Monday, March 17, 2008

Michele Norris, you never look so White as when you try to speak for Black America

Iraq Veterans Against the War Winter Soldier Investigation began Thursday evening and ran for three more days -- Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Thursday, IVAW chair Camilo Mejia spoke of the importance of speaking out and standing up, the growth of dissent and the way the Geneva Conventions were violated in Iraq.
Friday the hearings began and the first panel was Rules of Engagment: Part One.  Iraq veteran Clifton Hicks spoke with some additional comments from veteran Steve Casey. Hicks spoke about a Humvee immediately ahead of his Humvee running over an Iraqi civilian and that their vehicle, following, ran over the remains of the corpse and no one wanted to bother with a report because they were tired and just wanted to "go to sleep."  This was true, he testified, not just with that incident but many times and people would avoid 'seeing' corpses because no one had the time for the paperwork.  He explained:
These are not bad people, these are not criminals, these are not monsters. These are people like any of us but they're put in a horrible situation and they respond horribly and when you're around that much death running over some guy as he's standing in the road is not a big deal. What's a big deal is getting stuck and getting separated from your con[voy] for another two hours.

He described his tour of duty in Iraq as days of nothing happening with "eight seconds of violence" suddenly taking place, jolting you and gettering your blood pumping.  One incident involved his team driving their Humvee to where they heard gun shots, finding that US service members who were there originally had been unable to identify where shots came from (a ditch to the left) so they began firing on a house (to the right), "And just to be brief on this, they hit three people inside the wedding party.  One of them was an adult male who was slightly wounded.  Another, a young girl maybe ten, was slightly wounded.  But what really got to me was there was another girl who was maybe six or seven and she was dead."
Also on that panel was  Adam Kokesh, Iraq War veteran and co-chair of IVAW.  Kokesh discussed the rules of engagment cards that were distributed and how quickly those rules were tossed aside.  He offered, among other examples, the slaughter of Falluja where "we changed rules of engagement more often than we changed our underwear. At first it was, you follow the rules of engagement you do what you're supposed to do and then there were times when you could shoot any suspicious observers or someone with binoculars or someone with a cell phone was fair game. And that really opened things up to a lot of subjectivity. But also firing at muzzle flashes into the city. Firing Mark 19s became common practice. At one point we imposed a curfer on the city of Falluja and at that point we were told we could shoot anything after dark."  He explained check points incidents and noted that US service members are standing there in dusk making the visibility more difficult for approaching cars. 
That point was echoed by Jason Hurd's testimony on the same panel.  Hurd discussed an incident where a vehicle sped past his patrol, down the road, and, finding the road blocked, turned around.  The car was traveling very fast and Hurd signaled for it to come to a stop.  It didn't stop and continued at the same rate.  Instead of responding with gunfire, the standard procedure, Hurd continued to try to get the driver to stop by waving his hands and jumping up and down.  Having no luck in getting the car to stop, Hurd pulled his gun and was about to fire but an Iraqi came running into the street and flagged the car down.  After it stopped:

And out flopped an 80-year-old woman . . . Come to find out this was a highly respected woman in the community and I hate to think what would have happened if I'd fired on her. I think a riot. Ladies and gentleman, I hate guns. I spent ten years in the military and I carried two of them on my side in Iraq but I think they should be melted down and turned into jewelry. That is the worst thing that I've ever done in my life. I am a peaceful person. Yet in Iraq I drew down on an eighty-year-old, geriatric woman who could not see me because I was in front of a desert colored vehicle, preceeding a desert colored building in desert colored camoflauge.
In Saturday's panels on Racism and War: the Dehumanization of the Enemy, Geoff Millard would testify that not only was the h-word used by the brass in Iraq, they also would declare that the checkpoint killings were the result of h-words not knowing how to drive.  Hurd and Kokesh's testimonies provided reasons for the deaths that have received little attention.
