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“Operation Recovery”: On 9th Anniversary of Afghan War, Veteran-Led Campaign Seeks to End Deployment of Traumatized Soldiers

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To mark the ninth anniversary of the Afghanistan war, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War are marching in Washington, DC today to launch the first veteran-led campaign to stop the deployment of soldiers traumatized by multiple tours of duty. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: Today marks the ninth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. On October 7th, 2001, US bombers began air strikes and submarines launched cruise missiles from the Arabian Sea to start what’s become the longest ongoing war in US history. The Pentagon called it “Operation Enduring Freedom.” President Bush announced the launch of the war in a televised address from the Oval Office.

    PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The United States military has begun strikes against al-Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.

    At the same time, the oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and our allies. As we strike military targets, we will also drop food, medicine and supplies to the starving and suffering men and women and children of Afghanistan. The United States of America is a friend to the Afghan people, and we are the friends of almost a billion worldwide who practice the Islamic faith.

AMY GOODMAN: The war in Afghanistan is now entering its tenth year —- with no clear end in sight. President Obama escalated the war earlier this year, sending an additional 30,000 US troops into the country. Since 2001, over 1,300 US troops have been killed, over 370 of them in this year alone, making it the deadliest year for US forces. There’s no reliable count on the number of Afghan civilians killed, but some estimates put the figures in the tens of thousands.

Accounts of atrocities continue to emerge. In one of the most high-profile and shocking cases, twelve US soldiers are accused of forming a secret kill team in Afghanistan that murdered unarmed Afghan civilians at random and collected body parts, such as fingers, for trophies. They’re also accused of using hashish, dismembering and photographing corpses, and possessing human bones, such as skull and leg bones.

Meanwhile, suicides are on the rise within the US military. In one week alone, four decorated combat vets recently killed themselves at Fort Hood. Around twenty soldiers have committed suicide at Fort Hood this year, surpassing the record fourteen in 2008. Time magazine recently reported that multiple deployments increase the risk for post-traumatic stress disorder, making veterans six times more likely to commit suicide.

To mark this ninth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War are marching in Washington, DC today to launch the first veteran-led campaign to stop the deployment of soldiers traumatized by multiple tours of duty. They’re calling it “Operation Recovery.”

We’re joined in DC by two soldiers. Brock McIntosh is back with us again, served in Afghanistan from November 2008 to August 2009. He’s still serving in the military. He’s filing for conscientious objector status. Ethan McCord is also with us. He’s an Iraq war vet. He was one of three US soldiers who were on the ground during the Apache helicopter assault on twelve civilians in Baghdad in 2007 that was captured in a video released by WikiLeaks.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! I want to start -—

ETHAN McCORD: Thank you very much.

BROCK McINTOSH: Good to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: — by asking Brock, back from Afghanistan, on this ninth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, what you’re doing today in Washington.

BROCK McINTOSH: Well, what I’m doing here in Washington is helping to launch a new campaign called “Operation Recovery,” where our goal is to stop the deployment of traumatized troops. A lot of soldiers are being forced on multiple deployments, and a lot of these soldiers have mental trauma, they have sexual trauma, and a lot of these soldiers are on psychotropic drugs to deal with this trauma. And we believe that soldiers have a right to heal from that trauma, and we also believe that the idea of traumatized soldiers being placed in an environment where they’re supposed to help civilians is not a good — it’s not a good idea.

AMY GOODMAN: Ethan, you’re an Iraq war veteran. We dealt a lot with this case in 2007, the case that WikiLeaks revealed with the videotape that was taken by the US military in the Apache helicopter, where your unit opened fire on Iraqi civilians, the helicopter attack that killed twelve people and wounded two children. The dead included two employees of the Reuters news agency, photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh. The posted the footage from the helicopter. This is the moment the US forces first opened fire.

    US SOLDIER 1: Have individuals with weapons.

    US SOLDIER 2: You’re clear.

    US SOLDIER 1: Alright, firing.

    US SOLDIER 3: Let me know when you’ve got them.

    US SOLDIER 2: Let’s shoot. Light ’em all up.

    US SOLDIER 1: Come on, fire!

    US SOLDIER 2: Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’.

    US SOLDIER 4: Hotel, Bushmaster two-six, Bushmaster two-six, we need to move, time now!

    US SOLDIER 2: Alright, we just engaged all eight individuals.

AMY GOODMAN: Ethan McCord, you were one of three US soldiers who were on the ground after that attack. You pulled the two children out of the minivan that was fired on to help get them to the hospital. Can you talk about what happened and how it affected you?

ETHAN McCORD: Yes, I did pull the children out of the van that day and didn’t find out that they were denied to go to Rustamiyah for healthcare until afterwards. Later on that evening, after the incident, when I was back at the FOB and I washing the blood of the children off of my uniforms, you know, my mind was a mess. I was very emotional, couldn’t really deal with what I had seen and, more importantly, was more upset with what I was a part of. So I went to my staff sergeant and asked to see mental health, so that I can talk about my feelings and what I was feeling. And I was denied to go to mental health. They told me I needed to suck it up and that there would be repercussions if I was to go see mental health, and I would be charged with malingering. And I was rather shocked that just by me needing to speak to somebody about what was going on and what I was feeling could constitute a crime in the Army. So, like the good soldier, you know, and not wanting to be charged with malingering, I did in fact push everything down as much as I could and —-

AMY GOODMAN: Ethan, can you tell us -—

ETHAN McCORD: — tried to move on.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the Apache helicopter attacks the men on the ground, and you see — and people can see it at our website, — I mean, when one of the Reuters employees doesn’t quite die, how he’s crawling away, and they strike him again, until he dies. You then are on the ground. They blow up this van, but you save the children. Did you say that they denied you taking them to the US military hospital?

