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Winter Soldier on the Hill: War Vets Testify Before Congress

StoryNovember 28, 2008
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War veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan came to Capitol Hill earlier this year to testify before Congress and give an eyewitness account about the horrors of war. Like the Winter Soldier hearings in March, when more than 200 service members gathered for four days in Silver Spring, Maryland to give their eyewitness accounts of the injustices occurring in Iraq and Afghanistan, “Winter Soldier on the Hill” was designed to drive home the human cost of the war and occupation — this time, to the very people in charge of doing something about it. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: War veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan came to Capitol Hill to testify before Congress and give an eyewitness account about the horrors of war. Like the Winter Soldier hearings in March, when more than 200 service members gathered for four days in Silver Spring, Maryland to give their eyewitness accounts of the injustices occurring in Iraq and Afghanistan, Winter Soldier on the Hill was designed to drive home the human cost of war and occupation — this time, to the very people in charge of doing something about it.

The name “Winter Soldier” comes from a similar event in 1971, when hundreds of Vietnam vets gathered in Detroit. The term is derived from the opening line of Thomas Paine’s pamphlet The Crisis, published in 1776. “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 that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman,” Paine wrote.

Well, in a packed public hearing, the soldiers testified before a panel of lawmakers from the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Today, we spend the hour with their testimony. We begin with former Marine sniper, Sergio Kochergin, giving a firsthand, behind-the-scenes account of the initial days of the US invasion of Iraq.

    SERGIO KOCHERGIN: As we cleared all the buildings and moved into the city, and we finally had a time to take a little break, we found a lot of left-behind vehicles, from pickup trucks all the way to luxury Toyota Avalons with leather and sunroofs, which we used for perimeter patrolling. The pickup trucks and the other vehicles were used for the car derby. We would either ram into each other or just ram into the walls, while Iraqi people watched us and were asking for vehicles. We knew they were going to loot the cars, so we just destroyed them, so that the people would not have a chance to take them, except for the scraps.

    We also were exposed to a lot of dead Iraqi citizens, either enemy combatants or innocent civilians who were killed by initial air strikes or invasion. At one point, after approaching dead bodies of about four people, we began to take pictures and tried to move and flip them over to try and identify them as civilians or enemy combatants. A few days later, a family of the killed came by and asked if we found anyone who was killed nearby. Me and another Marine led the family to the dead corpses, and they were identified as their sons and uncles and nephews of the family. It was very hard to see the pain in the people’s eyes from their loss. They began to cry and point at us and at the sky and telling us that the planes killed them, and it was our fault also. But we tried to explain to them that it wasn’t us.

    Imam Ali Mosque in al-Najaf, Iraq, an influential Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, was killed with another 122 innocent people on August 30th of 2003. A few of our Marines went to the hospital to provide security for all the relatives that were trying to contact their families. When they came back, they said they have never seen so much blood before. They said that they couldn’t even see the ground, so much blood and body parts were everywhere. The suicide bombing was placed by al-Hakim’s political and religious opponent, al-Sadr. Unknown number of attacks have been organized by al-Sadr’s militia against innocent people of Iraq and against the occupying forces.

    One other responsibility we had in al-Najaf was to guard an ammunition supply point about thirty miles northeast from our base. Our job consisted of patrolling ASB, and when we came into contact with Iraqis stealing stuff, we would take a physical action and to make sure they would never come back. We would shoot their tires out or shoot their windows, putting them on their knees like we’re about to execute them and just shoot in the air and laugh and yell at them and tell them that the next time will be worse. Our orders directly from command was to roughen up all the guys up. They would always tell us that everybody is an enemy and that we can’t trust them and the only way to keep them in place is to put as much fear as possible and to let them know that we’re not playing around. During the deployment in al-Najaf, nothing was fixed or intended on being fixed at all, except keeping the city in the occupied hands and instill the fear into the people at every chance we got.

    My second deployment was in the city of Husaybah in Al Anbar province in Al Qaim region on the Syrian border. First thing I want to talk about is the drop weapons. Drop weapons are the weapons that are given to us by our chain of command in case we kill somebody without any weapons, and so that we would not get into trouble. We would carry an AK-47, and if the person that was shot did not have the weapon, an AK-47 would be placed at his corpse, and when the unit would come back to the base, they would turn it in to identify the shot man as the enemy combatant. The weapons could not come from anywhere else but the higher chain of command, because after the raid, all weapons were turned in into the armory and should have been recorded.

    Two months into deployment, our rules of engagement changed to a personnel with having a bag and a shovel at the intersection or on the roads, that they were suspicious. This gave us a bigger window on who we can engage. Looking at the situation, this point of view, a lot of enemy combatants that we shot were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We were tired, mad, angry, and we just wanted to go home and stop this killing of our brothers. One of our intelligence officers told us that they received a call from one of the sources in the city telling them that there are fliers posted all over the town that says that there are unknown snipers in the city, they kill the insurgents and the civilians. We did not take into consideration that the innocent people are being killed by us, because every time we sent the pictures to the command post through the interlink system, we would receive an approval to kill people with shovels and the bags.

    Now, I know that it wasn’t right to do that, but when you trust those who act like they care for you, you listen to them and follow their orders, because you don’t want to let your friends down. “What if?” was used as a propaganda and a way to relieve our minds from the actions we have partaken in and make it easier on us.

