Winter soldiers testify in Texas

Matt Camp reports from Texas on the powerful indictment of war from Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Iraq Veterans Against the War have held a series of Winter Soldier hearings across the country (Lisa Wright | SW)Iraq Veterans Against the War have held a series of Winter Soldier hearings across the country (Lisa Wright | SW)

AUSTIN, Texas--Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, plus families of soldiers, Vietnam veterans, antiwar activists and journalists, came together for the Winter Soldier-South Central Region day of testimony and action on February 28.

Some 300 people attended the event at Austin's Central Presbyterian Church. The day was divided into two panels. The first featured testimony of former soldiers about their experiences abroad, including the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, intelligence gathering, and how Iraqis are falsely detained under various pretexts.

Rooster Romriell, an Iraq War veteran, described an incident in which his unit was ordered to attack a garbage truck with children riding on the back, after it had passed a checkpoint:

We were ordered to fire on a dump truck, and we opened fire. While the truck burned to the ground, a man ran to the base of our rooftop OP, waving a white cloth and yelling "Baby! Baby!"--trying to tell us we were destroying children...So we killed him.

Romriell said that this was one of many war crimes he witnessed while stationed in Sadr City.

The second panel focused on the effects of the wars at home, including the poor treatment of women in the military and the sorry state of care that veterans receive once they return to the U.S.

John Scripsick, a Gold Star parent from rural Oklahoma, journeyed to central Texas to speak on this panel. Scripsick spoke about his son Bryan, who was killed in Iraq, and closed by telling the audience, "You who see wrong and speak out...you are in the right, and you have nothing to be afraid of."

In his fiery testimony, Bobby Whittenberg, a former GI who was wounded in Iraq in 2004, denounced the capitalist system that has allowed a minority of rich and powerful to profit off wars. "You cannot put a dollar amount on a human life," he said. "Not in Iraq. Not in Afghanistan. We are all human beings. They can try to commodify food, they can try to commodify water, but they cannot commodify our lives!"

Winter Soldier was spearheaded by the Central Texas members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, and was co-sponsored by local antiwar groups, including Veterans For Peace, CodePink, local chapters of the Campus Antiwar Network, and the International Socialist Organization.

From the outset, the event was conceived by local IVAW members as a means to galvanize antiwar sentiment and activism. Speakers throughout the day were unequivocal about calling for a complete withdrawal from Iraq, and emphasized the need for continued activism and organizing.

In that spirit, the testimonials were followed by a raucous march through downtown Austin, and a rally at City Hall.

The day's events were powerful and inspiring, and showed the way that a fighting antiwar movement can be built in this time of hope.