Winter Soldiers Testimonies
Saturday, I attended some of the viewing of the Winter Soldier Testimonies. I'll quote from the press release of the organization which convened this event:
Washington, D.C. – Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) is preparing to launch an event that will give veterans and service members a chance to speak out about the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan will feature testimony that will expose the human consequences of failed policy. From March 13-16 at the National Labor College just outside of Washington, D.C., veterans from across the country will be standing up to share their experiences. Their stories will show that wrongdoings in Iraq and Afghanistan are not isolated incidents perpetrated by "bad apples." "We've heard from the politicians, we've heard from the generals, we've heard from the media – now it's our turn," said Kelly Dougherty, executive director of IVAW and a former sergeant in the Colorado Army National Guard, who served in Iraq as a military police officer. "It's not going to be easy to hear what we have to say. It's not going to be easy for us to tell it. But we believe that the only way this war is going to end is if the American people truly understand what we have done in their name." The event has been named Winter Soldier to honor a similar gathering 30 years ago of veterans of the Vietnam War. Winter soldiers, according to founding father Thomas Paine, are the people who stand up for the soul of their country, even in its darkest hours.
It was difficult to watch a lot of the sharing. Much of it was quite emotional, but all of it important. I learned a lot from watching the testimonies and commentaries. Hearing soldiers tell of what they were asked to do and how they have come to look at these experiences was very difficult. It is horrifying to hear what so many young and not so young men and women have been called on to do, people who entered the military expecting that they were doing something honorable, or who joined because they saw no other options in their lives. The panel on GI Resistance, however, provided hope. Phil Aliff, active in Iraq Veterans Against the War spoke of the importance of supporting veterans and active duty soldiers who are speaking out and the possibility of partnership between soldiers and civilians.
I am so appreciative and impressed by the bravery of those who are testifying, speaking out to let people know what is actually happening in Iraq. Perhaps these testimonies will help more people reflect on what is going on and decide what action they might take to make changes. (I'll remind you that there are many demonstrations taking place on March 19 around the country.)
Many people talked of the role racism is playing in this war. There was explicit details of how racism is used by the US government as a mechanism to motivate soldiers to acts of killing and destruction. One of the people who spoke must forcefully about this was Michael Prysner. He spoke about how racism is a the strongest weapon the US government has in getting a cooperative military. I made a note of his name, knowing I wanted to be able to listen to his testimony again, and wanting to learn more about him. It turns out that he is running for a seat for Florida's 22nd congressional district and has done a lot of writing about these issues. I urge you to watch his powerful testimony - part 1 & part 2.
Chris Ardent spoke of his experiences at Guantanamo. It was horrifying to listen to. One point he made which stuck with me, was the necessity to refer to the people who were kept against their will at Guantanamo as detainees rather than prisoners. The reason for that is that there are rules governing the treatment of prisoners, but none regarding detainees. "I hear that there's an official list of things that are and are not torture. Water boarding is, what I just described is not. I can't believe that a human being could even write a list like that."
Last week I wrote "We're coming up on 5 years of US war in Iraq." In listening to commentaries in between the panels, I learned some folks think that is not the best language to describe the situation. I didn't quite understand why this distinction seemed so important to some of the people testifying or speaking with the commentator of FreeSpeech News. I did some research and learned that yes, the US invaded Iraq in 2003. And in May 2003, George Bush declared that the US had won the war. The war was over, technically, but US troops remained and so we have an occupation. As I learned from reading an article on Common Dreams and by Thom Hartmann, "The distinction between 'war' and 'occupation' is politically critical for 2006 because wars can be won or lost, but occupations most honorably end by redeployments."
I could go on and on and I will in coming weeks be writing more about this awful, dehumanizing killing and destruction, whether you call it war or occupation, it is a great violation of honor the worth and dignity of all human beings.
I'm so sorry I didn't get to share this information with you last week. I am pleased to tell you that you still can view or listen to much of the testimony and reporting from the event.
One of the best ways I've found to listen to the testimony, which was divided into panels of different topics, is on the KPFA website.
There's a written transcript of an interview by Amy Goodman with some of those giving testimony at Democracy Now.
Watching, listening or reading to this can bring up lots of strong thoughts and feelings. Please share them with us, or if you prefer, contact me privately. I know that not everyone reading this will necessarily agree with my point of view. Please know your responses are welcome too.