    Another thing I want to touch on is, problems with equipment are another big problem. Where is all the money going that is given to the military? During my first deployment, I had a Vietnam-era flak jacket without a plate. My M-16 was made back in the late ’70s. We did not have enough night-vision goggles for everyone. While Marines are patrolling in the Hummers every day and get blown up, because the only protection they have are the flak blankets hanging from the doors, while generals and colonels and other high-ranking officers that leave a base once in awhile have brand new, fully armored Hummers that are always spotless clean sitting on the base, while other Hummers are bleeding with our brothers’, sons’, daughters’, sisters’ blood every day.

    When we all come back from Iraq and we seek help from our command, they call us “weak” and “cowards.” The lines for a psychologist is almost a year long, and the only thing that can help us is the alcohol and the prescription pills they’re giving out to us like candy to keep us down, because it seems like doctors don’t want to do their job and they just don’t care. Use of drugs amongst the military units is critical. We lost numerous numbers of people from failing drug tests. They either want to get out, or they’re just so messed up, and the only one thing that can help them to escape is the drugs.

    The last thing I want to tell you is about a roommate who we shared a bathroom with, a Marine who was on the suicide watch for about few months on and off. The last three weeks before we were deployed, he was constantly on watch. A week before family day, when the family comes in and says goodbye to their Marines before we deploy, he was released from the watch, so that he would not say anything to his parents, and he did not say anything to them. About a month into deployment, he blew his brains out in the shower stall. Actions like that show the poor judgment of our command just to have numbers for the troops and just to keep their own skins safe. The Marine should have never gone to Iraq in the first place, and nobody was held responsible for his death. If there is no care for your own Marines, what care do they have for the people of Iraq when they give the orders?

    I want to thank you for your time, and I believe that you will make a right decision and will help us to stop this inhumane treatment of Iraqi people and the troops and stop occupation of Iraq and help us to bring troops home. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Marine sniper, Sergio Kochergin. Next up is former Army Captain Luis Montalvan. He worked extensively for General David Petraeus.

    LUIS MONTALVAN: I wrote countless memoranda to my superiors requesting more resources and personnel, but they went unanswered. In Iraq, I witnessed many disturbing things. I witnessed waterboarding. I was given unlawful orders by superiors to not offer humanitarian assistance to refugees caught between Syrian and Iraqi borders. I disobeyed those orders. I witnessed and participated in countless massive operations led by American commanders whose metrics for success were numbers of detainees apprehended without regard to the real effects: tribal, ethnic, sectarian strife conducted by American taxpayer-uniformed and -equipped militias the US military calls Iraqi Security Forces.

    Most reprehensible was that we have never had close to the amount of troops we needed in Iraq. Yet from 2003 until today, General Sanchez, Casey and Petraeus, among others, did not heed the requests of their subordinate officers for more resources and more troops. Instead, they perpetually painted a rosy picture of the situation to the country, while the country fell into civil war. These generals consistently overstated the strength and number of Iraqi Security Forces to Congress and still do. The misrepresentation of the facts should be grounds for courts-martial and criminal indictments.

    I lost many friends in Iraq, American and Iraqi. Many Iraqi friends continue to suffer as refugees inside and outside of Iraq. As a matter of fact, an Iraqi friend, whom I consider a brother, named Ali, is meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in Jordan today to process his application for asylum under the United States Refugee Admissions Program. Recently, Ali contacted me through my website asking for help. As a result, a few of my comrades in the US Army sent him letters of support, since he frequently risked his life to help us in 2003 and 2004. I pray that Ali and many others are quickly helped.

    I wish to focus this letter, Ted, on things we struggled — we both struggled with enormously: negligence, dereliction of duty and corruption. You believe Generals Joseph Fil and David Petraeus were negligent and committed dereliction of duty. So do I. In the note you addressed to Generals Petraeus and Fil found by your body that the Army says is your, quote, “suicide note,” you stated, quote, “You are only interested in your careers and provide no support to your staff, no mission support, and you don’t care. I cannot support a mission that leads to corruption, human rights abuses and liars. I am sullied no more. I didn’t volunteer to support corrupt, money-grubbing contractors, nor work for commanders only interested in themselves.” The members of your family believe this note is a part of a journal entry that was removed and placed near your body. Moreover, they told me that they have not received your journal, among other personal effects.

    While at the port of entry at Al Waleed in 2003, among the many memoranda I submitted to my superiors was a report expressing the need for an automated tracking system for immigration and emigration. General Ricardo Sanchez and Paul Bremer sent a delegation to Al Waleed to assess the port of entry for installation of the Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System, known as the PISCES, to provide tracking of transnational movement of immigration and emigration. When the team departed, they informed me that the facilities would support installation of the PISCES. By the time my unit, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, left in March 2004, PISCES had not been emplaced.

    In 2005, I returned to Iraq for a second tour. Assigned as the regimental Iraqi Security Forces coordinator working for Colonel H.R. McMaster, who has today been slotted for general, among my duties was to oversee the development and security of the northern half of the secured — of the Syrian-Iraqi border at the port of entry at Rabia. On June 2005, Commander Guy Vilardi, working for Multi-National Corps-Iraq, informed me that CPATT, a sub-entity, had possessed a dozen PISCES in containers located in Baghdad. He also informed me that they would install the systems in the near future.

