As we mark the five-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq this week, we continue to bring you the voices of US veterans and active-duty soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan testifying about the horrors of war. For four days, soldiers convened at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland for Winter Soldier, an eyewitness indictment of atrocities committed by US troops during the ongoing occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War, the event was modeled after the historic 1971 Winter Soldier hearings held during the Vietnam War. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Tomorrow night the US invasion and occupation of Iraq will enter its sixth year. On Monday, at least seventy-two Iraqis were killed in violence around Iraq, including forty-two Shiite worshippers in a suicide bombing in Karbala. Two US troops were also killed, bringing the US death toll to 3,990, ten deaths away from the 4,000 mark.
If the Bush administration’s drive to invade Iraq was aided by corporate media cheerleading, the five-year mark today is being met with near-silence by the corporate media. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the US occupation of Iraq has accounted for just three percent of news stories in television, print and online media so far this year. On cable news networks, it’s accounted for just one percent.
That silence was on display this past weekend when the corporate media largely ignored a monumental gathering just outside the nation’s capital. For four days, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and active-duty soldiers convened at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland for Winter Soldier, an eyewitness indictment of atrocities committed by US troops during the ongoing occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War, the event was modeled after the historic 1971 Winter Soldier hearings that took place in Detroit held during the Vietnam War.
Yesterday, we brought you some of the testimony from the current Winter Soldier hearings. We continue with more of their voices today, as we mark this fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. This is Winter Soldier.
HART VIGES: My name is Hart Viges. I joined the Army right after September 11th and asked for Airborne, asked for Infantry, ended up with 82nd Airborne Division, 1st/325 HHC, Battalion Mortars, Hunters in the Sky, Death from Above, and went in November 2001 and left the Army in December 2004. I was deployed to Kuwait in February 2003 and subsequently was part of the invasion in March.
Originally, we were going to jump inside Baghdad airport, but 3rd ID was ahead of schedule, so we drove in and secured this town that was hitting supply lines, a town called Al Samawa. This was my first experience with the job that I was trained to do. I was a mortarman, 81-millimeter mortar. We were set up outside the town of Al Samawa in basically a dump. Flies were so heavy, you couldn’t eat. When the sun was up, you’d have a — you get a mouth full of flies with your MRE pudding.
But what I saw there, you know, more so even what I participated in, you know, hearing the radio calls over for the line companies that are in trouble, or they spot some people go into a building, so we get that fire mission, and we destroy the building with our mortars. I set the timers, I set the rounds, the charges for the mortars. I was part of that team that sent those rounds downrange.
And, you know, this isn’t army to army, you know. People live in towns. It’s beyond imagination to think that normal people, civilians, don’t live in towns. This is upside-down thinking. So I never really saw the effects of my mortar rounds in the towns. So that just leaves my imagination open to countless deaths that I don’t know how many civilians, innocents I’ve killed, helped kill.
Another big piece of weaponry that they used on this little town of Al Samawa was called a Spectre gunship. It’s a C130 with belt-fed howitzer cannons, two of those, and some like super-Gatling guns — I wouldn’t know the proper nomenclature for that. And they would sweep around Al Samawa, just pounding the city. And this is definitely a sight to be seen, this airplane. I mean, you — it’s almost — even though the rounds are coming from up in the sky, it’s almost like the ground is shaking. And again, over the city, over neighborhoods, Kiowa attack helicopters with Hellfire missiles, F-18s dropping bombs that would shake you to the bone, all while I was laying down mortar fire on this town full of people. — letting down mortar fire on this town full of people.
And the radio was always — never a good thing came over the radio. One time they said that — to fire on all taxicabs, because the enemy was using them for transportation. And in Iraq, any car can be a taxicab. You just paint it white and orange, and there you have it. And one of the snipers across the radio replied back, “Excuse me? Did I hear that right? Fire on all taxicabs?” The lieutenant colonel replied back, like, “You heard me, trooper. Fire on all taxicabs.” And once that conversation ended, the town pretty much lit up; all the units that were in there fired on numerous cars — again, you know, people. Where’s the real proof? This was my first experience with war that really kind of set the tone for the rest of the deployment.
