Vets raise their voices against occupation

By Eric Ruder

MORE THAN 200 U.S. military veterans and active-duty troops from Iraq and Afghanistan will participate in a four-day event in Washington, D.C., to shed light on the atrocities committed by U.S. occupation forces.

"Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan" will take place from March 13 to 16 and is the largest and most ambitious event yet organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).

In addition to testimony by vets, the event will also drawn on the expertise of well-known authors, activists and journalists, such as Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, unembedded reporter Dahr Jamail, Iraq war experts Anthony Arnove and Jeremy Scahill, and GI rights activist Tod Ensign.

Topics to be discussed include the corporate pillaging of Iraq; racism and sexism in the military; the crisis in the military and veteran health care systems; the domestic cost of the "war on terror"; and the history and future of GI resistance.

But the main attraction will be dozens of soldiers and former soldiers who will provide personal testimony and video and photographic evidence of the daily violence committed by occupation forces.

What you can do

Go to the Iraq Veterans Against the War Web site for more information about how to set up your own local broadcast of Winter Soldier, or to post information about an event you are organizing.

You can also get news and updates about war resisters and other initiatives by antiwar veterans and active-duty troops at the IVAW site.

The Citizen Soldier Web site is an excellent resource for active-duty soldiers looking for news and advice about their rights. Soldiers can also contact the GI Rights Hotline Web site, or call 877-447-4487 from the U.S., 202-483-2220 from outside the U.S., or 06223-47506 from Germany.

Camilo Mejía's book, Road from Ar Ramadi, provides an eyewitness account of the brutality inflicted by the U.S. in Iraq--and how Mejîa made the decision to take a stand against it.

For an excellent history of the GI rebellion during the U.S. war on Vietnam, read David Cortright's Soldiers in Revolt, republished by Haymarket Books. David Zeiger's Sir! No Sir! is an inspiring documentary about the Vietnam soldiers' revolt, and is available on DVD, along with many other supplemental materials.

"Winter Soldier will expose the fact that it isn't the soldiers, but U.S. foreign policy that is criminal," said Martin Smith, a former U.S. Marine and member of IVAW's Winter Soldier organizing team. "We will corroborate the daily grind and the day-to-day reality of life under occupation."

Across the country, antiwar coalitions, student antiwar groups and other activists are planning to view Winter Soldier via satellite feeds and streaming Internet video.

"We are asking groups to organize simulcast events and to consider hosting speakouts and report-backs about our testimonies," said Smith. "We can end the war, but it will take the grassroots efforts of activists working in concert with the new GI movement."

Winter Soldier will provide an important correction to mainstream media coverage of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, which tends to fall into three main kinds of reporting, according to veterans.

Most stories focus on the violence committed by "the terrorists"--that is, anyone who resists the U.S. agenda in those countries. A second kind of story reports on the "collateral damage"--in which civilians are killed by U.S. forces--but is generally careful to point out that such episodes are relatively infrequent, and a regrettable yet inevitable feature of war.

A third type, IVAW members say, admits that there are war crimes and atrocities committed by U.S. forces--such as torture at Abu Ghraib prison or the massacre of civilians at Haditha--but claims they are acts of individual soldiers who have broken military discipline.

The Winter Soldier testimony will show that the main source of violence in these countries are U.S. forces, and that so-called collateral damage as well as massacres, murders and torture all flow from the same source--the war planners and military brass who set and implement U.S. war policy in the "war on terror."

"We will indict the hollow proclamations of 'spreading democracy' or 'winning the surge' by showing how occupation degrades the humanity of both the foot soldiers of empire and those who are at the receiving end of the wars' brutality," said Smith.

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WINTER SOLDIER takes its name from a similar event organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War 37 years ago, in which more than 100 Vietnam veterans testified to participating in or witnessing the burning of Vietnamese villages, the massacre of civilians and the torture of suspected resistance fighters.

The name is a reference to Tom Paine's famous essay, penned to inspire America's revolutionary fighters, in which he wrote, "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country..."

As Smith said, "We are very proud to stand in the legacy of the original Winter Soldier, organized by the VVAW in 1971. The Vietnam War produced a generation of fighters against U.S. empire who connected the war abroad with the war at home.

"What's striking from the footage of the original gathering is you not only see the raw emotional healing that bonded these veterans together, but you also realize the striking similarities in their stories to those we are collecting today. What were called 'gooks' in the past, for example, are now referred to as 'hajis,' as a means to dehumanize the enemy.

"But even more, by linking our stories to the past, it also exposes a broader corruption of U.S. policy. Our struggle today is, in part, to prevent the need for another Winter Soldier Investigation, so that future generations will never again bear the brunt and corruption of war and occupation."