    Upon return to western Nineveh province, I informed my superiors, including Colonel McMaster. In August 2005, General Joseph Fil, commander of CPATT, visited Rabiya and briefed us — so that we could brief him on the status of the Syrian-Iraqi Border. We briefed General Fil, who scoffed at the notion of the installation of the PISCES system and stated that the system was no good, and we don’t have them anyhow. I informed General Fil of my conversation with Commander Vilardi, to which General Fil replied, “That’s not true, and the PISCES is no good anyhow.” In January of 2006, shortly before departure from my second tour, Colonel Carl Lammers of the United States Marine Corps Reserve, sent an email on a secure network indicating that, in fact, the PISCES systems were in containers in Baghdad. I was outraged. As of March 2006, when the 3rd ACR departed western Nineveh province, no PISCES or equivalent tracking system had been installed in the Rabiya POE.

    From 2007 — from 2003 to 2007, no computer systems for tracking immigration or emigration installed — were installed along the Syrian-Iraqi border. This surely contributed to the instability of Iraq. Foreign fighters and criminals were free to move transnationally with little fear of apprehension. It is probable that significant numbers of Americans and Iraqis were wounded and killed as a result of this.

    My — I see that I have one minute left, so I’ll skip down to one more important point. I witnessed contractual corruption on the point of Lee Dynamics International. I have written testimony, notes from Brigadier General — then-Brigadier General Bergner, on page four, elucidating the fact that General Petraeus and General Fil had no systems of accountability for thousands of weapons and no standard operating procedures for the procurement, stowage and dissemination of that equipment.

    And lastly, I would end that, you know, for the past year and a half, myself and a number of fellow veterans of Iraq have co-authored pieces in the Washington Post, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, among a number of other media outlets. And we have beaten our drum to try to raise the issue of the dereliction of duty committed by a number of generals who have been promoted and promoted again and continue to perpetuate the lies and paint a rosy picture of the situation of Iraq.

    VINCENT EMANUELE: My name is Vincent J.R. Emanuele. I am a resident of Indiana, and I served with the United States Marine Corps from September 2002 through January of 2006 with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, Alpha Company, 3rd Platoon as a rifleman and a squad automatic machine gunner. I was deployed to Iraq in August of 2004, where I spent my time in Iraq as a rifleman in 3rd Squad, 1st Team, 3rd Platoon. Our area of operation was a small border town a mile south of the Euphrates and fifteen miles east of Syria called Al Qaim, Iraq.

    The issues I will be discussing today include rules of the engagement, or the breakdown thereof, the death of innocents, the destruction of civilian property, the abuse of prisoners, and the mishandling of the dead, all of which took place during the duration of our tour in Iraq. These stories are not mine alone. These are our stories, the stories of 3rd Platoon. I had the chance — I had the chance to speak with several members from my platoon, and these are the events they and I felt were pertinent to discuss with you today.

    An act that took place quite often in Iraq was that of taking pop shots at cars that drove by. This was quite easy for most Marines to get away with, because our rules of engagement stated that the town of Al Qaim had already been forewarned and knew to pull their cars to a complete stop when approaching a United States convoy. Our rules of engagement stated that we should first fire warning shots into the ground in front of the car, then the engine block, and then the driver and passengers. Most of the time, however, the shots made their way straight to those very individuals in the car. That is if the car was even moving in the first place. Many times, cars that had actually pulled off to the side of the road were also shot at. Of course, the consequences of such actions posed a huge problem for those of us who patrolled the streets every day. This was not the best way to become friendlier with an already very hostile local population. This was not an isolated incident and took place for most of my eight-month deployment.

    In one particular instance, we were sent on a mission to blow up a bridge that was being used to transport weapons across the Euphrates. During this mission, we were ambushed and were forced to return fire in order to make our way out of the city. There are several problems with instances such as these. First, it was very difficult, if not impossible, to clearly identify hostile targets. This resulted in our unit firing into the town with little or no identification of these hostile targets. Because of inadequate intelligence and lack of personnel or competent leadership, our platoon lost a good Marine that day, and I lost my best friend.

    The retrans site, otherwise known as a retransmission site, was a communications post set up on a plateau overlooking the town of Al Qaim. This communications site was there to provide communications between the main base at the railroad station where we were stationed and an outpost in Husaybah, Iraq, where Bravo Company’s area of operations took place. We would encounter mortar fire on a daily basis. Most of the time, we would return this fire with mortar fire of our own. Some of the time, the counter-battery would call in a specific location for us to exchange fire. On occasion, when the counter-battery could not call in a specific location, our unit would fire upon the town anyway, sometimes in the hills off to the west of the town where we thought the mortar fire was coming from and other times straight into the town of Al Qaim itself, onto buildings, houses and businesses. Because of the lack of personnel at the retrans site, very rarely, if ever, did we conduct a battle damage assessment report to report civilian deaths and destruction. So almost all the time these incidents went unreported and not investigated. This was not an isolated incident, as well.

    Another mission our platoon was tasked to take on was that of transporting prisoners from our detention facility on base back to the desert. The reason I say the desert and not their town is because that is exactly where we would drop them off, in the middle of nowhere. Now, most of these men had obviously been deemed innocent, or else they would have been moved to a more permanent detention facility and not released back into the local population. Our unit engaged in punching, kicking, butt stroking or generally harassing and abusing these very prisoners until the point at which our unit would be take them in the middle of the desert, miles from their respective homes, and at times throw them out of the back of our Humvees, all the while continually punching, kicking and at times even throwing softball-sized rocks at their backs as they ran away. This, once again, was not an isolated incident.