At the time you get so wrapped up in everything that you like you want to just get out there and, you know, 'This one's for so-and-so who died and this one's for so-and-so.' And you stop caring about who gets hurt because you're so fixed on who's been hurt in your unit, you know? But we all just wanted everyone to come home alive. And it's difficult, it's difficult when we're put in a situation where experiencing pop-shot and sniper-shot and IED situations in an urban or a civilian occupied area. I mean, it can get pretty ugly -- especially given the weapons that we used and the weapons that we were given. So, I mean, like I said before, things definitely, things definitely degenerate over time.
The panel on The Crisis in Veterans' Healthcare followed.  Adrienne Kinee spoke on that panel and a correction to Friday's snapshot: Kinne did not state that, "The best preventative healthcare . . . for our soldiers in uniform is to not use them to fight illegal wars"; she stated, "The best prevantative healthcare . . . for our soldiers in uniform is to not use them to fight illegal occupations in the first place." Kinne testified about serving in the military, discharging in 1998 and then enlisting again and discharging during the Iraq War.  The differences she saw were immense.  The first time she left the US military, she found a great deal of help and resources, people helped her with her paperwork, they advised her of her benefits and assisted her in a smoother transition to civilian life.  By contrast, when she discharged during the Iraq War, she was provided no help, no assistance and something as simple as having a physical would require that she live on a base for four to six more weeks before the military would discharge her.  There was no attempt made to explain the benefits available to veterans. 
Equally disturbing was what happened after she got a job as a research assistant at a VA in Georgia where she helped with a study on PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) which resulted in a screening for TBA being devised.  There was much excitement over the screening while it was nailed down from the research aspect.  The excitment quickly withered.
Adrienne Kinne: And then they went to go to the next step, to actually make this happen. And I was actually on a conference call when someone said, "Wait a second. We can't start this screening process. Do you know that if we start screening for TBI there will be tens of thousands of soldiers who will screen positive and we do not have the resources available that would allow us to take care of these people so we cannot do the screening." And their rationale was that medically, medical ethics say if you know someone has a problem, you have to treat them. So since they didn't have the resources to treat them, they didn't want to know about the problem.
The testimony may bring to mind the man testifying on the same panel who explained his wife's miscarriage and the military medical community's part in that. The man (noted in Friday's snapshot but I didn't know his name) was Zollie Goodman and his testimony included:
. . . [O]ne day the United States military will leave Iraq when we do all we have to show for it is thousands of dead Americans. In the meantime. the war ends every single day for our soldiers because someone is discharged from the United States military every single day. They're discharged with no assistance into the VA system. Some people are discharged without knowing that they qualify for veterans benefits, like I was. And with that statement said, I'm going to move into my testimony. I'm going to briefly cover something that happened while I was on active duty which, as many people know, many people are told to join the military that you will receive healthcare, your family will receive healthcare, your dependents will receive healthcare and no one can take that healthcare away from you. September 2005, I was on a training operation, deployed out of Jacksonville, Florida. We were under way. My wife was pregnant with my unborn child. While I was on that training operation, my wife began the horrible process of a miscarriage. Being home by herself, the first thing she did was to try to call the Tri-Care hotline. Tri-Care is the health service that's provided to us in the military. The lady on the hotline told her that she probably already had lost her child and that there was nothing they could do. She asked for an ambulance and she was told that, if she had $1500, they were willing to send an ambulance. Not having $1500 on the salary of an E4, she chose not to get the ambulance and she called a friend of mine and waited for him to come pick her up at our apartment and drove her to base. There's a hospital on Naval Station Mayport, it's called Hospital at Naval Station Mayport, and she arrived there at four p.m. She went inside and the nurse told her they were closing at 4:30 and they couldn't help her. She insisted to see a doctor. The doctor told her that they could not help her and she was turned away. And she once again waited in the parking lot while she was bleeding for my friend to take her to another hospital 23 miles away called the Hospital at NAS Jacksonville. No ambulance was provided. Nothing. No assistance. And we lost the child.
Kevin and Joyce Lucey also appeared to testify on that panel.  They are the parents of Iraq veteran Jeffrey Lucey who returned from Iraq, received no medical care (basic things such as intake assessments and exit interviews were not done by the VA when he was admitted for suicidal behaivors).  Jeffrey Lucey, receiving no medical assistance, would take his own life.  Joyce Lucey noted, "Unfortunately the tragedy is not that it just happened to one Marine but that this continues to happen to others four years after our son's death to countless others -- names that will never be placed on a memorial wall."
