Antiwar vets testify in Portland

October 27, 2008

PORTLAND, Ore.--Winter Soldier hearings, featuring the testimony of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well as other eyewitnesses to horrors of occupation, turned out 300 people on October 18 at the First Unitarian Church in Portland.

The opening panel, "Voices of Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan," included testimony from Iraq war resister Camilo Mejía and other soldiers, who at times brought the room to tears with stories of their experiences in Iraq.

"We are responsible as soldiers, we are murderers of over one million Iraqis," said Evan Knappenberger, who brought 10 pages of testimony but only had time to read small parts. "I participated in burglary, trespassing, knowledgeable negligence, criminal assault and battery, rape by association, and gangsterism. I am standing here today as a criminal--in a sense of the word that only someone who has worn the uniform can understand."

Other veterans explained why activists had to oppose the war in Afghanistan, that there was no more justification for that war than the one in Iraq.

Chanan Suarez Diaz described being in a combat zone as surreal and numbing. "It comes to a point that you see so much destruction you become numb. This bullshit about bringing democracy or liberation is nonsense--we've killed over one million Iraqis." Diaz ended his account by adding that no military that is responsible for the destruction of Iraq could be seen as anything but oppressive--no matter what country it is in.

Jan Critchfield described his life as a "journalist" in the Army National Guard. "There is no such thing as 'investigative' journalism in the Army," said Critchfield. "I was a propagandist, pure and simple."

The six-hour event, which also included a panel titled "The Human Costs of War," ended with panel named "Building Resistance to War." Independent journalist Dahr Jamail was a featured speaker at the event.

The event--modeled on national Winter Soldier hearings organized earlier this year just outside Washington, D.C., by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW)--was sponsored by IVAW Seattle Chapter, the American Friends Service Committee, PDX Peace Coalition, and the American Iranian Friendship Council, among many others.

Michael William, an Army National Guardsmen who joined the military thinking it would help him finish college but went absent without leave (AWOL) after about a year, spoke about his experiences.

Adriana Moyola, a Mexican-born woman who joined the Army Reserve hoping for citizenship, told her story of leaving the base the night before being deployed to Iraq in 2006. Moyola had been in the Reserve six years before she was called to war, making acquiring conscientious-objector status seem like it wasn't an option. Her therapist had signed a waver saying she was in no metal state to go to war due to past post-traumatic stress disorder. But this didn't stop the military from planning to send her to Iraq.

It was a stroke of luck that her unit was allowed to leave the base one more time before deployment, so she called one of her contacts and asked the woman to pick her up. "I will never forget what that woman did for me," Adriana said, fighting back her tears. After leaving the base, she spent months AWOL not sure of what the outcome would be when she was caught.

These heartbreaking stories are unfortunately common from veterans but they are not reported in the media. Events like these and will draw in those veterans and active-duty soldiers ready to take a stand against the war. These brave men and women deserve our support.

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