    Possibly the most disturbing of what took place in Iraq was the mishandling of the dead. On several occasions, our convoy came across bodies that had been decapitated and were lying on the road, sometimes for weeks. When encountering these bodies, standard procedure was to run over the corpses, sometimes even stopping and taking pictures, which was also a standard practice when encountering the dead in Iraq — this, along with neglecting to account for many of those who were killed or wounded. On one specific occasion, after I had personally shot a man attempting to flee while planting a roadside bomb, we drug his body out of the ditch he was laying in, and we subsequently left that body — slide please — we subsequently left that body to rot in the field, where we saw this man up to a week later.

    These are just a few of the disturbing and unacceptable stories I could share with you from my time in Iraq. Others would include continually dehumanizing Iraqis by referring to them as “hajis” or “sand niggers.” Even the racist and sexist nature that exists within the military itself, which was obviously — overtly obvious on a daily basis. I could also tell story upon story of families being destroyed as a result of an occupation that unfortunately should have never taken place. Several members of my platoon — several members of my platoon went through divorces and/or separations, many of the time with children involved.

    I could also testify to the overwhelming majority of those I served with who did not think dying in Iraq was honorable or acceptable, nor did they enjoy or want to go back to Iraq a second or third time. Unfortunately, because of personal circumstances, whether they be financial or family issues, many indeed were deployed up to three times during their four-year enlistment. In fact, many, including myself, at times did not have intention of helping the Iraqis. Because of the hostile intent, as well as the loss of lives close to us, our best friends, our unit had a general disdain and distaste for Iraqis and their country. Further, our unit, for the most part, did not trust our command and had a general mistrust and distaste of this occupation from its inception onward.

    I could also speak to the personal attacks veterans, including myself and many others, had to encounter once we were willing to be treated for PTSD within our unit. The idea of being a real Marine that does not complain when coming back home and who sucks it up and just does the job that we were tasked to do, this mentality resulted in many of the Marines I served with, including myself, turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with the horrors of this bloody occupation.

AMY GOODMAN: Marine Corps rifleman Vincent Emanuele testifying before Congress. We’ll be back with more from Winter Soldier on the Hill in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We return now to Winter Soldier on the Hill and to war veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan testifying before Congress about the horrors of war.

    ADAM KOKESH: I think my background can best be summarized by a form that I filled out 9 June, 1999 at the military entrance processing station after enlisting in Santa Fe, New Mexico, entitled “Why I Joined the Marine Corps.” I feel a responsibility to take part in the national defense in some way. For whatever short amount of time or whatever miniscule part of it that I am, I would like to do my part, and I feel the Marine Corps is the best way for me to do it. I am also joining for the experience in self-growth that comes with being a Marine. The experiences are priceless, and many cannot be had anywhere else. I would only hope that anyone considering joining the military today for those reasons of which I am very proud of realize that they have a higher calling than serving their country: to restore faith in our system of governance, before they make themselves ready to fight and kill and die in the United States of America, knowing that they may end up dying for a lie.

    I joined the Marine Corps. I shipped to boot camp June 18, 2000, and checked into my reserve unit at the end of that year after completing artillery training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and went to college at Claremont McKenna in Southern California.

    And in the run-up to the war, I believed the narrative that was being put forth by this administration. I believed what Colin Powell said at the UN. And still, I believed that the war would not be in this nation’s best interest and was against it from the beginning.

    But after the war, after the invasion, at the beginning of the occupation, I felt that what we were doing was cleaning up our mess and genuinely responsible foreign policy and trying to do good by the Iraqi people, so I volunteered to go with a civil affairs unit. And in the two weeks between being activated and deploying to Iraq, I learned that what we were doing in civil affairs was going to be working with the Iraqi people on schools and mosques and clinics and water projects, and to me it sounded like exactly what the President was promising that we would be doing in Iraq. And I was very excited about that. I thought that we were going to be the tip of the spear. And I had to go to Iraq myself to found out that that was not the case and that the greatest enemies of the Constitution are not to be found in the sands of Fallujah, but rather right here in Washington, D.C.

    When I — on our way into Iraq, I was issued this rules of engagement card that is supposed to be the gold standard of conduct and use of force for the military in the occupation of Iraq. They couldn’t even cut the card square. But if I may, it begins with “Nothing on this card prevents you from using deadly force to defend yourself. Section one. Enemy military and paramilitary forces may be attacked, subject to the following instructions. Positive identification is required prior to engagement. PID is, quote, ‘reasonable certainty,’ unquote, that your target is a legitimate military target. If no PID, contact your next higher commander for decision. Section one, delta. Do not fire into civilian populated areas or buildings unless the hostile force is using them for hostile purposes or if necessary for your self-defense.” Section three reads, “You may detain civilians if they interfere with mission accomplishment, possess important information or if required for self-defense.” It says at the end, “Remember, attack only hostile forces and military targets.” And at the very end, it says, “These ROE will remain in effect until your commander” — and then the rest of that sentence is actually cut off here.

    And that just goes to show that not only are the rules of engagement, as they’re strictly outlined by this card, to contradict themselves and to be confusing and to put Marines in a situation where their morals, as defined by those rules, are put at odds with their survival instincts. And I think that it’s fundamentally criminal to put brave young Americans in that situation.

    I was attached to Golf Company 2/1, my civil affairs team, before the siege of Fallujah, and we were called with them to support them in the blocking of the two bridges over the Euphrates River on the west side of Fallujah after four Blackwater security agents were killed and had their bodies burned and strung up on the northern bridge in April of 2004.

