& back in Dallas, the Veterans for Peace…

It may be August in southern France, the weather nearly at “beau fixe,” but we can’t get out from under what’s going on in the world — this morning emails brings the latest of Dahr Jamail’s Iraq dispatches, which I think is useful reading on the day before the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima.

** Dahr Jamail’s Iraq Dispatches **
** http://dahrjamailiraq.com **

August 05, 2005

“What Have We Done?”

As the blood of US soldiers continues to drain into the hot sands of
Iraq over the last several days with at least 27 US soldiers killed and
the approval rating for his handling of the debacle in Iraq dropping to
an all-time low of 38%, Mr. Bush commented from the comforts of his
ranch in Crawford, Texas today, “We will stay the course, we will
complete the job in Iraq.”

Just a two hour drive away in Dallas, at the Veterans for Peace National
Convention in Dallas, I’m sitting with a roomful of veterans from the
current quagmire.

When asked what he would say to Mr. Bush if he had the chance to speak
to him, Abdul Henderson, a corporal in the Marines who served in Iraq
from March until May, 2003, took a deep breath and said, “It would be
two hits-me hitting him and him hitting the floor. I see this guy in the
most prestigious office in the world, and this guy says ‘bring it on.’ A
guy who ain’t never been shot at, never seen anyone suffering, saying
‘bring it on?’ He gets to act like a cowboy in a western movie…it’s
sickening to me.”

The other vets with him nod in agreement as he speaks somberly…his anger
seething.

One of them, Alex Ryabov, a corporal in an artillery unit which was in
Iraq the first three months of the invasion, asked for some time to
formulate his response to the same question.

“I don’t think Bush will ever realize how many millions of lives he and
his lackeys have ruined on their quest for money, greed and power,” he
says, “To take the patriotism of the American people for granted…the
fact that people (his administration) are willing to lie and make
excuses for you while you continue to kill and maim the youth of America
and ruin countless families…and still manage to do so with a smile on
your face.”

Taking a deep breath to steady himself he continues as if addressing
Bush first-hand; “You needs to resign, take the billions of dollars
you’ve made off the blood and sweat of US service members….all the
suffering you’ve caused us, and put those billions of dollars into the
VA to take care of the men and women you sent to be slaughtered. Yet all
those billions aren’t enough to even try to compensate all the people
who have been affected by this.”

These new additions to Veterans for Peace are actively living the
statement of purpose of the organization, having pledged to work with
others towards increasing public awareness of the costs of war, to work
to restrain their government from intervening, overtly and covertly, in
the internal affairs of other nations and to see justice for veterans
and victims of war, among other goals.

I type furiously for three hours, trying to keep up with the stories
each of the men shared….about the atrocities of what they saw, and
committed, while in Iraq.

Camilo Mejia, an army staff sergeant who was sentenced to a year in
military prison in May, 2004 for refusing to return to Iraq after being
home on leave, talks openly about what he did there:

“What it all comes down to is redemption for what was done there. I was
turning ambulances away from going to hospitals, I killed civilians, I
tortured guys…and I’m ashamed of that. Once you are there, it has
nothing to do with politics…it has to do with you as an individual being
there and killing people for no reason. There is no purpose, and now I’m
sick at myself for doing these things. I kept telling myself I was there
for my buddies. It was a weak reasoning…because I still shut my mouth
and did my job.”

Mejia then spoke candidly about why he refused to return:

“It wasn’t until I came home that I felt it-how wrong it all was and
that I was a coward for pushing my principles aside. I’m trying to buy
my way back into heaven…and it’s not so much what I did, but what I
didn’t do to stop it when I was there. So now it’s a way of trying to
undo the evil that we did over there. This is why I’m speaking out, and
not going back. This is a painful process and we’re going through it.”

Camilo Mejia was then quick to point towards the success of his
organization and his colleagues. “When I went back to Iraq in October of
2003, the Pentagon said there were 22 AWOL’s. Five months later it was
500, and when I got out of jail that number was 5,000. These are the
Pentagons’ numbers for the military. Two things are significant here-the
number went from 500-5,000 in 11 months, and these are the numbers from
the Pentagon.”

While the military is falling short of its recruitment goals across the
board and the disaster in Iraq spiraling deeper into chaos with each
passing day, these are little consolation for these men who have paid
the price they’ve had to pay to be at this convention. They continue to
pay, but at the same time stand firm in their resolve to bring an end to
the occupation of Iraq and to help their fellow soldiers.

Ryabov then begins to tell of his unit firing the wrong artillery rounds
which hit 5-10 km from their intended target.

“We have no idea where those rounds fell, or what they hit,” he says
quietly while two of the men hold their heads in their hands, “Now we’ve
come to these realizations and we’re trying to educate people to save
them from going through the same thing.”

After talking of the use of uranium munitions, of which Ryabov stated
300 tons of which were used in the ’91 Gulf War, and 2,200 tons and
counting having been used thus far in the current war, he adds, “We were
put in a foreign country and fire artillery and kill people…and it
shouldn’t have even happened in the first place. It’s hard to put into
words the full tragedy of it-the death and suffering on both sides. I
feel a grave injustice has been done and I’m trying to correct it. You
do all these things and come back and think, ‘what have we done?’ We
just rolled right by an Iraqi man with a gunshot in his thigh and two
guys near him waving white flags….he probably bled to death.”

