What struck me most about the testimony I heard last week’s Winter Soldier hearing at Town Hall was not so much that I’ve heard it before, but the sinking feeling of hearing it all again, with a younger generation of vets.
I found it much more disturbing, and was surprised by that (and I actually missed much of the testimony, running late because my health was acting up again). I think maybe it was the rawness of seeing young veterans and soldiers just back, talking about what’s still going on.
Real Change published a good article on the hearings this week. One of the young men describes how what was supposed to be a humanitarian mission of his first tour turned out to be mostly about harassing people. Then shortly into his second deployment, a roadside bomb killed several officers in his platoon, and “the rules of engagement changed from disarming civilians to killing them.”
“Pretty much all we did was just go out on the town and search for people to shoot,” Kochergin said. “Later on, we had no rules of engagement at all. It was go out there and if you see something that you think is not right, take ‘em out.”
Another veteran described how “American soldiers rip Iraqi men from their homes and families, often based on a tip from a neighbor seeking a payoff from the U.S. military.” Now think about that. Imagine what it would be like if someone who didn’t like you could not only turn you in and have you put in detention and tortured, but could also get paid for it.
• Joshua Simpson: “People know that the U.S. has a military that will pay for people to give information to us, [but it’s] the names of people [that] don’t have anything to do with terrorist attacks or the insurgency. It’s people they dislike or something, a neighbor who had a feud with them – sometimes just random people. And this would be the basis of the raids that we would do.”
Nor are our troops or their families immune from the damage of this war:
About a third of those returning suffer from either PTSD or major depression, he said, with up to 20 percent struggling with the loss of function from a traumatic brain injury brought on by constant exposure to blasts in Iraq. At that rate, out of the 1.6 million military personnel deployed to Iraq, Kanter estimated a total of 300,000 to 400,000 “psychiatric casualties” will be coming home, out of which 18 veterans a day are already committing suicide – the highest rate ever recorded, he said.
The result for families, said Tracy Manzel, who spoke on the panel with her husband Seth, is domestic violence, broken marriages and, in one case she cited, a wife murdered by a husband in Seth’s unit. “The Bush Administration talks of family values and how much these values are attacked, but really what the administration is doing is splitting families apart,” she said.
Racism is, sadly, not dead in the U.S. military, as reported in the Seattle PI article on the hearings:
Many said they went to Iraq hoping to help civilians, but found that often wasn’t the case. U.S. troops frequently referred to all Iraqis and Middle Easterners as “hajji,” an ethnic slur. In medical units, they became “range balls,” meaning they were like the golf balls hit on driving ranges that are of low value and that you don’t mind losing.
Sexism isn’t either. One of the people who testified at the hearing was the mother of a young woman still in Iraq (though it sounds like, at least, with a different unit now) who suffered from “command rape.” It’s so common, there’s a name for it. Her daughter told her that the prevalent attitude in the military is that women in uniform are all either “bitches, dykes or whores.,” and didn’t know what to do.
There was a second panel on GI resistance (which is sprouting up, just as it did during the Vietnam War), including a film from those who have fled to Canada.
After the hearing, we all marched, down from Town Hall to Westlake, via Pike Place Market. I just wished there were more of us, more of us marching. There actually are more people against the war than when we held the biggest marches before it happened (I was remembering Seattle Center packed at the start of one of them as I walked through the grounds the other day).