    Shortly after arriving there — first slide, please — there was a checkpoint shooting to the west of our position where a man coming home from work at the end of the day did not see the newly emplaced Humvee, desert-colored, against the desert background, manned by Marines wearing desert-colored camouflage. And a Marine there decided that he was approaching at too fast a rate of speed and emptied into the vehicle with a .50-caliber machine gun. We later justified this by saying that there were — that hearing the vehicle burning afterwards, there were rounds cooking off from the heat, although it’s clear from this picture and from every other examination that there were no rounds in the vehicle cooking off that would have made punctures in the outer body of the vehicle. Next slide, please. The second round or the round that hit this Iraqi gentleman in his chest, hit him so hard that it broke his chair and knocked him back in his seat.

    Next slide, please. The vehicle was dragged into our compound where we were sleeping, as you can see in the background where the vehicles are parked in this picture. This is a picture that I’m very ashamed of, having posed with this dead Iraqi as a trophy picture. But what felt awkward to me at the time was not that — not so much that I was taking the picture, but rather that I had not killed this man, and I was almost — I was taking a trophy of someone else’s kill. And my entire team was present for this, including a major, and numerous members of my team took similar pictures. At the first Winter Soldier investigation in 1971, one of the Vietnam veterans held up a similar photograph and said, “Don’t ever let your government do this to you. Don’t ever let your government put you in a position where this attitude towards death and this disregard for human life is acceptable or common.” And yet, we are still doing this to service members every day, as long as the occupation continues.

    Next slide, please. At one point during the siege of Fallujah, it was decided that we were going to allow women and children to leave the city. We thought this was the most magnanimous thing we could have done, and yet our rules were to let only women and children out. And so, any male over the age of fourteen or, as we were told, anyone who was old enough to be in your fighting hole was too old to get out of the city, was turned away. And so, my responsibility during this time at certain points was to go out on this bridge and turn away families. And like I said, we thought this was the most magnanimous thing we could have been doing. However, it’s clear that we’re giving these families an impossible choice, whether they could stay together with their families intact or split their families up and hope that half of them end up with something better. But all that we had to offer them was literally the mosque across the street, good luck. And what happened there can only be described as either the deliberate or careless creation of internally displaced refugees.

    During the siege of Fallujah, our rules of engagement changed so often that we were often uncertain of them. And at one point, anyone who was described as a suspicious observer would be a legitimate target: anyone holding a cell phone, binoculars or, at one point, anyone out after curfew. And this led to an incident where Marines were firing at firefighters and cops silhouetted against a fire that our indirect fire had caused who were trying to help out the civilians that were being affected by that fire.

    After the siege of Fallujah, my team was tasked with setting up a checkpoint at the Civil Military Operations Center at Fallujah, where we detained various personnel at snap VCPs during the summer of 2004, many of whom were harassed unnecessarily. One such person had a bag of cash in his back seat and was harassed by human intelligence officers before being released. And their abuse of him was such that they were even reprimanded by a higher officer, but they determined that there was no reason to detain him, and he was let go. If that money was not intended for the insurgency before this incident, I have to assume that it was afterwards.

    I realized that we in civil affairs were a fig leaf. We were there to make the occupation look good. We even came up with a slogan to justify our existence to the infantry commanders that we had to beg to be able to get out and do our missions. And it was “We care, so that you don’t have to.”

    If there are any questions from members of Congress as to the particulars of any incident that I have mentioned here, I would be happy to provide names of all personnel and units involved, dates and grid coordinates. I hope that my testimony has helped shed light into some of the shadows that make up our collective denial of the occupation of Iraq. As a country, we have allowed fear to overwhelm us and have failed ourselves by allowing this criminal occupation to have ever happened.

    You do not have to have served to see how recent pressures on the military are making us weaker as a country. You do not have to have witnessed the occupation firsthand to see its absurdity. And you do not have to be an expert on international relations to see the disastrous effects of our foreign policy. Ignorance, propaganda and distraction have made up the last refuge of those Americans who would rather remain in denial about our current state of affairs. Now that we are facing the truth and the majority of America is at least nominally against the occupation of Iraq, what fate will we claim for our nation? For some, their silence will be their hypocrisy, and their inaction will be their complicity with the destruction of our great union.

    But I have an unwavering faith in my country, and I know that the self-righting ship of the United States of America will one day regain its course, but only with the great toil, courage and sacrifice that it demands of its Winter Soldiers. I am proud to call myself one of them today.

    JAMES GILLIGAN: My name is James Gilligan. I served a four-year and a two-year contract honorably for the United States Marine Corps. While on active duty, I achieved the rank of corporal and was promoted in the Individual Ready Reserve to the rank of sergeant. I was deployed in Kuwait and later in the initial assault five years ago to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 with the 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, H&S Company, CEB Main, and served as a member of the Nuclear-Biological-Chemical Reconnaissance team for the Combat Engineer Battalion Main. Later in the same month of returning home, I deployed to United States Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with 3/6 Weapons Company, CAAT platoon. I was assigned to the joint operations center and later on the fence line. I personally observed Camp X-Ray from the outside and later once inside. In 2004, I was deployed with the same unit to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

    I have testimony on all three deployments to be entered into the record. However, today, in a message of solidarity with IVAW, we’re only going to talk about and speak about Iraq. I am also a number of that 120 a week. I, in 2007, tried to take my life, as well. I feel deep regret and remorse for what we’ve done in Iraq and on the global war on terror. This is my testimony.

    Kuwait and Iraq, 2003, the initial invasion was to be a mechanized breach, or a “mick lick” [MCLC]. It’s a tub of C-4 on a high-tension rope with a detonation cord inside. It fires on a rocket over a minefield and is used in counter-landmine warfare to make a lane which trucks can drive through. We practiced this maneuver twice in Kuwait and never performed it.