Then I went to Fallujah for a couple of weeks, and our Charlie Company picked a fight there, so we had to skip out. My Fallujah story is not like other Fallujah stories. I was out in this resort area that got stripped up, that we took over, and had my weapon thirty meters away from me, working on my tan in a man-made lake. But hearing the stories come back from inside town, but —-
And then we went to Baghdad and pretty much ran that town into the ground. You know, there was no real structure there, no police, no authority except for us. And we took full advantage of that in the treatment of the people and in just overall viewpoints. I mean, myself, I never really consider myself a racist person, but everything was “haji this,” “haji that,” “haji smokes,” “haji burger, “haji house,” “haji clothes,” “haji rag.” “Haji” is the same as “honky.” It’s the same thing. I had to catch myself.
And then, with raids, we never went on a raid where we got the right house, much less the right person. Not once. We were outside of Baghdad, this water treatment plant, and it seemed like a pretty nice area, you know, trees, green. But then, as we were leaving, two men with RPGs run out in front of us in the road, and there’s a lot of yelling and screaming. And they’re huddled themselves with women and children that were there. And we’re all screaming, “Drop your weapon! Drop your weapons!” They had RPGs slung on their backs. And I was watching my sector on the left. They were on the right. You know, I was very adamant about watching my sector over there. But I just couldn’t take it anymore, and I swung my rifle around, had my sight on the dude in the doorway, RPG on his back, had my sight on his chest. This is what I’m trained to do. But when I looked at his face, he wasn’t a bogeyman, he wasn’t the enemy; he was scared and confused, probably the same expression I had on my face during the same time. He was probably fed the same BS I was fed to put myself in that situation. But seeing his face took me back, and I didn’t pull the trigger. He got away.
We get backup with Apache helicopters, Bradley fighting vehicles, and we go back into this nice little village, asking questions. And, you know, it’s a pretty good history in Iraq. You know, if you got beef with your neighbor back in Saddam’s day, you just say, “Hey, police, he said something bad about Saddam. Why don’t you go get him?” And they take him, and they torture him. Well, now, here with the US, we’re asking, “Who are the troublemakers?,” and we hear from the people in the village that these people are troublemakers over here. So we go, and myself and another soldier steps off, and we toss the hut. Well, the only thing I find is a little .22 pistol, not AK-47s, not RPGs, not pictures of Saddam, not large caches of money. But we end up taking the two young men, regardless. And I looked at my sergeant, and I was like, “Sergeant, these aren’t the men that we’re looking for.” And he told me, “Don’t worry. I’m sure they would have done something anyways.” And this mother, all the while, is crying in my face, trying to kiss my feet. And, you know, I can’t speak Arabic. I can speak human. She was saying, “Please, why are you taking my sons? They have done nothing wrong.” And that made me feel very powerless. You know, 82nd Airborne Division, Infantry, with Apache helicopters, Bradley fighting vehicles and armor and my M4 -— I was powerless. I was powerless to help her.
And I was very naive back then. I thought that, you know, they would just take them and find out, yeah, they don’t know anything. But later I found out people who were detained were — are being detained for years. Parents don’t even know where their children are.
And the lack of humanity in war, the place where you put yourself is — when you look at it in back, it’s almost alien. We were driving down Baghdad one day, and we found a dead body on the side of the road. So we all pulled over to secure it and wait for MPs or whatever authorities would come and take care of this dead man here who was clearly murdered. And my friends jumped off and started taking pictures with him, you know, big old smiles on their faces, you know. And they said, “Hey, Viges, you know, you want your picture with this guy?” And I said no, nut “no” not in the context of that’s really messed up, because it’s just wrong on an ethical basis, but I said no because it wasn’t my kill. You shouldn’t take trophies for things you didn’t kill. I mean, that’s what my mindset is — was back then, because I wasn’t even upset that this man was really dead. They shouldn’t have been taking credit for something they didn’t do.
AMY GOODMAN: Hart Viges, speaking at Winter Soldier. Viges fought with the 82nd Airborne Division. After he returned from Iraq, he was granted conscientious objector status. A correction on the number of soldiers killed in Iraq: at last count, 3,990. We’ll have more after break.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C., as we mark this week’s fifth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. We return now to our coverage of Winter Soldier. The term “winter soldier” is a play on Thomas Paine’s words in 1776 when he spoke of the sunshine patriot and summertime soldiers who deserted at Valley Forge. These are the voices of “winter soldiers.”
