civilian Soldier Alliance. We have taken part in campaigns to prevent the deployment of troops traumatized by what they’ ve been asked to do: Operation Recovery; we have partnered with organizations delivering aid on the ground in Iraq: Iraqi Health Now and have begun to repair the some of the damage that these leaks expose: IVAW Reparations . We are living out the care for humanity and personal responsibility that this nation prides itself on; we have a long way to go, and your participation, rather than dismissal, is highly needed.
Thank you for your consideration,
Josh Stieber, SPC, 2-16 Infantry Battalion, Combat Veteran