Winter Soldier on the Hill
In an unofficial hearing held in a small chamber of the House of Representatives on May 15, Congressperson Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) listened with sympathy to nine testimonies from Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) describing the indiscriminate killing of Iraqi civilians, racism toward "everything that wasn’t us," abuse of detainees, mutilation of Iraqi dead, and high-level cover-ups and corruption. After they had finished testifying about atrocities committed by the
The request, perhaps meant as a gesture of good faith from a progressive Democratic, was met with an unexpectedly tepid response from the veterans. "Beyond amassing hundreds of thousands of people, which has been done before, there have to be clear objectives," said Army officer Luis Montalvan, who served two tours in Iraq with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and who had testified earlier about corruption and lack of accountability at the highest levels of the U.S. military.
IVAW members testifying in Congress
Jackson-Lee queried the other testifiers and got similar answers. Adam Kokesh, a former Marine who served in 2003 with the 3rd Civil Affairs Group in Fallujah, explained that he was less interested in mobilizing thousands of people for a mass demonstration than in organizing direct resistance to the war within the military.
James Gilligan, a former Marine who served in
At the end of the hearing, Geoff Millard, the DC Chapter president of the IVAW, gave a closing statement. Like the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which "was the leading force that led to the end of that occupation" in the 1970s, Millard said that the resistance from veterans would be key to ending the war. "The only question is will Congress be there to help us?"
A Growing Movement
Since its founding in 2004 with only 7 members, IVAW has grown to a national organization with 1,200 members, half of whom joined in the last year. Its members include veterans and active-duty personnel who are working for an immediate withdrawal of troops, full benefits and care for military personnel, and reparations for the Iraqi people.
In its first years the organization generally played a supportive role in the antiwar movement, with members speaking at antiwar events and marching at the head of antiwar mobilizations. In the last year the group has come into its own, focusing on organizing resistance within the military. Most recently, they organized "Winter Soldier:
Two months later, the unofficial hearing hosted by the 72-member Congressional Progressive Caucus was a smaller affair. The press, however, showed up in force, with CNN and Fox News promising to attend and C-SPAN recording the event.
All of the presenters had also provided testimony at the earlier Winter Soldier hearings in March and much of their testimony echoed their previous statements. For example, Jason Lemieux, a Marine who served three tours in
"In my unit the primary loyalty is not to democracy or the flag or to
Sergio Kochergin, who served two tours in
Scott Ewing, a cavalry scout deployed to
Geoff Millard, formerly in the Army National Guard, spent 13 months in
According to Millard, racism was common even at the highest levels. Millard described a traffic control shooting in which, "A young private made a split second decision and put more than 200 rounds into a car" containing an Iraqi family. After being briefed on the incident, Millard testified to hearing a general tell a room full of soldiers that, "If these fucking ‘hajis’ learned to drive, this shit wouldn’t happen."
Other soldiers echoed the charges of racism and dehumanization of the Iraqi people. When dealing with detainees, "Our unit engaged in punching, kicking, butt stroking, at times throwing [detainees] out of the back of our Humvees…and throwing softball-sized rocks at their backs as they ran away," said Vincent Emanuele, who was deployed in 2004 to Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps.
Emanuele described how the bodies of Iraqi dead were routinely mishandled and mutilated. When dead bodies were found by soldiers, "Standard operation procedure was to run over these bodies with Humvees and sometimes take pictures."
Kris Goldsmith, a former Army Sergeant, spoke about his own racism when he entered the military. "I joined the army to kill Iraqis, to kill Muslim, to kill people [with] a skin tone that was other than mine." He then apologized, "I’m no longer a racist, no longer filled with hatred like that." The 22-year-old served in
"It was bad when Saddam was in control; it is now worse than 2005," said Goldsmith of conditions in U.S.-occupied
Goldsmith explained that the people he met in
Goldsmith’s testimony also hinted at the deep psychological trauma that many veterans of the
After the hearing, members of IVAW gathered in the neighboring Cannon Building of the House, just above the heads of dozens of tourists streaming through the metal detectors, to show just what they meant by direct resistance. Army Sgt. Matthis Chiroux, a 24-year-old photojournalist who served nearly 5 years in the military, read a short statement to members of the press, announcing his refusal to deploy to
Chiroux refuses to deploy, with IVAW members
Chiroux’s statement was followed by comments by Kelly Dougherty, IVAW’s executive director. "I would like to let Matthis and everyone here know that IVAW stands in support and solidarity with your decision, which I know is very difficult and very personal…. IVAW’s strategy to end the occupation in