JASON WASHBURN: My name is Jason Washburn. I was a corporal in the United States Marine Corps, in which I served four years. I did three tours in Iraq. My first two tours were with the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines Charlie Company. And my third tour was with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines Weapons Company. I was in the initial invasion, and eventually, after the invasion was done, we settled down in Al Hillah. This was in ‘’03. From ’04 to ’05, I was in Najaf, and from ’05 to ’06, I was in Haditha.
During the course of my three tours, the rules of engagement changed a lot. It seemed like every time we turned around we had different rules of engagement. And they told us the reasons they were changing them was because it depended on the climate of the area at the time, what the threat level was deemed to be. And the higher the threat level was, the more viciously we were permitted and expected to respond.
And, for example, during the invasion, we were told to use target identification before engaging with anyone. But if the town or the city that we were approaching was a known threat, if the unit that went through the area before we did took a high number of casualties, we were basically — we were allowed to shoot whatever we wanted. It was deemed to be a free-fire zone. So we would roll through the town, and anything that we saw, everything that was saw, we engaged it and opened fire on everything. And there was really — I mean, there was really no rule governing the amount of force we were allowed to use on targets during the invasion.
I remember one woman was walking by, and she was carrying a huge bag, and she looked like she was heading towards us. So we lit her up with the Mark 19, which is an automatic grenade launcher. And when the dust settled, we realized that the bag was only full of groceries. And, I mean, she had been trying to bring us food, and we blew her to pieces for it.
After the invasion ended and Bush declared “mission accomplished,” the rules changed pretty drastically. Instead of actually firing, we used a lot of, I guess, close combat, just hand-to-hand-type stuff, just simple hand-to-hand violence to subdue people. There were a lot of times where we would be out on foot patrols, and, you know, we were ordered to not allow people to pass through our patrol formation. And unsuspecting villagers would try to pass through or cut through the formation, and we would butt-stroke them, jab them with the muzzle, you know, kick them or whatever, you know, just get them out of the formation. And one time, there was a guy on a bicycle with a basket full of groceries, and he tried to, you know, just roll through. And, you know, we clotheslined him and smashed up his bicycle. For what? You know, passing through the formation. And — but this is like what we were expected to do.
And in another instance, we were ordered to guard a fuel station. At the end of the day, like nothing had happened, and we had mounted up into our trucks. And right when we were about to take off, a bunch of people, Iraqi people, rushed to the fuel pumps to try to take some fuel. And our squad leader called it in. And the response was — over the radio was “What do you think we want you to do? You know, go F them up!” — obviously in more colorful, you know, language, but — so we jumped off the trucks and charged at the Iraqis, and we really beat the hell out of them and with rifles, fists, feet, everything else that we had available. You know, so once they had either fled or were broken and bleeding, you know, unconscious on the ground, we mounted back up in our trucks and left. We were never told to detain anyone there or, you know, question anyone — just mess them up, you know.
And most of the innocents that I actually saw get killed were behind the wheel of a vehicle, usually a taxi driver. I’ve been present for almost a dozen of those types of people that got killed just driving. During my third deployment, there was a rule in place where all Iraqi traffic had to pull off of the road to let military convoys pass by. If they didn’t comply or somebody got back on the road too early, they would get shot up. If they approached a checkpoint too fast or too recklessly, they would get shot up. Also, we were often told to be on the lookout for vehicle-borne IEDs, improvised explosive devices, matching the description of every taxi in Iraq. You know, be on the lookout for a car that has orange panel doors and, you know, front that’s white, or vice versa. And it’s like every taxi in Iraq, that’s exactly what it looks like, and those are the cars that we’re supposed to be looking out for that could be, you know, VBIEDs. And so, quite a few of those guys got shot up just because their car looked like what we were told to look out for.
