the Brutal Reality of U.S. Occupation
While the Bush administration is trying to paint an improving picture in Iraq, veterans of the Iraq occupation are finding their voice. And, they are painting a picture of the U.S. role in Iraq that demonstrates why it is urgent for the United States to withdraw.
The voices of Iraq Vets have been so effective that the military has tried to silence their leaders with disciplinary efforts, but this has only given them more attention in the media. And, it has enraged vets that when they come home from risking their lives for a war started on false pretenses that the military is trying to muzzle them – prevent them from exercising their First Amendment rights on the most important political issue of the day.
Next week Iraq Veterans Against the War will be announcing a new campaign, the Tri-Folded Flag Campaign, that will make the point that “Funding the War is Killing the Troops.” This campaign is designed to hold the Congress responsible for their role in continuing the war. In particular, they will focus on Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Democratic Whip James Clyburn. More than 1,800 tri-folded flags will be delivered to their offices representing the U.S. soldiers killed since the Democrats took control of the Congress. The announcement event will be on Tuesday, July 17 in Washington, DC and the campaign will continue through September.
And, the Nation Magazine is featuring the voices of Iraq vets in an article by Chris Hedges & Laila Al-Arian. They write about interviews they conducted with 50 Iraq war veterans that describe in vivid detail how the war is really being conducted and how civilians in Iraq are being mistreated, brutalized and killed. Killing of civilians is common. The article states: “The killing of unarmed Iraqis was so common many of the troops said it became an accepted part of the daily landscape.”
The article, “The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness,” describes the effects of “the four-year-old occupation on average Iraqi civilians” as well as the “deep emotional and physical scars” U.S. vets hold as a result of their participation in the occupation. The article describes the “brutal side of the war rarely seen on television screens or chronicled in newspaper accounts.”
The authors summarize their findings writing:
“Their stories, recorded and typed into thousands of pages of transcripts, reveal disturbing patterns of behavior by American troops in Iraq. Dozens of those interviewed witnessed Iraqi civilians, including children, dying from American firepower. Some participated in such killings; others treated or investigated civilian casualties after the fact. Many also heard such stories, in detail, from members of their unit. The soldiers, sailors and marines emphasized that not all troops took part in indiscriminate killings. Many said that these acts were perpetrated by a minority. But they nevertheless described such acts as common and said they often go unreported--and almost always go unpunished.”
One vet summed it up saying “I guess while I was there, the general attitude was, A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi.” Another described the attitude as “a lot of guys really supported that whole concept that, you know, if they don't speak English and they have darker skin, they're not as human as us, so we can do what we want.”
A dozen described open racism with ridicule of Iraqis in racist terms, with troops deriding “haji food,” “haji music” and “haji homes.” One soldier described the impact of this racism, “By calling them names they're not people anymore. They're just objects.”
This article was brought to life by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now who interviewed some of the veterans interviewed in the article on her nationally syndicated radio and television show.
The voices of Iraq veterans are becoming more and more important as the Bush administration continues to take a misleading approach to what is happening in Iraq. The administration’s July 12th report on ‘progress’ in Iraq that tries to “grey wash” reality – a white wash would just have not passed the straight face test as enough information is escaping about Iraq so that most Americans and members of Congress know things are going poorly. The grey the administration attempts to paint is really much darker. Iraq is a disaster, even the Green Zone is not safe anymore.
As Staff Sgt. Timothy John Westphal concluded on Democracy Now “we need to bring our troops home right now, because all we’re doing is making more terrorists and more people who hate America.”
Opposition to the war by veterans is not new. Many vets who see the reality on the ground in Iraq have become opponents of the occupation. More than a year ago a Zogby poll of Iraq soldiers found that 72% of the troops want the U.S. should withdraw in a year, now more and more troops are becoming vocal in their opposition to the war and their lack faith in their commander in chief. Polls of Military Times readers have found growing disenchantment with the war and loss of faith in the Commander-in-Chief.
The Zogby poll and poll of readers of Military Times are confirmed by a recent DoD May 4, 2007 survey by the Pentagon’s Office of the Surgeon General of the US Army Medical Command which found just 47 percent of soldiers and 38 percent of marines agreed that civilians should be treated with dignity and respect. Only 55% of soldiers and 40% of marines said they would report a unit member who had killed or injured a civilian.
While politicians in Washington position themselves for the 2008 election and President Bush puts forward his uncompromising stay the course stubbornness despite reality things continue to deteriorate in Iraq. There is no question that the Democrats in Congress have the power to end the war. For example, the Democrats could filibuster continued funding unless it includes an exit from Iraq. The Republican minority has used the filibuster to continue the war but the Democrats don’t use their power to end it. And certainly President Bush as commander in chief could end the war.
Yet the war drags on and every day more soldiers and their families suffer the consequences of death, maiming and psychological trauma and at the same time Iraqis suffer the painful existence of being occupied with thousands of civilians killed every month, life without electricity, adequate food, fuel and other necessities of life as well as millions exiled and displaced.
Where will the leadership come to end the war? We must look to ourselves and bring elected ‘leaders’ with us. They are better at following then leading.