Iraq War veteran Eric Estenzo also offered testimony on this panel, explaining that he left the service with a back injury and PSTD.  He also stated, "I did leave the military with $17,000 and good credit. I was a good Marine. I served honorably. I never questioned anything about the integrity of my service -- my service to country and the service I was receiving -- until I went into the V.A. healthcare system and it was then that some things were just not working out for me."  What followed was an inability to get some jobs due to his back injury and trouble with other jobs due to his PTSD.  He got his college degree but was still struggling and soon ended up house surfing.  He didn't realize he was actually homeless until one day when he encountered Friend-to-Friend handing out free food to the homeless in Hollywood.  He was hungry and decided to get into line.   "At first," he noted, "I was just thinking I was just hungry and this is free food so I was going to go for it."  Then he began thinking about it and how "I am now an Iraq vet, I am standing in line with homeless people, being served free food, and this is actually happening to me, this is actually happening to our Iraq War vets and I am one of them."  What followed was a severe depression and he "literally cracked the day after that" losing his "dignity, self-respect, my honor just went down.  I was in a very dark place for considerable time."  The help and support of other veterans -- not the VA system -- including Jeff Key helped him emerge from the depression but he continues to struggle to receive the benefits he earned and was promised.

But as he was standing in line, he shared that something else happened, "I looked at myself and I started thinking to myself that I am now an Iraq vet, I am standing in line with homeless people, being served free food, and this is actually happening to me, this is actually happening to our Iraq War vets and I am one of them. And I am a casulty of the system."

Among the other panels on Friday was the panel on Corporate Pillaging and Military Contractors.  IVAW's executive director Kelly Dougherty spoke on that panel about her time serving in Iraq. Dougherty was deployed to Kuwait in February 2003 and sent into Iraq as an MP in March of 2003.  As an MP, her job mainly consisted of patrolling and providing escorts to convoys.  Of those, they were mainly dealing with KBR (then a subsidary of Hallibutron) trucks which cost approximately $80,000 and which they were repeatedly told by their command were "national assessts."  One would break down, get stuck in the mud, have a flat tire, etc., and the driver would jump out and hop into another truck in the convoy and leave.  Doughtery's team would have to then deploy to the area and secure the abandoned truck.  They would be told to protect it, they would be told it was important.  They would repeatedly wait around for hours, keeping Iraqi civilians away from the trucks, only to be informed by their command that the truck wasn't that important after all and they needed to shoot out the engine bloc and set the thing on fire to ensure that Iraqis could not use it for parts or utilize the abandoned cargo.  "That was pretty much a daily occurence," Dougherty testified. "Where we were abandoning vehicles by KBR contractors on a daily basis."  They destroyed fuel at a time when Iraqis needed it and food at a time when they needed it.  They even were ordered to destroy an ambulance which had fallen off a truck, onto its side, into the mud because they did not have the means to pull it out of the mud.  Dougherty explained the local sheiks were present and, because ambulances are in short-supply in Iraq and that area had none, begging them not to destroy the ambulance, saying that they would figure out a way to pull it out of the mud.  As she noted of these type of missions, "I'm looking at people I can't even look in the eye."  Though proud of her long service prior to Iraq, Dougherty stated the only thing she can look back on with pride from her tour of Iraq is that all the people on her team made it home alive.
Antonia Juhasz is the author of THE BU$H AGENDA and, as the dollar sign in the title indicates, analyzing the profit motive of the illegal war is her area of expertise.  She was one of the civilians testifying on the panel and her testimony included  the following:
The United States invasion of Iraq was an illegal act of war.  It was unsupported by [. . .] international law, the US law, the US military code of conduct, nor basic morality.  With the execution of the war and the ongoing occupation, a clear pattern of war crimes and crimes against humanity have and are being committed.  Soldiers therefor who refuse to fight, to stand up to the war, who speak out and act out against the war are not only morally right in their response but legally required to take such measures.  They're upholding their obligation to reject illegal orders and to defend the Constitution of the United States.