In another instance, it was actually a mayor of a town in our AO near Haditha that got shot. Our command showed us pictures from the incident. They had gathered the whole company together, and they were showing pictures of all of this, you know, what everything looked like, and pointed out the — that the reason that they did this was because there was a really nice, tight shot group in the windshield, and he announced to the company that this is what good Marine shooting looks like. And that was the mayor of the town. And it was actually my squad that was, after that, tasked with going to apologize to the family and pay reparations. But it was kind of like, basically, all we did was go there and, you know, give them some money and then leave. You know, “Oh, well” is the way it seemed they wanted us to apologize to them. It was really a joke.
Something else we were actually encouraged to do, almost with a wink and a nudge, was to carry drop weapons or, by my third tour, drop shovels. What that basically is, is we would carry these weapons or shovels with us, because in case we accidentally did shoot a civilian, we could just toss the weapon on the body and make them look like they were an insurgent. Or, you know, like my friend here were saying, we were told by my third tour that if they were carrying a shovel or — you know, and a heavy bag, if they were digging anywhere, especially near roads, that we could shoot them. And so, we actually carried these tools and weapons in our vehicles in case we accidentally shot an innocent civilian, and we could just toss it on them and be like, “Well, he was digging. I was within the rules of engagement.” And this was commonly encouraged, but only behind closed doors. It wasn’t obviously a public announcement that they would make. But, yeah, it was pretty common.
AMY GOODMAN: Corporal Jason Washburn, speaking at Winter Soldier this weekend in Silver Spring, Maryland. Jason Washburn served three tours in Iraq from 2003 to 2006. He took part in the invasion, was deployed in the cities of Najaf and Haditha. Speaking on the same panel was former Marine Sergeant Jason Lemieux.
JASON LEMIEUX: My name is Jason Wayne Lemieux, and I’m a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. I served four years and ten months in the United States Marine Corps Infantry and was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant. During my time in the Marine Corps, I served three deployments to Iraq, including the invasion. And in case any inquiring minds want to know, I served four years and ten months because I voluntarily extended my enlistment contract by ten months to redeploy with my unit for the third tour. My first tour started in January 2003 and ended in September of that year. My second tour was from February to September of 2004. And my last tour was from September 2005 to March 30, 2006.
Proper rules of engagement serve an important strategic purpose, which is to legitimize military force. By projecting an image of restraint and professionalism, militaries seek to reinforce the idea that they’re protecting local residents, rather than oppressing them. Not only do these rules undermine support for any local opposition, they also deflect accusations of occupation and oppression from foreign countries and, in some cases, the people of the country the military is supposedly serving. Martin van Creveld, who is an Israeli military historian, even asserted some years ago that the British had not yet been driven from Northern Ireland, because they were taking more casualties than the Irish were. The US, on the other hand, has not chosen to use rules of engagement in the same way in Iraq. The rules of engagement have been broadly defined and loosely enforced to protect US service members at the expense of the Iraqi people, and anyone who tells you different is either a liar or a fool.
During the invasion of Iraq, during the push north to Baghdad, the rules of engagement given to me were gradually reduced to the point of nonexistence, similar to the cases that you’ve already heard. When we first crossed the Kuwait-Iraq border at Az Zubayr in March 2003, we were operating under Geneva Convention guidelines and were authorized to shoot anyone wearing a military uniform, except for medical and religious personnel, unless they had surrendered. By the time we got to Baghdad, however, I was explicitly told by my chain of command that I could shoot anyone who came closer to me than I felt comfortable with if that person did not immediately move when I ordered them to do so, keeping in mind I don’t speak Arabic. The general attitude that I got from my chain of command was “better them than us.” And the guidance that we were given reinforced that attitude across the ranks. It was an attitude that I watched intensify greatly throughout the course of my three tours.
I remember in January of 2004 attending the formation where we were given what was going to be our mission for the second deployment, and I was sitting there like a good Marine with my pen and paper ready to write down those carefully chosen, thoughtful words that would justify my existence in Iraq for the next seven months. And my commander told me that our mission was — and I quote — "to kill those who need to be killed and save those who need to be saved." And that was it. And with those words, he pretty much set the tone for the deployment.
At the start of that second deployment, our standing rules of engagement were that someone had to be displaying hostile intent and committing a hostile act before deadly force could be used. I won’t get into the absurdity of asking one to discern what is going on in the mind of another individual, except to say that it was the individual Marine’s job to determine what is hostile intent and a hostile action.
