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2006-09-27

Iraq War Veteran Plans A Protest Walk Across Utah, the Reddest State in the Country

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Army reservist Sergeant Marshall Thompson spent a year in Iraq working as a military journalist. He reported from across Iraq, interviewing thousands of US soldiers. Now back home in his native Utah, he is planning a 500-mile walk across the state to protest the war and call for a withdrawal of US troops. [includes rush transcript]

His goal is to walk from the Utah/Idaho border to the Utah/Arizona border in 26 days, that’s one day for every 100 soldiers who have died in Iraq. He’ll have to average about 20 miles a day.

I spoke with Sergeant Marshall Thompson on Monday in Salt Lake City in his first national broadcast interview. He began by talking about why he was planning the walk.

  • Sgt. Marshall Thompson, Iraq war veteran and military journalist. More information at ASoldiersPeace.com

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I spoke with Sgt. Marshall Thompson on Monday in Salt Lake City in his first national broadcast interview. He began by talking about why he plans the walk.

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: Well, I got back from Iraq about two months ago, and I knew I’d have to do something to make things right. And so I decided, my wife and I, that it would be a good idea to do a walk through Utah. Utah is my home state, and I love it. It’s also the reddest state in the nation. It’s kind of a symbol of the last bastion of support for the war. So I thought that if I could walk through Utah in a peaceful manner and show that there’s support in Utah for peace, then that just might be what turns the tide.

AMY GOODMAN: What did you do in Iraq?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: I was a military journalist. It was a great job. I got to travel all around Iraq and interview thousands of soldiers. So I really got a good idea of what’s going on over there.

AMY GOODMAN: You were editor of the Anaconda Times?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: That’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the Anaconda Times?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: It’s a newspaper. It’s a military publication. It’s for the largest base in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: And who ran it?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: Well, there’s a unit, a public affairs unit, and I was part of that unit.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you able to print anything you wanted in the Anaconda Times?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: No, we were not able to print everything we wanted. We tried. We saw our mission as supporting the troops, so we were always trying to give them the good information of what was really going on, because they know what’s going on. They’re not being fooled by anybody. And so we wanted to be credible with them and print everything that happened. Of course, there is a level of censorship when you’re working for the U.S. Army. It’s just the way it goes.

AMY GOODMAN: Like what? Give an example.

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: There were a few times I wanted to do some stories about how, for instance, Turkey was sending special forces over the border to attack Kurdish groups, you know, without permission, violating Iraq’s sovereign borders. I was kind of outraged, and I wanted to print that story, but that was one that got squashed.

AMY GOODMAN: By who?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: By my commanders. They’re all very well-intentioned, but nobody wants to get in trouble. And that was a story that looked like trouble, and so it did not make it.

AMY GOODMAN: Turkey, a U.S. ally, attacking the country that the U.S. is occupying.

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: Exactly. Plus it was kind of — they were using the same rationale that we used to go into Iraq, saying, well, they’ve got a terrorist problem. If they can’t handle it, then we’ll go in and help them with it. And so we have no moral high ground there. We couldn’t tell them not to do it. And they continue to do it to this day.

AMY GOODMAN: Marshall, why did you join the military?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: I love my country. And I really wanted to serve it.

AMY GOODMAN: When did you join?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: I joined in 1999.

AMY GOODMAN: Before the 2001 attacks.

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: Yes. I was deployed to Kosovo during the 2001 attacks. And I’ve been very proud of my service. And it’s just been a hard time in Iraq, because this war is unjust. And no amount of patriotism that I have can change that.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you come to the conclusion that it’s unjust?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: Well, it happened before the war started. I was on the fence. And when Colin Powell addressed the UN, I believed him, like most people did, I think. But then there was something in me that kept bothering me, and it was that the decision to go to war with Iraq was based on fear, fear of something that hadn’t happened yet. And those are never good decisions. We can’t make fear-based decisions. So I decided that even if they had weapons of mass destruction, that I was going to be opposed to the war.

Then, years later when I went to Iraq, spent a year there, saw what happened, it was only reinforced. And I knew that I was going to have to come home and do something to make it right for my participation in it and just because I feel more responsible for what goes on over there, having been there for one year.

AMY GOODMAN: You interviewed hundreds of soldiers?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: Thousands.

AMY GOODMAN: Thousands of soldiers in Iraq. What is their attitude to the war?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: Most soldiers want to withdraw. That is proven. There was a Zogby poll. 72% of recently turned Iraqi vets want to be out of Iraq by 2006.

AMY GOODMAN: 2006?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: By 2006. That means this year. And my experience backs that up absolutely. There is a lot of pressure for soldiers not to speak out. There’s fear of court-martials. There’s fear of their commanders getting mad at them. There’s a lot of reasons why soldiers don’t speak out. But nobody should be fooled. Soldiers know what’s going on over there, and they are not happy about it.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the response when the soldier asked Rumsfeld about why they weren’t being protected?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: That was — we loved it. We thought that, you know, score one for the little guys.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you write about it in the Anaconda Times?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: No, we did not.

