The New York Times saw fit to mark the fifth anniversary of the US invasion by inviting nine "experts" including not one soldier to reflect on the conduct of the war and occupation of Iraq. The Times chose to listen to Richard Perle and Robert Bremer III but not one soldier. The Times has no time for troops like Camilo Mejia or Kelly Dougherty. But the public must take the time.
Mejia and Dougherty were among the hundreds of young servicemen and women who shared wrenching, infuriating, riveting eyewitness testimony over the last three days at Winter Soldier hearings in Silver Spring, Md. While the Times's "experts," include men and women who personally played a disastrous role in urging on and then conducting this war, the Winter Soldier hearings, organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War, brought the public the occupation as seen by the very young men and women at the bottom of the chain of command whose lives have forever been transformed by what we and the US government asked them to do in our name.
It is testimony you have a responsibility to watch or listen to. Some addressed broad policy issues having to do with the rules of engagement, occupation, the treatment of civilians and detainees and the treatment of troops on their return. Some related to specific violations, including rape, indiscriminate killing, torture, desecration of the dead and the apparently common practice of dropping weapons on dead civilians to make them look like combatants. More than one soldier described being told to carry "drop weapons," in their vehicles.
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The IVAW say they have corroborated these stories. Reporters urgently need to follow up. As one witness, Joshua Castell put it, "Moral slippery slopes go from top to bottom." Those at the bottom cannot be the only ones to take responsibility.
After Winter Soldier 1971, the proceedings were read into the congressional record and the Senate Foreign Relations committee held hearings that gave vets an opportunity to testify. Will this Democratic-controlled Congress give these men and women the same opportunity? These soldiers are willing to take oaths. On Sunday, Former US Army Captain Luis Montalvan, who served two tour of Iraq, said he'd be grateful to have the chance. His colleagues, agreed, "on a stack of bibles."
Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan wrapped up March 16, forty years to the day after the My Lai Massacre which started the Whole Winter soldier phenomenon. As Garrett Reppenhagen, the first active duty soldier to join IVAW put it Sunday, "It's time to stop this occupation before the next Tet Offensive." As IVAW are showing loud and clear, this occupation is not winnnable, it is destroying Iraq, tearing apart this country and breaking down our military. It has to stop now. And not just the troops need to feel the pain.