However, during the April offensive of 2004 in which attacks erupted all over Anbar province, my unit was involved in a two-day firefight. Shortly after the firefight was underway, the same commander who had given us the mission issued an order that everyone wearing a black dishdasha and a red headscarf was automatically displaying hostile intent and a hostile action and was to be shot. An hour or two later, he gave another order, this time that everyone on the streets was considered an enemy combatant. I can remember one instance after the order was given that afternoon when we came around a corner, and an unarmed Iraqi man stepped out of a doorway. I remember the Marine directly in front of me raising his rifle and aiming at the unarmed man, and then I think just for some psychological reason my brain blocked out the actual shots, because the next thing I remember is stepping over the dead man’s body to clear the room that he came out of. I remember that it was a storage room, and it was full of some Arabic brand of Iraq — or some Arabic brand of cheesy puffs, like Cheetos. There weren’t any weapons in the area, except for ours. The commander told us a couple of weeks later that over a hundred “enemy,” quote-unquote, had been killed, and to the best of my knowledge that number includes all of the people who were shot for simply walking down the street in their own city.
After the firefight was over, the standing rules of engagement for my unit were changed so that Marines didn’t need to identify a hostile action anymore in order to use deadly force; they just had to identify hostile intent. The rules also explicitly stated that carrying a shovel, standing on a rooftop while speaking on a cell phone or holding binoculars, or being out after curfew were automatically considered hostile intent, and we were authorized to use deadly force. And I can only guess how many innocent people died during my tour because of those orders.
On my third tour, the rules of engagement were stricter, but they really only existed so that the command could say there were rules of engagement that were being followed. In reality, my officers explicitly told me and my fellow Marines that if we felt threatened by an Iraqi’s presence, we should just shoot them, and the officers would, quote-unquote, "take care of us."
By this time, many of the Marines who were on their second or third tour had suffered such serious psychological trauma, having watched friends die and lose limbs, that because of these experiences, they were moved to shoot people who, in my opinion, were clearly noncombatants. There was one incident when a roadside bomb exploded, and a few minutes later, I watched a Marine start shooting at cars that were driving down the street hundreds of meters away and in the opposite direction from where the IED had exploded. We were too far away to identify who was in the cars, and they didn’t pose any threat to us. And for all I could tell, as I was standing about twenty meters away from the Marine and about 300 meters from the cars, they were just passing motorists. It was long enough after and far enough away from the explosion that the people in the cars might not have even known that anything was going on or that anything had even happened, but the Marine was shooting at them anyway.
This Marine had had his best friend get killed on our last deployment and had also related to me a story about the two-day firefight that I mentioned earlier, when he watched the commander, who had given us the order to shoot anyone on the street, shoot two old ladies that were walking and carrying vegetables. He said that the commander had told him to shoot the woman, and when he refused, because they were carrying vegetables, the commander shot them. So, when this Marine started shooting at people in cars that nobody else felt were threatening, he was only following the example that his commander had already set.
I don’t have anywhere near enough time to tell you every related experience that I had in Iraq, but in general, the rules of engagement changed frequently, contradicted themselves, and when they were restrictive, they were either loosely enforced, or escalations of force, as shootings of civilians were known, were not reported because Marines did not want to send their brothers in arms to prison, when all they were trying to do was protect themselves in a situation they had been forced into, where there was a constant ambiguous and deadly threat, and any citizen of the country that they were supposedly liberating could have been wearing an explosive vest.
With no way to identify their attackers and no clear mission worth dying for, Marines viewed the rules of engagement as either a joke or a technicality to be worked around so that they could bring each other home alive. Not only are the misuse of rules of engagement in Iraq indicative of supreme strategic incompetence, they are also a moral disgrace. The people who have set them should be ashamed of ourselves, and they are just one of the many reasons why the troops should be withdrawn immediately from Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Marine Sergeant Jason Lemieux. He served three tours in Iraq from 2003 to 2006. He currently heads the Los Angeles chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War. If you’d like a copy of today’s program, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. More testimony in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We return now to Winter Soldier, eyewitness accounts of Iraq and Afghanistan.