    It was on the oral history review DSIT AE 015 conducted January 14th of 1991, an interview between Major Dennis P. Levin of the 130th Military History Detachment and Major Walter Wilson, Jr. S-3, 1st Battalion, 504th Infantry. It was quoted right away.

    Major Levin: “The primary focus of this interview is the training relative to the Iraqi strong point that was constructed on the Ali Range. And I am interested in what preparation you had before the training operation, and then if you could just kind of take me through the operation as it went.”

    Major Wilson replied back with: “The main preparation we did, other than issuing a formal operations order, was to rehearse it twice before we actually conducted the attack. And also we had about two officer professional development classes on the Iraqi strong point and what it consists of, and how we would envision taking it down.”

    This tactic was in the works prior to the invasion twelve years later. We were issued the same warning orders, and instead of breaching under fire, we breached the country twice by road, the second time by UN security car through UN — back to Kuwait and back onto the Iraqi roads. This was all due to the incompetence on the leaders of the convoy commander. I am sure, without fail, that we were the only unit in history to have ever invaded a country and invaded it all in ten minutes twice.

    It was then that we drove on through the day and continued unhindered for most of the next two days, while American air power pounded the hell out of Iraqi armor and buildings with depleted uranium rounds. The amount of destruction was tremendous, and we watched once while in a traffic jam as a pair of Apaches laid rockets and gunfire into the heart of a city a few kilometers in the distance. Without a doubt, I have been in and around buildings destroyed by depleted uranium rounds, as well as vehicles, armored personnel carriers, tanks and corpses.

    During the invasion, we were also exposed to severe sandstorms, which meant that we were breathing in sand for days, sand that more than likely contained depleted uranium. I went for forty-seven days without a shower in the initial invasion, and I could buy a PlayStation 2 game in a post exchange before I could even shower, because our contractors were already making bases and had a routine supply line, while we were sleeping out in the open. Almost daily, I found Iraqis who spoke English, whose questions were who we were and how long we were to be there.

    Today is the Conscientious Objector Day, May 15th, and the day that honors those who choose not to fire their weapons. They do go to combat sometimes by force of their command. We were just a week before the flight to Kuwait when I saw my first sergeant chew someone out about his CO status. I heard the first sergeant say, “What if those f-blank ragheads came into your home and raped your daughter and tortured and murdered your wife?” I was shocked to hear the bravery in the young lance corporal’s voice as he told the first sergeant, “No, I don’t know what I would do. Why? Would we do that to them?”

    Destroying Iraqi property was such a pleasure for some, but for me one day it was orders. I was ordered to take Lance Corporal Jerome with me as security, and I received orders via inter-squad radio to destroy a civilian’s pickup truck. I slashed as much as I could, and I kicked in the windshield for good measure. It was later with regret that I thought that this might have been this man’s livelihood.

    Looting during the initial invasion was rampant. Nearly everyone had something: rugs, pens, pictures, you name it, anything you could find that would fetch a price. Later, I had to surrender to US Customs officials, military liaison, my pins with Saddam’s head on the design. They wanted them back, because all uniform items were to be confiscated for the rebuilding and reconstituting of the Iraqi army. Meanwhile, we were running over guns and blowing up weapons caches. Slides. Those that didn’t bought their souvenirs on the street, some of which were probably stolen.

    That’s a picture of me as a tunnel rat in Afghanistan.

    Next slide. For some members in my unit, it was the Iraqi atomic energy facility that was most profiting. It was there that I was told that members of my unit had breached a safe containing gold coins. I was not on that foot patrol, which took place deep within the compound. However, I was shown the coins later from fellow NCOs in my platoon.

    When I deployed, it was with two sappy armor-protected plates, yet I was ordered to give one to a fellow Marine from 1st Combat Engineer Battalion who had not deployed with one. Such was the case for a majority of the junior NCOs and below from 1st CEB, deploying with inadequate armor. During the initial invasion, in fact, my Humvee had plastic doors.

    We never found evidence of weapons of mass destruction while on patrol with the Nuclear-Biological-Chemical Warfare chief warrant officer and fellow members of my reconnaissance team.

    Early May, while trying to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, we were surrounded by a crowd of non-hostile Iraqis. I witnessed my first sergeant for H&S Company as he exited the Humvee without any backup or support. He ran down a male Iraqi child who was maybe seven to eight years old and lifted him in the air, hand choking the boy. With his pistol already drawn, he pointed into the child’s head and neck area, threatening and screaming shouts of profanity. As a result of this, the mood in the truck was dead silence until we returned to our campsite.

    Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Marine Corporal James Gilligan served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. We’ll have more from the Winter Soldier on the Hill hearings in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We return to Winter Soldier on the Hill and to war veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan testifying before Congress about the horrors of war. This is California Congressmember Barbara Lee questioning former Army Sergeant Kristofer Goldsmith.

    REP. BARBARA LEE: Now, I know part of the psychology of war is to dehumanize people so that the atrocities that are required — the atrocities that are committed, that those atrocities would bear minimal emotional impact on the soldier. How does this affect the mental health of those who have to do these things? And how do we need to move forward to make sure that suicide attempts don’t occur and that post-traumatic stress syndrome is minimized and that we could really help with the psychology and the psychological needs of our veterans? Because all of you talked about, and we saw and we witnessed on the slides, this dehumanization process in action, and that’s part of war. And I don’t know how they train our young men and women for this, but that’s what occurs, and so we have to figure this out and what we can do to help when you come home.