AMY GOODMAN: Why not?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: Well, it happened just a little bit before we got there, for one reason. And also, that’s the kind of thing that you just can’t get by in a military publication.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you see any kind of challenging of the supervisory officers by the lower level soldiers?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: Absolutely. Constant challenging, especially on the issue of censorship. Also, like I said, a lot of people, I think, underestimate soldiers. We know what’s going on. We’re smart. We read the newspapers. And there’s a lot of orders that may be unlawful that are challenged. You don’t hear about those, because those are the good examples. And then sometimes there are unlawful orders and they’re followed. And that’s the biggest problem.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you able to follow up on atrocities like Haditha, like Mahmoudiya, that story of Steven Green and the other Army soldiers who went into the home of this 14-year-old girl, Abeer, and killed her and her mother, father and sister?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: We were not able to follow up on atrocities such as those. I was able to post a blog. It kept me sane for the year, because I could print anything I wanted to on my blog.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you do that in the military?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: I just did it.

AMY GOODMAN: What was your blog?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: It was called chokeholdiniraq. That’s my nickname in the military. It’s a long story.

AMY GOODMAN: Chokehold?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: Chokehold, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s the story?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: I was in basic training. And they picked me, because I was soft-spoken, and they picked the biggest guy in the unit. And they were going to have us wrestle. And everyone thought I was going to die. And I put him in a chokehold. And everyone thought that was really funny that I won, so they called me "Chokehold" for the rest of the time.

AMY GOODMAN: So your blog is called chokeholdiniraq.

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: Yes. And I was able to print a lot of things that I couldn’t do in the newspaper. And it was very satisfying for me. Near the end of my tour, they said, "Hey, you’ve got to register your blog, and we’re going to have to start reviewing your articles." And that’s when I stopped doing it.

AMY GOODMAN: Other soldiers were doing this?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: Yes. Soldiers love to blog.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the story of the website that would give soldiers pornographic images if they would send in pictures of horror, of atrocities in Iraq?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: Yes. Well, obviously we weren’t able to print anything about those websites, although my experience with a lot of soldiers was that they take thumb drives, they have it on the hard drives of their computers, of hundreds of pictures, small videos, of terrible things that have happened, of just terrible atrocities. And it’s really sad. And I think if people knew that this was what’s happening to their young men and women over there, that they’re being exposed to this kind of a culture where you share videos and pictures like that, I think they’d be horrified. And rightly so.

AMY GOODMAN: So you’re going to walk across Utah. How are you going to do this?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: One step at a time. It’s going to be 500 miles. I’ll walk about 20 miles a day. Originally I planned to walk one day for every 100 soldiers who have died, so it would be 26 days. However, since we’ve planned this, the number has increased to over 2,700 U.S. casualties in Iraq, and so I’m going to have to add a day at the end, unfortunately.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s called "A Soldier’s Peace"?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: P-E-A-C-E?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And who will walk with you?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: Well, we’ve got a lot of support. Anyone is invited to walk with me. We want this to be an inclusive event. So that maybe you’re a conservative and maybe you like the war, but you just think that we need a plan to get out, I want those people to come walk with me, because at this point it doesn’t matter why we got into the war or what the partisan politics were about. What matters is that two soldiers die every day on average. And any way that we can end this war one day sooner is two lives saved. And I would walk 500 miles for that. I would walk 1,000 miles for that.

AMY GOODMAN: We just interviewed the mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson. He gave a very powerful speech against President Bush, when he was here in the reddest state, Salt Lake City. Your dad is the former mayor of Logan, Utah.

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: That’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN: His attitude to what you’re doing?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: At first he was a little bit hesitant, because he’s so moderate. He was a little worried about his war protester son going out, and he was worried about my safety and things like that. But as I explained to him our point of view, which is, we’re just calling for a rational, responsible withdrawal from Iraq. It can start immediately, but it doesn’t mean we have to pull all the troops out immediately. But it can start immediately. Once I explained this to him, he got really excited, and he told me that he thought it was a very noble idea. And he’s been a great help ever since.

AMY GOODMAN: Other soldiers, will they walk with you?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: Yes. There will be other soldiers walking with me. I’ve received an enormous amount of support from fellow soldiers. I got an email yesterday from a soldier in Iraq who said, "I know what you’re saying. I can’t publicly support you, because I’m afraid of what might happen to me, but thank you for what you’re doing. And I’ll be walking with you in spirit."

AMY GOODMAN: Are you worried about walking here in Utah?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: You know, some people are worried. I’m not worried. I spent a year in Iraq. And I cannot be afraid of anything in Utah. It just doesn’t make any sense at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: If people want to get more information, where do they go?

SGT. MARSHALL THOMPSON: They can go to asoldierspeace.com.

AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant Marshall Thompson. We talked to him yesterday in Salt Lake City.

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