GEOFF MILLARD: My name is Geoff Millard. I’m the Washington, D.C. chapter president of Iraq Veterans Against the War. I spent nine years in the New York Army National Guard. Thirteen months of that was spent as a sergeant in Operation Iraqi Freedom, stationed at Forward Operating Base Speicher the majority of that time. At the end of my tour of duty and the end of my military career, I went UA for nine months. They mailed me my honorable discharge in May of 2007.
It’s no surprise for anyone who’s been in the military since September 11th, especially not for those of us who have been deployed since September 11th, that the word “haji” is used to dehumanize people not just of Iraq and Afghanistan, but anyone there who is not us. We bought haji DVDs at the haji shops from the hajis that worked there. The KBR employees that did our laundry that were from Pakistan became hajis. The KBR employees who worked inside of our chow halls became hajis. Everyone that was not a US force became a haji, not a person, not a name, but a haji. I used to have conversations with members of my unit, and I would ask them why they use that term, especially members of my unit who are people of color. It used to shock me that they would. And their answers were very similar, almost always, and that was, “They’re just hajis. Who cares?”
And that came from ranks as low as mine, sergeant, all the way up to lieutenant colonel in my unit. The highest-ranking officer that I ever heard use these words was the highest-ranking officer during my deployment in Iraq: General Casey. During a briefing that my unit, the 42nd Infantry Division Rear Operations Center at FOB Speicher, gave to General Casey, I heard him refer to the Iraqi people as hajis. I have heard several generals, including the 42nd Infantry Division Commander, General Taluto, and my own general that I worked for, Brigadier General Sullivan, use these terms in reference to the Iraqi people. These things start at the top, not at the bottom.
I have one story that I want to share with you. One of the most horrifying experiences of my tour that still stays with me was during a briefing that I gave. It was actually in the early summer of 2005. For those who have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, we know that a year becomes a month, a month becomes a day, and a day becomes a second, a second that repeats over and over and over again, not just for your tour, but the rest of your life. So I wish I could name the exact date, but unfortunately that day has become a second that has repeated and repeated and repeated.
But on a day in the early summer of 2005 in the area of operation of the 42nd Infantry Division, there was a traffic control point shooting. Traffic control point shootings are rather common in Iraq; they happen on a near or daily basis. What happened was, a vehicle was driving very quickly towards a traffic control point. A young machine gunner made the split-second decision that that vehicle was a threat, and in less than a minute put 200 rounds from his .50-caliber machinegun into that vehicle. That day, he killed a mother, a father and two children. The boy was age four, and the daughter was age three.
I was in the briefing that evening when it was briefed to the general. And after the officer in charge briefed it to the general in a very calm manner, Colonel Rochelle of the 42nd Infantry Division, DISCOM Commander, turned in his chair to the entire division-level staff, and he said — and I quote — “If these [expletive] hajis learned to drive, this [expletive] wouldn’t happen." I looked around the TOC at the other officers, at the other enlisted men, mostly higher enlisted. As a sergeant, I think I was the lowest-ranking person in that room. And I didn’t see one dissenting body language, one disagreeing head nod. Everyone was in agreeance that it’s true, if these F-ing hajis learned to drive, this S wouldn’t happen. I couldn’t believe it, but it was true. That stayed with me the rest of my tour.
I looked around every time that word “haji” was used, and I thought about that soldier who will carry that with him for the rest of his life, and I thought about the four Iraqis whose bloodline was ended on that day. And Colonel Rochelle could not think of any of that, but only his own racism and dehumanization that has started at the commander-in-chief of this war and worked its way down the entire chain of command.
I would like to thank my fellow panelists and everyone who has testified and offered testimony that will not be heard publicly for Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan — Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupation. It has been the utmost honor, more honor than I ever gained from putting on a uniform, to sit up here with the greatest patriots of American history. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Sergeant Geoff Millard, spent nine years in the National Guard, served thirteen months in Iraq, he heads the Washington, D.C. chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Former Sergeant Domingo Rosas testified next.
DOMINGO ROSAS: My name is Domingo Rosas. I was a sergeant. I was deployed to Iraq with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Division — or 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, excuse me, from April 2003 to 2004. I am a combat veteran.
