Winter Soldier: Iraq

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One would like to believe that U.S. soldiers are benevolent, chivalrous knights in camouflaged armor who give candy to the kids and shoot only the wicked enemy.  One would like to believe that a rampage against civilians is aberrant behavior that is never condoned by the U.S. military command structure and quickly punished in the rare cases that occur.  However, the truth is otherwise.

 

This week, “Winter Soldiers” testified before Congress.  Here is a flavor of the stories they told:

 

Iraq War veterans testified about their post-invasion experiences in 2003 in a “free-fire zone” where there were supposedly “no friendlies.” A scout in the forward party and a tanker in the rear described the clearing of a highway.  The soldiers never saw any enemy combatants, but a headquarters analysis of the mission reported 700 – 800 enemy killed.  The implication was that the dead were all civilians.

In November, 2003, according to the testimony, a U.S. Army Lt. Colonel ordered retaliation because a sniper shot at his humvee.  The U.S. soldiers on the ground knew that there were families living in the apartment complex; during the day they could see women and children on almost every balcony.  That night, an AC-130 gunship opened fire on an apartment complex, completely destroying it.  The veteran says this building demolition was the most destructive act he’d ever seen, and the building was not a legitimate military target. A sniper team could have neutralized the enemy sporadically firing from that location, but leadership chose to destroy the building and the civilians inside.


The veterans also showed a video of a house raid in which GIs destroyed the contents of a house while a woman shrieked, only to find out they were at the wrong house.

These unnecessary civilian casualties happen when a President sends U.S. soldiers into a foreign urban area where the resistance army and the civilians look alike and speak a language that our soldiers have never learned.

 

http://ivaw.org/wintersoldier/testimony

 

PBS recently showed a documentary on the presidency of George H.W. Bush.  There was a clip of former Secretary of State James Baker saying that people in the 1990s sometimes criticized former Pres. Bush for stopping the first Gulf War without taking Baghdad; now he never hears such criticism.  However, this is the same James Baker who went to Florida in November 2000 to argue that the recount of votes should be stopped and George W. Bush be declared the winner of that pivotal presidential election.

 

If the U.S. should have learned anything from the Vietnam War, we should have learned that alienating the population of a foreign country is not the way to win a war.  Yet the U.S. military apparently did not teach that lesson to its officers in the years preceding the invasion of Iraq.  Certainly, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, having avoided involvement in the Vietnam War, did not learn anything from that war.  Unfortunately, it also seems to be true that the average American was for a long time unaware of this basic problem in the way the United States has fought the Iraq war.

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