[. . .]       
The war's objective -- there are certain areas, and I'm sure many of you could articulate these events better than I can.  The international law does substantuate for one country initiating a war against another country.  That list does not include  seizure of another country's natural resources nor does it include the hoped for political, economic and hegemonic gain that gaining those resources would grant a nation.  I certainly do not stand as a minority person at this point in stating quite an obvious fact, quite obvious at this point by more prestigiou people than myself, that the war in Iraq was clearly a war launched and fought for and continue to be fought for oil.
Juhasz went on to cite Alan Greenspsan's recent admission, in book form, to just that.
Saturday's panels began with Divide to Conquer: Gender and Sexuality in the military and among those offering testimony were Patricia McCann who declared, "If my mother only knew I'd hear my drill sergeants say to males right next to me, 'Does your p-word hurt? Do you need a tampon?' If my mother only knew that."  She noted the training she received was questionable and that "I felt that all these things they told us, they were used as tools to either emascualte the male or condemn femininity as evil and dangerous."  She shared harassment and how it was downplayed because no one had been 'hurt' by it and that this sent a message, early on, that if you complain, you will not be listened to.  She also noted a fear that kept some from complaining: "There's always this idea that you're going to ruin someone's career if you talk about stuff." 
You were conditioned not to complain and the military environment conditioned you further as Abby Hiser found out.  Being friendly with all she served with did not result in her being known as a good soldier or a team player the way it would for men.  Instead, she was the victim of a whisper campaign of how she must be having sex with this guy or that guy since she was friendly.  Hiser testified:

So I learned my lesson and I kept to myself; however, now I was labeled again -- as rude, mean, snooty or a witch. Or the b-word, I should say.  
[. . .]  
Another issue, that there needs to be more respect and professionalism in the training field. I was disrespected by an ROTC soldier during a summer assignment where he inappropriately patted me down during a training exercise.   
He was supposed to be searching me as I was playing the role of an enemy . . . And he [grabbed] my chest with both hands and like patted me down inappropriately and he walked away laughing like it was a joke. And he just laughed with his buddies, "Oh look at her, she really enjoyed that, she liked it." Like it was just no problem.
Following that panel, two panels were held on Racism and War: the Dehumanization of the Enemy.  Scott Ewing used his testimony to note that, "Instead of news we have infotainment" and this prevents realities about Iraq from getting out. He spoke of sending an group of people from their homes in one area to go live in tents so that the US military could bomb the area, bombing the people's homes in the process.  He spoke of how every Iraqi was seen as suspicious and how a patrol uncovered one man, a handy man, whose equipment included many saws -- why was that?  There must be something more to it?  He must be an 'insurgent.' The proganda war waged on the US people by the White House was also waged on those serving in Iraq.
Also speaking on those panels on the 'other' was IVAW chair Camilo Mejia who noted "blank spaces" he had of his time in Iraq and how you "erase certain memories that are too overwhelming, too painful to deal with."  He spoke of a child next to his father.  The father had been decapatitated by US machine gun fire.  The child was alive.  He could not "remember the expression on this child's face" and did not even grasp that it was the son of the man until he was back on base and "people told me later that was the man's sons."
IVAW is calling for an immediate end to the illegal war (and restitution for Iraq and the benefits and care the US government promised to those serving) and Mejia noted that the illegal war was destroying "the humanity of US soldiers . . . and destroying the Iraqi people."
Veteran Micheal Leduc offered testimony about how the "rules of engagement we operated under were very strict" originally but that changed with the second slaughter of Falluja and he could see that "this was all about to change."  He spoke of seeing US service members using the heads of Iraqi corpses to "sharpen the sights" of their rifles.  Brian Casler offered testimony about the pressure placed on those serving in Iraq and how, in his experience, it was always negative pressure, not positive, and the value was always placed on US lives, not Iraq lives. As noted previously, Geoff Millard testified about the use of the h-word by high ranking brass which included General George Casey.