    KRISTOFER GOLDSMITH: Yes, Congressman. Something that was brought up to me by a very good friend of mine sitting behind me, Mathis Chiroux, just mentioned maybe two weeks ago, and it was something I never thought about, was that every enlistee spends a week of basic training, or at least a few days, doing bayonet training. And we are putting a bayonet, a knife on the end of a rifle, and we repeatedly stab a dummy that looks like a human being and yell “Kill!” with every movement, yell —-

    REP. BARBARA LEE: This is part of your training?

    KRISTOFER GOLDSMITH: Yes, that is the basis of the military on a broad scale. That is the basis and the first step to dehumanization towards the enemy and the acceptance to kill is -— there’s a very popular thing that the drill sergeants require us to say. I remember the first time I heard it, I refused to say it, and it wasn’t because I didn’t want to be a soldier, it was because I thought it was weird. And the response to the question, “Soldiers, what makes the green grass grow?” and the response is “Blood, blood, blood, Drill Sergeant!” So I would like to allow Geoffrey to go on how we can move past that.

    GEOFFREY MILLARD: You asked in your question, Congresswoman, what can you do to move forward with veterans coming home with scars that can’t be seen by the eye, ones of mental wounds. Well, in Iraq Veterans Against the War, we didn’t wait for the VA. We started a counseling group called Homefront Battle Buddies. In the Washington, D.C. chapter, which I’m the president of, we meet every Sunday at the Washington, D.C. office, our home, to meet for our Homefront Battle Buddies. That program is expanding nationally. We in Iraq Veterans Against the War have a saying, that we’re not going to wait for politicians to end the war. We ended the war every day in what we do. We also do the same when it comes to our other goals, including taking care of veterans: we’ve started counseling groups.

    But what you can do, start simply with getting more Iraq veterans into college with the GI Bill. Even myself, with an honorable discharge and nine years of service, I’m not eligible under the current GI Bill for any benefits. The GI Bill is the start, but also making sure that the Veterans Administration is fully funded, making sure that there is no waiting list for PTSD care. We have seen multiple suicides this year alone on veterans who have been waiting on a waiting list to get mental healthcare at a VA. This is inexcusable. There should never be a waiting list for any veteran, especially not one so young coming home from Iraq, when they ask for mental healthcare. These are the types of things that while we move forward in Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Congress can certainly move more funding into the VA, more funding into our veterans as they come home and out of the occupation. Thank you.

    REP. MAXINE WATERS: Let me just try and focus for a moment on Fallujah. I know that there have been a lot of — a lot of confrontations and a lot of fighting in different areas. But for some reason, Fallujah loomed large at the point that we were learning about it and the images that we were seeing coming back about Fallujah. And it looked as if our military was going door-to-door, kicking down doors and shooting anything that moved. Is that a correct assumption? Could you just describe a little bit what happened in Fallujah?

    ADAM KOKESH: I believe what you’re referring to was the second battle of Fallujah in November. I was there for the first battle, when the primary military action was the siege of the city, and I was there for the whole interim period in the summer. I left in September of 2004.

    But what I saw was that at the Civil Military Operations Center where I worked is that we created the Fallujah Brigade and handed over security of the city to this brigade of Iraqi Security Forces. And we knew, and I as a sergeant knew and all of my Marines knew, that by June of 2004 we were essentially arming and equipping the insurgency in Fallujah by providing supplies for what we called the Fallujah Brigade. And we waited until August to disband — announce that we were disbanding the Fallujah Brigade and ask that members turn in their American-issued ID cards and uniforms and weapons, and told them that if they didn’t, they would never get another federal job. And the reason we were able to say that was because despite the handover of power happening on June 28, we were still handling all payroll for the Iraqi Security Forces, at least where I was.

    And we didn’t go into the city of Fallujah for the second battle until after the presidential elections of 2004, because I believe that the President knew he could not get elected with the headline of twenty Marines dead in downtown Fallujah, which I believe is what it would have been had we gone through when we knew, at least by our thinking at the time, that we would have had to go through Fallujah. And not only did numerous Americans die unnecessarily in that battle, because as ignorant as people were to what it meant that there were eight battalions poised outside of the city of Fallujah, the insurgents knew, and they were ready for the soldiers that went in. And as it was, almost a hundred Americans lost their lives in that battle. But not only that, numerous Marines died every single day maintaining that loose cordon of Fallujah throughout the summer of 2004.

    But what it’s made clear is that this administration has chosen a policy for this country that values looking good over doing right. And as soon as you choose looking good over doing right, you will fail miserably at both. It is what we are doing as a country right now. It is what our leadership is doing. And it is what the Democratic Party has done, since it took power in 2006, when it decided that it would be more concerned with looking good than doing right, in terms of the policy towards Iraq, in order to secure an advantage for the 2008 election. My apologies to members of the Democratic Party in the room, but it is clear to me that that policy of looking good over doing right has been established firmly by this administration and has poisoned not only the military culture but our entire society and political leadership, as well.

    REP. MAXINE WATERS: So would you conclude that in Fallujah, when our soldiers went in, that whatever the command was, whatever the instructions or the orders were, that some of our soldiers who died there died because of a poor command, a lack of —-

    ADAM KOKESH: I think the manipulations that led to the unnecessary deaths in Fallujah happened at the highest policymaking levels. There were State Department personnel present during the negotiations that created the Fallujah Brigade at my facility, and it is those manipulations of the process that led to those deaths. I don’t think even the generals who were conducting that -— those battles had any say in the timing or the actual conduct, really, of those engagements.

