The anti-war movement is speaking out against the death of five American GIs in Iraq allegedly shot by U.S. Army Sgt. John M. Russell May 12 at a clinic for troubled soldiers at Camp Liberty west of Baghdad. Sgt. Russell was scheduled to return to the U.S. in three weeks when he apparently snapped and went on a deadly shooting spree.

“Consider that Sgt. Russell was on his third tour in Iraq,” said Mike Marceau, Vice President of the District of Columbia Chapter of Veterans for Peace (VFP). “The stress level just intensifies with each tour a soldier serves in combat.”

Marceau, a Vietnam War veteran was seriously wounded in Vietnam May 6, 1970 and spent eight months recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He returns to Walter Reed every month to visit soldiers recovering from wounds in Iraq and Afghanistan. “”I like to think maybe I can bring them a little hope that there is a life after Walter Reed,” he said.

“To me, this tragedy shows that the military is not taking care of the people who answer our country’s call when they join the military,” he continued. “Unfortunately, military medical facilities and Veterans Administration facilities are under-funded and that means they are short-staffed, especially in providing mental health care.”

Marceau charged that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “were based on two lies from the previous Administration: That Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and President Bush’s claim that Saddam Hussein was connected with the 9/11 terrorist attack. Neither was true.”

All the money spent in the Iraq war was approved as budget supplementals, $170 billion from 2003 to 2009. “That’s a trillion dollars,” he said.
Yet hundreds of thousands of soldiers have served in wars and are returning home with symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and tens of thousands receive little or no help.

President Obama, who had visited an adjacent military base last month said he is “shocked and deeply saddened” by the tragedy. Marceau said Obama’s budget provides an increase of about four percent in funding for veterans health care, a “good first step,” he said. “But there are far too many soldiers falling through the cracks. The U.S. Army is grappling with a record number of soldier suicides. At least 13 soldiers took their own lives in March and that is down from 24 military suicides in January and 18 in February, still in line with the highest number of suicides since record-keeping began.”

Carrie Biggs-Adams, a member of the Communications Workers of America, a leader of D.C. Labor Against the War and Code Pink, helps organize weekly vigils outside Walter Reed where hundreds of soldiers, wounded in body and spirit, are being treated.

She told the World, “When we started our vigil at Walter Reed we held up signs that said, ‘Money for the wounded, not for war.’ Our request, our pleas, our vigil is the same today as it was five years ago when the vigil began: to get the troops home and care for their needs once they get here.”

The answer from the Defense Department to the crisis of multiple combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan is increasing the numbers of soldiers to ease the shortage of personnel.

“Obviously, we need less war, not more soldiers,” Biggs-Adams added. “The human cost of this project is huge both for the individual soldiers and their families and for our country. They harass people with ‘Stop Loss’ and multiple deployments. One would hope we will look at this tragedy in terms of the human cost, the economic cost, and the moral cost. The answer is to end this war.”

The vigil at Walter Reed, she said, will continue, every Friday evening from 7-9PM “and when the troops are all home and have been treated, then we will be done.”