"We Blew Her to Pieces"
Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan by Aaron Glantz
Reviewed by Dahr Jamail
MARFA, Texas, Sep 16 (IPS) - Aside from the Iraqi people, nobody
knows what the U.S. military is doing in Iraq better than the
soldiers themselves. A new book gives readers vivid and detailed
accounts of the devastation the U.S. occupation has brought to
Iraq, in the soldiers' own words.
"Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the
Occupation," published by Haymarket Books Tuesday, is a
gut-wrenching, historic chronicle of what the U.S. military has
done to Iraq, as well as its own soldiers.
Authored by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and journalist
Aaron Glantz, the book is a reader for hearings that took place
in Silver Spring, Maryland between Mar. 13-16, 2008 at the
National Labour College.
"I remember one woman walking by," said Jason Washburn, a
corporal in the U.S. Marines who served three tours in Iraq.
"She was carrying a huge bag, and she looked like she was
heading toward us, so we lit her up with the Mark 19, which is
an automatic grenade launcher, and when the dust settled, we
realised that the bag was full of groceries. She had been trying
to bring us food and we blew her to pieces."
Washburn testified on a panel that discussed the rules of
engagement in Iraq, and how lax they were, even to the point of
being virtually non-existent.
"During the course of my three tours, the rules of engagement
changed a lot," Washburn's testimony continues. "The higher the
threat the more viciously we were permitted and expected to
His emotionally charged testimony, like all of those in the book
that covered panels addressing dehumanisation, civilian
testimony, sexism in the military, veterans' health care, and
the breakdown of the military, raised issues that were repeated
again and again by other veterans.
"Something else we were encouraged to do, almost with a wink and
nudge, was to carry 'drop weapons', or by my third tour, 'drop
shovels'. We would carry these weapons or shovels with us
because if we accidentally shot a civilian, we could just toss
the weapon on the body, and make them look like an insurgent,"
Four days of searing testimony, witnessed by this writer, is
consolidated into the book, which makes for a difficult read.
One page after another is filled with devastating stories from
the soldiers about what is being done in Iraq.
Everything from the taking of "trophy" photos of the dead, to
torture and slaughtering of civilians is included.
"We're trying to build a historical record of what continues to
happen in this war and what the war is really about," Glantz
Hart Viges, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division of the Army
who served one year in Iraq, tells of taking orders over the
"One time they said to ﬁre on all taxicabs because the enemy was
using them for transportation...One of the snipers replied back,
'Excuse me? Did I hear that right? Fire on all taxicabs?' The
lieutenant colonel responded, 'You heard me, trooper, ﬁre on all
taxicabs.' After that, the town lit up, with all the units ﬁring
on cars. This was my ﬁrst experience with war, and that kind of
set the tone for the rest of the deployment."
Vincent Emanuele, a Marine rifleman who spent a year in the al-Qaim
area of Iraq near the Syrian border, told of emptying magazines
of bullets into the city without identifying targets, running
over corpses with Humvees and stopping to take "trophy" photos
of bodies. "An act that took place quite often in Iraq was
taking pot shots at cars that drove by," he said. "This was not
an isolated incident, and it took place for most of our
Kelly Dougherty, the executive director of IVAW, blames the
behaviour of soldiers in Iraq on the policies of the U.S.
government. "The abuses committed in the occupations, far from
being the result of a 'few bad apples' misbehaving, are the
result of our government's Middle East policy, which is crafted
in the highest spheres of U.S. power," she said.
Knowing this, however, does little to soften the emotional and
moral devastation of the accounts.
"You see an individual with a white ﬂag and he does anything but
approach you slowly and obey commands, assume it's a trick and
kill him," Michael Leduc, a corporal in the Marines who was part
of the U.S. attack of Fallujah in November 2004, said were the
orders from his battalion JAG officer he received before
entering the city.
This is an important book for the public of the United States,
in particular, because the Winter Soldier testimonies were not
covered by any of the larger media outlets, aside from the
Washington Post, which ran a single piece on the event that was
buried in the Metro section.
The New York Times, CNN, and network news channels ABC, NBC and
CBS ignored it completely.
This is particularly important in light of the fact that, as
former Marine Jon Turner stated, "Anytime we did have embedded
reporters with us, our actions changed drastically. We never
acted the same. We were always on key with everything, did
everything by the book."
"To me it's about giving a picture of what war is like," Glantz
added, "Because here in the U.S. we have this very sanitised
version of what war is. But war is when we have a large group of
armed people killing large numbers of other people. And that is
the picture that people will get from reading veterans
testimony...the true face of war."
Dehumanisation of the soldiers themselves is covered in the
book, as it includes testimony of sexism, racism, and the plight
of veterans upon their return home as they struggle to obtain
care from the Veterans Administration.
There is much testimony on the dehumanisation of the Iraqi
people as well. Brian Casler, a corporal in the Marines, spoke
to some of this that he witnessed during the invasion of Iraq.
"But on these convoys, I saw marines defecate into MRE bags or
urinate in bottles and throw them at children on the side of the
road," he stated.
Numerous accounts from soldiers include the prevalence of
degrading terms for Iraqis, such as "hajis," "towel-heads" and
Scott Ewing, who served in Iraq from 2005-2006, admitted on one
panel that units intentionally gave candy to Iraqi children for
reasons other than "winning hearts and minds".
"There was also another motive," Ewing said, "If the kids were
around our vehicles, the bad guys wouldn't attack. We used the
kids as human shields."
Glantz admits that it would be difficult for the average U.S.
citizen to read the book, and believes it is important to keep
in mind while doing so what it took for the veterans to give
this historic testimony.
"They could have been heroes, but what they are doing here is
even more heroic -- which is telling the truth," Glantz told
IPS. "They didn't have to come forward. They chose to come
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