    REP. MAXINE WATERS: Thank you. And finally, the civilians who died there who were in those houses, where it appeared that our soldiers were sent to kick down the doors and to shoot anything that was moving, can — is it reasonable to conclude that that policy was not a good policy, that people died needlessly, soldiers and civilians?

    ADAM KOKESH: Well, in terms of kicking down doors, I believe you’re referring again to the second battle of Fallujah, so I’m not going to try to comment on that.


    ADAM KOKESH: But the way that the siege was handled absolutely led to the unnecessary innocent deaths of civilians. And one of the things we were tasked with at our Civil Military Operations Center was paying of Silatia payments, or battle damage claims, as we called them. And we distributed a couple million dollars that way. I was interviewed by Al Jazeera, because doing something like this was historically unprecedented. But we would turn around and pay people what it would cost to rebuild their homes, had we destroyed their home by accident, so somebody coming to our facility filing a claim might get $25,000 for the home that we accidentally dropped a bomb on, and $2,500 for the son that was killed in that accident. And that just goes to show the relative value of life that Americans have or the value that Americans place on Iraqi lives based on that policy that we carried out there.

    REP. KEITH ELLISON: There is this sort of assumption, this base-level assumption when you go out and talk to folks and when you talk to people around here, that if there was a precipitous or a quick withdrawal from Iraq, that it would lead to more chaos than exists today, and that you also hear, as a corollary to that, that, you know, we — that that’s why we have to somehow stay until we, quote-unquote, “win.” Could you all address that assumption squarely, that somehow we are the glue holding Iraqi society together?

    LUIS MONTALVAN: Yeah, I’d like to answer that — what’s that? Yeah, I’d like to answer that, since I was a member of the Iraq Enterprise Institute, which contrived the surge and I was vehemently against. And — what did I say? I’m sorry, the American Enterprise Institute. Sometimes my brain doesn’t — the synapses don’t fire.

    But, you know, there is a misconception that staying in Iraq is vital to our national security interests and that a precipitous withdrawal, as you mentioned, Congressman, will lead to further chaos both in Iraq and in the Middle East. First of all, that’s an assumption, an assumption that has been made time and time again by the highest echelon of our general officers, who, I might remind you again, have consistently lied and misrepresented the situation on the ground in Iraq for the better part of five years. That having been said, there is no doubt that a withdrawal from Iraq is going to increase bloodshed and humanitarian refugees and suffering.

    The question is, ought we to be there? Ought we to continue to fund billions of dollars, of American taxpayer dollars, toward an endeavor with no clearly defined end state for an unknown period of time? It’s my belief that a withdrawal of the majority of conventional forces in Iraq will in fact force the hand, and it might not be in the type of way that we would all like — there will be violence, no doubt about it — but it will force the hand of the tribal, ethnic and sectarian leaders to sort out their matters on their own, while we should be maintaining the sovereign borders of Iraq so as to prevent Middle Eastern — to prevent the civil war in Iraq to further growing into a Middle Eastern regional war.

    REP. KEITH ELLISON: Do you gentlemen agree, or —-

    ADAM KOKESH: Well, from my experience, it is clear that every specter that has been raised in terms of potential consequences of a withdrawal from Iraq is worse the longer we stay there, every single one, most notably the “follow us home” argument, because the more enemies we make over there, which we are making every day, the more there will be to follow us home.

    We call for the immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces. And what that means, most importantly, to me is the immediate end to the occupation -— that is to say, the forceful interference with Iraqi sovereignty, which we are doing every time we go out the gates and impose martial law through our presence. But we also advocate reparations for the Iraqi people and recognize that we do have an obligation to the country of Iraq and that a continued diplomatic presence there in order to ensure that that leads to the kind of rule of law and stability and prosperity that the Iraqi people deserve is ensured.

    REP. KEITH ELLISON: What does things like Abu Ghraib and other abuses that have been described — what does that do to the average Iraqi, who may not hold any animus toward the United States or US soldiers, but after their cousin, uncle or aunt or wife has been abused or outraged — what does that do to them? And what does that do to your security?

    JAMES GILLIGAN: That’s an excellent question. When you meet an Iraqi teenage male on the street, you’re not meeting your average American male. You’re meeting an Iraqi male who has experienced a conflict, an occupation, that has been going on for the past five years in his homeland, in his neighborhood, in his streets, in his schools. So when you meet these people on the streets, you’re meeting people that — I mean, they know what’s up. They know, you know, exactly what the Marine Air Wing is capable of. They know exactly what, you know, our prison systems are like. They know exactly what our responses are going to be to gunfire, mortar fire, sniper attacks, etc. And they’re doing it, and they’re doing it good. They’re doing it consistently, and they’re trying to continue this resistance, and this act of resistance is not going to end until we are actually out of that country.

    ADAM KOKESH: I served — I was manning a checkpoint or running a checkpoint at the Civil Military Operations Center when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, and I had to go out the next day and face crowds of Iraqi people. And for us, it was — it felt as though we had been betrayed by the policy that resulted in that scandal occurring the way it had and that that was the environment that we were facing, that we still — the new challenge that I had that day was to go out and still convince the Iraqi people that we were there to help them.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Sergeant Adam Kokesh testifying before Congress, along with other Iraq and Afghanistan veterans at the Winter Soldier on the Hill hearings.

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