Harvey Tharp sitting with us served in Kirkuk. His position of being in
charge of some reconstruction projects in northern Iraq allowed him to
form many close friendships with Iraqis…something that prompts him to
ask me to tell more people of the generous culture of the Iraqi people.
His friendships apparently brought the war much closer to home for him.

“What I concluded last summer when I was waiting to transfer to NSA was
that not only were our reasons for being there lies, but we just weren’t
there to help the Iraqis. So in November of ‘04 I told my commander I
couldn’t take part in this. I would have been sent into Fallujah, and he
was going to order me in to do my job. I also chose not to go back
because the dropping of bombs in urban areas like Fallujah are a
violation of the laws of warfare because of the near certainty of
collateral damage. For me, seeing the full humanity of Iraqis made me
realize I couldn’t participate
in these operations.”

Tharp goes on to say that he believes there are still Vietnam vets who
think that that was a necessary war and adds, “I think it’s because that
keeps the demons at bay for them to believe it is justified…this is
their coping mechanism. We, as Americans, have to face the total obvious
truth that this was all because of a lie. We are speaking out because we
have to speak out. We want to help other vets tell other vets their
story…to keep people from drinking themselves to death.”

When he is asked what he would say to Mr. Bush if he had a few moments
with him, he too took some time to think about it, then says, “It is
obvious that middle America is starting to turn against this war and to
turn against you…for good reason. The only thing I could see that would
arrest this inevitable fall that you deserve, is another 9/11 or another
war with say, Iran. There are some very credible indications in the
media that we are already in pre-war with Iran. What I’m trying to do is
find a stand Americans can take against you, but I think people are
willing to say ‘don’t you dare do this to us again.’ My message to the
American people is this-do you want to go another round with these
people? If not-now is the time to say so.”

The men are using this time to tell more of why they are resisting the
illegal occupation, and it’s difficult to ask new questions as they are
adding to what one another share.

“I didn’t want to kill another soul for no reason. That’s it,” adds
Henderson, “We were firing into small towns….you see people just
running, cars going, guys falling off bikes…it was just sad. You just
sit there and look through your binos and see things blowing up, and you
think, man they have no water, living in the third world, and we’re just
bombing them to hell. Blowing up buildings, shrapnel tearing people to
shreds.”

Tharp jumps in and adds, “Most of what we’re talking about is war
crimes…war crimes because they are directed by our government for power
projection. My easy answer for not going is PTSD…but the deeper moral
reason is that I didn’t want to be involved in a crime against humanity.”

Ryabov then adds, “We were put in a foreign country to fire artillery
and kill people…and it shouldn’t have even happened in the first place.
It’s hard to put into words the full tragedy of it-the death and
suffering on both sides. I feel a grave injustice has been done and I’m
trying to correct it. You do all these things and come back and think,
what have we done?”

Michael Hoffman served as a Marine Corps corporal who fought in Tikrit
and Baghdad, and has since become a co-founder of Iraq Veterans Against
the War.

“Nobody wants to kill another person and think it was because of a lie.
Nobody wants to think their service was in vain,” says Hoffman.

His response to what he would say to Mr. Bush is simple, “I would look
him straight in the eye and ask him ‘why?’ And I would hold him there
and make him answer me. He never has to deal with us one on one. I dare
him to talk to any of us like that, one on one, and give us an answer.”

Hoffman then adds, “What about the 3 year old Iraqi girl who is now an
orphan with diseases and nightmares for the rest of her life for what we
did? And the people who orchestrated this don’t have to pay anything.
How many times are my children going to have to go through this? Our
only choice is to fight this to try to stop it from happening again.”

Earlier this same day Mr. Bush said, “We cannot leave this task half
finished, we must take it all the way to the end.”

However, Charlie Anderson, another Iraq veteran, had strong words for
Bush. After discussing how the background radiation in Baghdad is now
five times the normal rate-the equivalent of having 3 chest x-rays an
hour, he said, “These are not accidents-the DU [Depleted Uraniaum]-it’s
important for people to understand this-the use of DU and its effects
are by design. These are very carefully engineered and orchestrated
incidents.”

While the entire group nods in agreement and two other soldiers stand up
to shake his hand, Anderson says firmly, “You subverted us, you
destroyed our lives, you owe us. I want your resignation in my hand in
the next five minutes. Get packin’ Georgie.”

_______________________________________________
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2 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yes, thank you for posting this. It is an incredible perversion being carried out.

    Just last week I had the thrill of witnessing my 83-yr old aunt Elsie, for many years a reserved Lutheran minister’s wife, now a self-supporting watercolorist in northern Washington state, shake her fist at the TV news of the Bolton appointment and yell “damn you Bush!”. Then stomp into the kitchen (all 5′ of her), tell my wife she “couldn’t think about cooking”. Stomp back, and then “you SONUVABITCH”. Made me damned proud and somewhat relieved to be around someone like her after spending most our days in kansas surrounded by many of the worst kind of Bush supporters.
    –Paul Hotvedt

  2. Anonymous says:

    I was looking for blogs referring to Dallas and found yours. Great blog! I’m in Dallas and here’s some info about me

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