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Winter Soldier on the Hill

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Winter Soldier on the hill

my favorite excerpt.

AMY GOODMAN: War veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan came to Capitol Hill this month to testify before Congress and give an eyewitness account about the horrors of war. Like the Winter Soldier hearings in March, when more than 200 service members gathered for four days in Silver Spring, Maryland to give their eyewitness accounts of the injustices occurring in Iraq and Afghanistan, Winter Soldier on the Hill was designed to drive home the human cost of war and occupation, this time to the very people in charge of doing something about it.

Then name “Winter Soldier” comes from a similar event in 1971, when hundreds of Vietnam vets gathered in Detroit. The term is derived from the opening line of Thomas Paine’s pamphlet The Crisis, published in 1776. "These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman,” Paine wrote.

Well, in a packed public hearing this month, the soldiers testified before a panel of lawmakers from the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Today, we spend the hour with their testimony. We begin with former Marine sniper, Sergio Kochergin, giving a firsthand, behind-the-scenes account of the initial days of the US invasion of Iraq.

SERGIO KOCHERGIN: As we cleared all the buildings and moved into the city, and we finally had a time to take a little break, we found a lot of left-behind vehicles, from pickup trucks all the way to luxury Toyota Avalons with leather and sunroofs, which we used for perimeter patrolling. The pickup trucks and the other vehicles were used for the car derby. We would either ram into each other or just ram into the walls, while Iraqi people watched us and were asking for vehicles. We knew they were going to loot the cars, so we just destroyed them, so that the people would not have a chance to take them, except for the scraps.

We also were exposed to a lot of dead Iraqi citizens, either enemy combatants or innocent civilians who were killed by initial air strikes or invasion. At one point, after approaching dead bodies of about four people, we began to take pictures and tried to move and flip them over to try and identify them as civilians or enemy combatants. A few days later, a family of the killed came by and asked if we found anyone who was killed nearby. Me and another Marine led the family to the dead corpses, and they were identified as their sons and uncles and nephews of the family. It was very hard to see the pain in the people’s eyes from their loss. They began to cry and point at us and at the sky and telling us that the planes killed them, and it was our fault also. But we tried to explain to them that it wasn’t us.

Imam Ali Mosque in al-Najaf, Iraq, an influential Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, was killed with another 122 innocent people on August 30th of 2003. A few of our Marines went to the hospital to provide security for all the relatives that were trying to contact their families. When they came back, they said they have never seen so much blood before. They said that they couldn’t even see the ground, so much blood and body parts were everywhere. The suicide bombing was placed by al-Hakim’s political and religious opponent, al-Sadr. Unknown number of attacks have been organized by al-Sadr’s militia against innocent people of Iraq and against the occupying forces.

One other responsibility we had in al-Najaf was to guard an ammunition supply point about thirty miles northeast from our base. Our job consisted of patrolling ASB, and when we came into contact with Iraqis stealing stuff, we would take a physical action and to make sure they would never come back. We would shoot their tires out or shoot their windows, putting them on their knees like we’re about to execute them and just shoot in the air and laugh and yell at them and tell them that the next time will be worse. Our orders directly from command was to roughen up all the guys up. They would always tell us that everybody is an enemy and that we can’t trust them and the only way to keep them in place is to put as much fear as possible and to let them know that we’re not playing around. During the deployment in al-Najaf, nothing was fixed or intended on being fixed at all, except keeping the city in the occupied hands and instill the fear into the people at every chance we got.

My second deployment was in the city of Husaybah in Al Anbar province in Al Qaim region on the Syrian border. First thing I want to talk about is the drop weapons. Drop weapons are the weapons that are given to us by our chain of command in case we kill somebody without any weapons, and so that we would not get into trouble. We would carry an AK-47, and if the person that was shot did not have the weapon, an AK-47 would be placed at his corpse, and when the unit would come back to the base, they would turn it in to identify the shot man as the enemy combatant. The weapons could not come from anywhere else but the higher chain of command, because after the raid, all weapons were turned in into the armory and should have been recorded.

Two months into deployment, our rules of engagement changed to a personnel with having a bag and a shovel at the intersection or on the roads, that they were suspicious. This gave us a bigger window on who we can engage. Looking at the situation, this point of view, a lot of enemy combatants that we shot were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We were tired, mad, angry, and we just wanted to go home and stop this killing of our brothers. One of our intelligence officers told us that they received a call from one of the sources in the city telling them that there are fliers posted all over the town that says that there are unknown snipers in the city, they kill the insurgents and the civilians. We did not take into consideration that the innocent people are being killed by us, because every time we sent the pictures to the command post through the interlink system, we would receive an approval to kill people with shovels and the bags.

Now, I know that it wasn’t right to do that, but when you trust those who act like they care for you, you listen to them and follow their orders, because you don’t want to let your friends down. “What if?” was used as a propaganda and a way to relieve our minds from the actions we have partaken in and make it easier on us.

Another thing I want to touch on is, problems with equipment are another big problem. Where is all the money going that is given to the military? During my first deployment, I had a Vietnam-era flak jacket without a plate. My M-16 was made back in the late ’70s. We did not have enough night-vision goggles for everyone. While Marines are patrolling in the Hummers every day and get blown up, because the only protection they have are the flak blankets hanging from the doors, while generals and colonels and other high-ranking officers that leave a base once in awhile have brand new, fully armored Hummers that are always spotless clean sitting on the base, while other Hummers are bleeding with our brothers’, sons’, daughters’, sisters’ blood every day.

When we all come back from Iraq and we seek help from our command, they call us “weak” and “cowards.” The lines for a psychologist is almost a year long, and the only thing that can help us is the alcohol and the prescription pills they’re giving out to us like candy to keep us down, because it seems like doctors don’t want to do their job and they just don’t care. Use of drugs amongst the military units is critical. We lost numerous numbers of people from failing drug tests. They either want to get out, or they’re just so messed up, and the only one thing that can help them to escape is the drugs.

The last thing I want to tell you is about a roommate who we shared a bathroom with, a Marine who was on the suicide watch for about few months on and off. The last three weeks before we were deployed, he was constantly on watch. A week before family day, when the family comes in and says goodbye to their Marines before we deploy, he was released from the watch, so that he would not say anything to his parents, and he did not say anything to them. About a month into deployment, he blew his brains out in the shower stall. Actions like that show the poor judgment of our command just to have numbers for the troops and just to keep their own skins safe. The Marine should have never gone to Iraq in the first place, and nobody was held responsible for his death. If there is no care for your own Marines, what care do they have for the people of Iraq when they give the orders?

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I'm glad the vets did that. It really bothers me how the chain of command treats their own soldiers and the civilians. They're still human lives and have families. Yes it's a war but that doesn't mean you have to treat the people you are sending out to most likely die, like they mean nothing to no one.

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its pretty nasty, but i must say, "Thats what happens when you join the military"

Militaries are for war. The end.

Militaries are used for occupation/control. Even when theres no more wars for man, he will still strive to dominate. The new war is becoming economics. You choose the battlefield, soldiers or not, everyone will become a warrior.

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