ANN ARBOR, Mich. — An Iraq Veterans Against War member told a gathering of Michigan peace activists how he went from a teenager in trouble with the law to a sailor to a leader of the veterans movement against war.
“It was the turmoil I experienced and witnessed during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 that turned me against war,” the soldier told 100 from all over the state at conference here Feb. 4.
Originally from Dearborn Heights, he got training as a photographer and went off “gung ho to fight the Taliban right after we’d heard that New York City and Washington, D.C., had been attacked. The Taliban were in Tora Bora, but the Marines were sent far from there, to Camp Rhino in Kandahar Province instead.”
“Right from the get-go it seemed like the whole thing was a lie,” he said. “Instead of fighting the Taliban we were going out and bombing the hell out of their villages. Guys would write things like ‘Die You F——- Arabs’ and ‘Die Sand N———’ on the bombs. Because of the attacks in the States it was hard for any of us to feel what we were doing was wrong. It took me quite a while, years really, to change my attitude.”
When the first prisoners arrived on his ship, “our officers instilled hatred against them over the PA — the hatred necessary for people to commit or accept torturing prisoners. They said, ‘These guys are the reason you’re over here this Christmas and not at home.’”
“The prisoners were tied up and had potato sacks over their heads. I was told not to photograph any of them even though that was officially my job. I’ll never forget how someone threw one prisoner face down on the tarmac and pulled his face over it. Tarmac is hard and pitted — it’s like pulling someone’s face over a cheese grater.’ The soldier said he saw some close-up photos where he couldn’t tell what the body part was. ‘The only difference between Abu Ghraib and other prisons is that photos were taken there and some got publicized.”
He returned with a 50 percent disability. War making has become “one big foreign policy that I’m against — not just the Iraq war but what we’re doing in Afghanistan, East Timor, Colombia. The administration has military operations overlapped all over the globe,” he said.
“My friend told me they’re having war games to see what a war against Iran might do. My buddy was in it. He said when they simulated a naval attack on the shore, batteries sunk every American ship. So now they’re thinking that they need to control the territories on the sides of Iran so they can go in from there.”
This soldier said that when he first returned from war, he cursed his sister and her friends who were involved in peace actions. “I thought that what they were doing meant that everything I did was for nothing. It took me three years from 2001, when I was in the first deployment, to see things differently. My opinion now is that a majority of the troops that served in Iraq and Afghanistan would agree with me. But a lot don’t. If you lost a leg or hand there, it’s hard to feel or say that it was for nothing.”
Conference participants backed Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers’ resolutions to investigate Bush and Cheney to see if their misdeeds “rise to the level of impeachment.” They also supported an anti-recruitment campaign outlined by Mitch Goldsmith of Ypsilanti Lincoln High School’s Students Against War. “We’ve formed five high school groups and five more are in the works,” Goldsmith said. “We’re looking for a high opt-out rate. We already limited recruiters to one small room and 18 minutes presence where it had been 90 minutes and they’d been roaming all over the school. We heard that a recruiter said they were now recruiting in some homeless shelters.”