I was stationed in the Al Anbar presence on the western edge on the Syrian border. We occupied a local train station there in an area called Al Qaim and which we called Tiger Base. While at Tiger Base, I was put in charge of the detainee site, which consisted merely of one of those shipping containers that we’re all familiar with, at least most of us, and the shipping container and just a single building surrounded by barbed wire. I had two soldiers to back me up when I was handling the detainees. And I was briefed by the sergeant that I relieved that the men in the shipping container were captured combatants, and I was to deprive them of sleep. So I had them standing inside the shipping container facing the walls, no talking. I let them have blankets, because it was cold, but they were not allowed to sit down or lay down. Any time they started falling out or dozing off, they put their heads on the wall, I would be on the outside of the shipping container, and I’d just smack the shipping container with a pickax handle, try to wake them up and keep them awake.
The men in the building were noncombatant detainees just being held for questioning. There were ninety-three men altogether. Using one of them to translate, I told them that they had a clean slate with me. If they didn’t give me any trouble, then the next twenty-four hours will pass calmly. If they did, I told them it was going to be a long twenty-four hours. And I just prayed that they didn’t give me any trouble, because I didn’t know what I would have had to do. They even told me I was a good man while I was in charge of them.
One day, a body bag was dropped off to me. When the soldiers came to retrieve it the next morning, they just threw it on top of some junk in the back of a truck, but the rigor mortis had already set in and it wouldn’t fit down inside the truck on top of the stuff, so the soldiers started stomping on it. I mean, like really stomping on it. I couldn’t imagine. You know, I was like, how can you do that?
I also had a former Iraqi general some of you may have heard of who was taken from my custody. I was told to keep him separated from the other noncombatants and give him everything he needs. If he asks for anything, hook him up, you know, take care of him, and don’t harass them. And I was like, well, I don’t need somebody to tell me to not harass somebody. He ended up — a soldier came up to me later and ended up telling me that, you know, hey, he died during questioning during his interrogation. And I’m thinking to myself, how tough does a question have to be to kill? I don’t know exactly what went on during his interrogation, but he was fine when I had him.
Days after he was taken from my custody, I had in my custody his fourteen-year-old son, a very bright child, spoke four languages. He was supposed to be taken to his father. I was told that — you know, loosen his tongue up, get him to talk a little more, you know, just try to get him to cooperate more. And instead, that boy was being taken to identify his father’s body. Now, I’m not sure, but it’s possible that if he wasn’t — that child — if that child was pro-American or just one of our friends and possible ally of us, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t an ally of ours anymore.
Sometime later, the detainee site was taken over and rebuilt by men that we were told to call OGAs, which stood for “other governmental agency.” However — you know, that’s a pretty vague term. They built — they built high walls around the detainee center, and I figured, well, yeah, you know, they’re terrorists, you know? You don’t want them seeing out. You don’t want them — you know, you want to contain them, deny them like any kind of possible information that they could use to possibly escape. And then later on, I realized that it wasn’t just so detainees couldn’t see out, it was so we couldn’t see in.
One night, I was told to give a message down to the detainee site. I knocked on the door. And when they opened it, I witnessed one detainee being kicked around on the ground in the mud, rolled over again and again. The agent was just kicking him with his foot, just rolling him over in the mud, pouring water on his face, you know, the whole waterboarding thing. And another detainee was standing there with a bag over his head and was forced to carry a huge rock until he just physically couldn’t do it anymore and just collapsed. That image seared itself into my mind’s eye, and I can’t forget it. I won’t forget it. Sorry.
As I wrap this up, I just want to say two things. The longer we live as a human race, we’re supposed to be getting smarter and wiser and better. And to the vets that we’re trying to bring home alive, decades from now, when you’ve got your grandchild sitting on your knee, bouncing in front of you, just try to remember what we did here today under the flag, IVAW. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Sergeant Domingo Rosas, served in Iraq with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment from April 2003 to April 2004. Again, in the winter of 1776, Thomas Paine wrote, "These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, [shrink] from the service of [their] country; but,” he said, “he that stands [by] it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Referencing Thomas Paine, the soldiers testifying about the horrors of war 200 years later called themselves “winter soldiers.” We’ll continue to bring you the voices of Winter Soldier tomorrow to mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.