[The following is an excerpt from Winter Soldier,
I was against the war before the war. Even though I believed all of the lies that Colin Powell told at the UN, all the intelligence, all the spin. I didn’t think it was going to be worth it, but in 2004 I thought that we were cleaning up our mess and genuinely trying to do good by the Iraqi people. That was something I wanted to be a part of, and something that I enthusiastically risked my life for.
This is the rules of engagement card that I was issued for our deployment to
In April of 2004,we got an order to pack for three days and have our vehicle and a convoy ready to go at midnight. We weren’t told where we were going. This was right after the four Blackwater security agents were killed and had their bodies burned and hung from the northern bridge over the
During the siege of Fallujah, we changed Rules of Engagement more often than we changed our underwear. At first it was, "You follow the Rules of Engagement. You do what you’re supposed to do." Then there were times when it was, "You can shoot any suspicious observer." So someone with binoculars and a cell phone was fair game, and that opened things up to a lot of subjectivity.
At one point we imposed a curfew on Fallujah, and then we were allowed to shoot anything after dark. Fortunately, I was never forced to make that decision, but there were a lot of marines who were forced to make that choice. In one incident, in the first couple of days we were there, there was a checkpoint shooting to the west of our perimeter. We were told a vehicle was approaching an impromptu vehicle checkpoint at a high rate of speed. That gave marines manning the checkpoint cause to be suspicious and they unloaded into that vehicle with a 50-caliber machine gun. The idea is that anybody coming at your position who doesn’t slow down to five miles an hour is an enemy combatant. Well, this is at dusk and marines are all wearing camouflage and this guy could just have been cruising through his neighborhood, or rushing home to see his family. We didn’t know, but it was enough that the marines got jumpy and shot a burst of 50-cal rounds into this vehicle.
The bullets started at the bumper and went up the engine compartment and then one round at least hit this Iraqi in the chest so hard that it broke his chair backwards and we saw the vehicle burning in the distance. Every- body tried to justify it and say, oh, they heard rounds cooking off in the fire, AK-47 rounds were bursting in the trunk or somewhere in the car. The next day they dragged the car into our sleeping area, and it was clear that there were no holes from rounds cooking off in the side of this car.
I posed on the hood of that car, and as someone mentioned earlier, it felt funny not because what we were doing was morally wrong, but because I wasn’t the one that killed this guy. There was a group of us marines that all took turns taking pictures and posing like this. At the first Winter Soldier in 1971, one of the testifiers showed a similar picture and said, "Don’t ever let your government do this to you." Our government is still doing this to patriotic young men and women who have volunteered their lives in the service of this country, putting them in a situation where this kind of thing is normal. At one point during the siege of Fallujah we decided to let women and children out of the city. We thought it was the most gracious thing we could have done. I went out on the northern bridge over the
After the siege of Fallujah, my civil affairs team was pulled to set up a
One day in the middle of summer I got a random call on my field phone at the checkpoint saying, "Take one marine and get up to the road and stop any black Opel that comes your way," because al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was fleeing the city in a black Opel. All I could say was, "What’s an Opel?"
I got up there, and I was with my marine, he was behind me, and I saw a black blur coming toward us, and I was like, "Hey, is that a black Opel?" He was like, "That’s a black blur, Sergeant."
So I got up on the road and I pointed my rifle down the freeway-the main road between Fallujah and
My staff sergeant came out, trotted up, after coming out of the air-conditioned building, and he pulls out the al-Zarqawi wanted poster. He looks at the person we had stopped and then he looks at the poster and goes, "Ah, that’s not him. Let him go." That kind of thing, where we’re just harassing people unnecessarily, is part of daily life.
A lot of people who were detained are innocent. There are a lot of people who get detained who are guilty, but guilty or innocent, they usually get similar treatment. Even at Abu Ghraib, they’ll do six months and get out because we don’t have the capacity to provide any kind of due process.
We’re really pissing a lot of people off that way. If the game for the insurgency is: shoot at Americans and if you get caught, if you’re not killed, you’ll do six months and you’ll get out, then-not that being at Abu Ghraib is a picnic by any means-but the game is understood.
When I was activated, we were told we’d be working on schools and mosques and clinics and water projects, and rebuilding
We were six-man teams attached to these larger infantry units: regiments or battalions, usually. You couldn’t go anywhere in Fallujah without six Humvees and machine guns, and we were just six marines. So we had to beg these infantry commanders to tag along on their convoys so we could do our missions. We were constantly struggling to justify our existence, and we came up with a slogan: "We care so that you don’t have to." To the macabre Marine Corps sense of humor that’s pretty funny. But it’s easy to step back and think, "Man, we’ve got units in
And we care so the American people don’t have to, so that these things can go on in our names and they can just go back to the mall and their daily lives and pretend like nothing’s wrong. That’s one of the things that disturbs me the most about the state of affairs right now.