ETHAN McCORD: Well, I placed the boy into the Bradley armored vehicle, and the Bradley was not a part of our unit, and neither were the Apaches. They were just attached to us that day. When I placed the boy into the Bradley armored vehicle, I was yelled at by my platoon leader for worrying about children instead of worrying about other — finding other people to kill. I was not aware that they were denied to medical care at Rustamiyah, where we — where our FOB was. Actually, I wasn’t aware of that until the video was released. In fact, I didn’t even know there was a video.

AMY GOODMAN: Because it was in the Apache helicopter?


AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about what happened to you then. Eventually, you did come home, after what? Five months?

ETHAN McCORD: Yeah, I came home in November. I was wounded in Iraq. I came home and was still trying to seek mental health counseling, which was — the mental health in Fort Riley, Kansas, was just overwhelmed. You had to wait at least six weeks to be seen by somebody in mental health. I had to — my command there didn’t know that I was trying to sneak down to mental health to be seen. And in fact, I had a talk to someone who was a civilian psychologist first, just to get some of the emotions out. While I was waiting to be seen by mental health, I started self-medicating by drinking a lot. And when I tried to commit suicide through alcohol, I was then taken to a civilian mental health hospital where I started to receive help before the Army even helped me.

AMY GOODMAN: Your wife tried to get you into a hospital?

ETHAN McCORD: Right. She kind of like tricked me into going to the hospital and — in fact, I went to the Irwin Army hospital, where they had a psychologist who was on duty. He didn’t really talk to me or anything. They called my command, and one of the staff sergeants who were there came down to the hospital, and instead of — just degraded me while I was in there, said that I was nothing, I was nobody, because I was doing this. And so, you know, I had to listen to that, as well. And in Fort Riley, they didn’t have a military mental health hospital there, so they sent me to a civilian mental health hospital, where they began to prescribe me multiple medications, like Geodon and Depakote at the same time, which are both severe antipsychotics, which is just a few of my thirteen medications that they put me on.

AMY GOODMAN: Brock, you were brandishing — I mean, you didn’t — your marriage didn’t survive. You got divorced. But you were walking around the house with a knife? I mean, sorry, Ethan, Ethan McCord.

ETHAN McCORD: Yes, I was. Yeah, I don’t remember the incident, but according to my ex-wife, yes, I was.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what does this data mean to you, Ethan, this day that you join with other vets and soldiers in Washington, DC? How many other soldiers do you know like you? And how many others do you know like you who are being sent back to Afghanistan?

ETHAN McCORD: There’s — I know many soldiers who suffered from PTSD and TBI and who are being ignored. This problem — this systematic problem is being ignored. And they’re being redeployed. The unit that I was with, they just got back from Iraq a few months ago. You know, one of the soldiers who was there, they kicked him out, knowing he had PTSD. They kicked me out, knowing I had PTSD, TBI and had metal rods and pins in my back. And they kicked me out on what’s called a Chapter 517, which states that all of my conditions were pre-existing. They’ve done this to over 250,000 soldiers. And it’s time to stop. It’s said between — twenty percent, at the minimum, of troops are suffering from some sort of trauma, whether it be TBI, PTSD or military sexual trauma. That’s an extreme amount of soldiers who are suffering. And they’re being denied their basic human rights to heal. And we’re trying to put a stop to that. It needs to end now. And we need to — we need to stop the redeployment of these troops.

AMY GOODMAN: Time magazine has learned Army troops are seeking mental health more than 100,000 times a month, the figure reflecting a growth of more than 75 percent from the final months of 2006 to the end of 2009, according to Army data. Brock McIntosh, as we wrap up, the plans for today, your thoughts on this kill team, the hearings that are taking place in Washington state, as this so-called kill team in Afghanistan, US soldiers are taking trophies of ears, skulls, leg bones, on this, what is now the tenth year of the war in Afghanistan?

BROCK McINTOSH: Yeah, I don’t know enough about these kill teams, but I know that before they join the military, they weren’t killing people and collecting their bones. And I think what war does is oftentimes it sort of provides a context for otherwise good people, or people who wouldn’t do acts at that level of disgust — I think that war provides them a context to do those things. And I don’t think it’s helpful when you go through basic training and you’re being told to kill, kill, kill, without mercy, and being told that blood makes the green grass grow.

AMY GOODMAN: Brock, real quick, today’s plans?

BROCK McINTOSH: Today’s plans? Ethan and I are going to visit Walter Reed Hospital, and we’re going to do a ceremony with about ten other veterans from Iraq Veterans Against the War. We’re going to lay down ten roses, one for each year that we’ve been in Afghanistan and one for the new year that we’re about to begin, to honor our fellow soldiers. And then we’re going to march from Walter Reed to Capitol Hill and have a press conference, where we’re all going to, you know, tell our own personal stories about our experience in war.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Brock McIntosh and Ethan McCord, I want to thank you so much for being with us today. Ethan McCord, Iraq war vet. Brock McIntosh, Afghan war vet, he’s applying for conscientious objector status.

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