Also offering testimony was Dr. Dahlai Wasfi, an Iraqi-American who grew up splitting her time in both the US and Iraq.  She spoke of the nonsense claims that 'those people' had always been fighting one another and noted very clearly that this becomes the norm only after the US invasion.  She spoke of the xenophobic belief among some on the left that the US has to remain to 'help' the Iraqi people -- as if the Iraqi people are children and incapble of running their own country.  She spoke of the creation of the 'other' and noted that "we have to remember that pick any country around the world and it's made up of families and it's those families who pay the price for what happens."
Iraqi civilian testimony followed with tales of homes bombed by mistake, tales of disrespect during home searches and stories of a general lack of respect for Iraqis in their own country.
Sunday was the last day of the hearings and one of the two panels was The Future of GI Resistance. Iraq veteran Jeff Englehart offered testimony on his tour of duty and noted how there was not a lot of support for resistance when he was in Iraq. He discussed his readings while in Iraq and noted Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States and how he and others created their own by-the-book resistance.  He, Garret Reppehagen and Joe Hatcher started Fight To Survive while in Iraq and were "told to stop posting on it because it seemed to be threatening the morale of the military itself." Of IVAW, Englehart explained, "This group is dedicated to bringing all the troops home, not tomorrow, not a year from now, bring the troops home right now." Among the goals he supports focusing on are GI outreach ("biggest thing") to "let them know they're not alone, that they have power" and "help them get their hands on literature that the military might obstruct them from getting."
This was a theme that veterans Phil Aliff and Garret Reppenhagen also spoke of in their testimonies.  Aliff stated, "Let me begin by saying to our sisters and brothers in Iraq and Afghanistan that you are not alone in your opposition to this illegal occupation and we must struggle together on every military base, in every combat zone and with every veteran to reach our goals to end the occuaption.  And let me be clear, we have the power to bring the troops home.  When soldiers throw down their weapons and refuse to fight."
Reppenhagen focused specifically on the future of resistance and noted:
And we were involved in a variety of GI resistance and a lot of that didn't involve going AWOL or breaking army regulations. In fact in our entire GI resistance campaign that we did we followed army regulations to a 't' and that led to us still getting our honorable discharge. And one of the things I want to let people know is that there are ways to resist this war wihthin army regulations. One of the most important things about our military is you are a citizen soldier, you still retain your rights as a citizen and your able to use those rights and you should since you're the ones sacrificing basically to protect those rights so it'll be a shame if the actual use of your first amendment right becomes unpatriotic.
So we're talking today about the future of GI resistance and you can't help but try to predict the future by looking at the past and I just think this Winter Soldier is so incredible. We're doing this far earlier than what the Vietnam vets did thanks to their mentorship, and their leadership and some of their guidance we were able to put this together five years after our invasion of and our occupation of Iraq. If you realize it, the Vietnam veterans, they conducted their Winter Soldier in 1971 and Vietnam War started in 1959. Thats more than ten years after the engagement started, that's also three years after the Tet Offensive which was in 1968. We had over 400,000 American troops deployed in Vietnam at the time, we lost over 14,000 soldiers killed in action in Vietnam and I feel that we're ahead of the game and one of the most powerful things, we might be less in numbers and we might have less of a voice in the political atmosphere and the social atmoshpere and America's very diffirent now but if we can start this resistance early, if we can get a jump on this movement, we can end this war before there is a Tet Offensive in Iraq.
So let's compare Iraq and Vietnam. You're looking at a country, Vietnam, who's far smaller in geographical size, less population, less diversity ethnically, less diversity religiously, politically. There's definitely less natural resources underneath the soil. So this has the potential of being a larger, regional dynamics involved that could explode and could be far worse than what we saw in Vietnam. So it's important to look at this and you know if we don't stop the occupation, this will escalate into a size greater than I think any of us are willing to sacrifice for.
So the military's very different now. So when we look at GI resistance, we also have to look at what our military's doing. There's not a draft today and that awareness out there in America, there's not college students that is fearing they're going to get called up and put into this war, there's not parents out there scared to death that their child is going to be called up to service involuntarily. 75% of this war's veterans are still in the military. So the population of the pool of veterans that you know are out there don't exist like they did in Vietnam. These men and women are still stuck in the military through stop-loss orders, through Individual Ready Reserve programs. There's a different type of soldier today. They're career soldiers, they're professional soldiers. The men and women that I served with, many of them, that was their career, that was their job and they took in honor in that and they didn't want to give that up. They might not have wanted to go to Iraq or Afghanistan over and over again, but they did take pride in the fact that they were soldiers and they didn't want to lose that. Many of them have wives and husbands and kids that they're trying to support and they thought that the military would be a good way to do that, a good career and a good job to do that. They didn't ask to be sent to Iraq and to an illegal occupation of another country and basically oppress a people who don't want us there. They just wanted to be used in a just way when all peaceful solutions have been exhuasted. That's when they thought they'd be sent in harm's way.
Camilo Mejia was the last panelist to speak and he noted:
I would like to start my remarks by saying if you are a Vietnam veteran and a member of VVAW and especially if you attended the first Winter Soldier Investigation, please stand. [Six people do to applause.] There's a long history of resistance in our military but it is because of your leadership and your strength and your resistance that we stand here today. Without your example, we would be pushing forward in the darkness. It is with the courage that you passed on to us that we lead the way against an endless, illegitimate occupation that's tearing apart our military and our country. Today is the last day of Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan but today also marks the birth of a new generation of Winter Soldiers. George Orwell once wrote, "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes an act of rebellion. We live today in times of universal deceit but throughout the past four days we have witnessed first-hand acccounts that challenge that universal deceit. Iraq Veterans Against the War has become a source of stress to the military brass and to the government. We have members who have been interrogated by the FBI. We have members sitting in this room who have been incarcerated for being conscientious objectors. We have been incarcerated for standing up to and saying no to command rape and sexual discrimination. We have members in Iraq Veterans Against the War who have been prosecuted for being publicly critical of our government's failed war policy. We have become a dangerous group of people, not because of our military training but because we have dared to challenge the official story, because as members of the military we have dared to share our experiences, because we have dared to think for ourselves, because we have dared to analyze and be critical, because we have dared to follow our conscience, because we have dared to go beyond patriotism to embrace humanity. The service members and veterans who have shared our experiences with you, with the entire world, are committing an act of resistance.
Winter Soldier concluded on Sunday.  Archives can be found  at Iraq Veterans Against the War, at War Comes Home, at KPFK, at the Pacifica Radio homepage and at KPFA, here for Friday, here for Saturday, here for Sunday.  Aimee Allison (co-host of the station's The Morning Show and co-author with David Solnit of Army Of None) and Aaron Glantz were the anchors for Pacifica's live coverage (and archives are now up at Pacifica Radio).  At the conclusion of Winter Soldier, Kelly Dougherty noted, "We never know who is going to be effected when we tell our stories, we never know the impact its going to have or where its going to reach."  Among those impacted within the military were service members in Iraq who watched it on a PBS channel and streamed it online.  As Reppenhagen noted in his testimony Iraq Veterans Against the War  website was being overwhelmed with service members and veterans filling out applications.  The archives allow those who missed it or parts of it to catch up and the testimonies to reach even larger audiences.
We don't have time (the snapshot is very late, my apologies) to address coverage of it in the media today.  We'll do so tomorrow and we are not done noting Winter Soldier by any means.  Links on testimony go to  Rebecca's Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude; Cedric's Cedric's Big Mix; Kat's Kat's Korner; Betty's Thomas Friedman is a Great Man; Mike's Mikey Likes It!; Elaine's Like Maria Said Paz;
Wally's The Daily Jot; Trina's Trina's Kitchen; Ruth's Ruth's Report; and Marcia's SICKOFITRADLZ.] The Third Estate Sunday Review and this site -- all will continue to cover Winter Soldier.

Never miss a thing. Make Yahoo your homepage.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello. This post is likeable, and your blog is very interesting, congratulations :-). I will add in my blogroll =). If possible gives a last there on my blog, it is about the Servidor, I hope you enjoy. The address is A hug.