SEATTLE - Dozens of veterans from the U.S. occupation of Iraq converged in
this West Coast city over the weekend to share stories of atrocities being committed
daily in Iraq, in a continuation of the Winter Soldier hearings held in Silver
Spring, Md., in March.
At the Seattle Town Hall, some 800 people gathered to hear the testimonies
of veterans from Iraq. The event was sponsored by the Northwest Regional Iraq
Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and endorsed by dozens of local and regional
antiwar groups like Veterans for Peace and Students for a Democratic Society.
"I watched Iraqi police bring in someone to interrogate," Seth Manzel,
a vehicle commander and machine gunner in the U.S. Army, told the audience.
"There were four men on the prisoner
one was pummeling his kidneys
with his fists, another was inserting a bottle up his rectum. It looked like
a frat house gang-rape."
Manzel joined the army after 9/11 for economic reasons he'd just been
laid off, and his wife had just had a baby. Manzel told another story of military
medics he was with in Tal Afar who refused to treat an elderly man in their
detention center. Manzel described the old man as being jaundiced and lying
on the ground, writhing in pain.
"The medics said the old man was just being lazy and they were not authorized
to treat detainees," Manzel said.
Jan Critchfield worked as an army journalist while attached to the 1st Cavalry
in Baghdad during 2004. "I was with a unit that shot at a man and wife
near a checkpoint," Critchfield said, "She had been shot through her
shinbone, and that was the first story I covered in Iraq."
Critchfield told the audience that his unspoken job in Iraq was to "counter
the liberal media bias" about the occupation.
"Our target audience was in the U.S., and the emphasis was reporting on
humanitarian aid missions the military conducted," Critchfield said. "I
don't know how many stories I reported on chicken drops (distributing frozen
chickens in a community). I don't know what else you can call that, other than
propaganda. I would find the highest ranking person I could get, and quote them
verbatim without fact checking anything they said."
Other veterans told of lax rules of engagement that led to the slaughter of
innocent civilians in Iraq.
"We were told we'd be deploying to Iraq and that we needed to get ready
to have little kids and women shoot at us," Sergio Kochergin, a former
Marine who served two deployments in Iraq, told the audience. "It was an
attempt to portray Iraqis as animals. We were supposed to do humanitarian work,
but all we did was harass people, drive like crazy on the streets, pretending
it was our city and we could do whatever we wanted to do."
As the other veterans on the panel nodded in agreement, Kochergin continued,
"We were constantly told everybody there wants to kill you, everybody wants
to get you. In the military, we had racism within every rank and it was ridiculous.
It seemed like a joke, but that joke turned into destroying peoples' lives in
"I was in Husaiba with a sniper platoon right on the Syrian border and
we would basically go out on the town and search for people to shoot,"
Kochergin said. "The rules of engagement (ROE) got more lenient the longer
we were there. So if anyone had a bag and a shovel, we were to shoot them. We
were allowed to take our shots at anything that looked suspicious. And at that
point in time, everything looked suspicious."
Kochergin added, "Later on, we had no ROE at all. If you see something
that doesn't seem right, take them out." He concluded by saying, "Enough
is enough, it's time to get out of there."
Doug Connor was a first lieutenant in the army and worked as a surgical nurse
in Iraq. While there he worked as part of a combat support unit, and said most
of the patients he treated were Iraqi civilians.
"There were so many people that needed treatment we couldn't take all
of them," he said. "When a bombing happened and 45 patients were brought
to us, it was always Americans treated first, then Kurds, then the Arabs."
Connor added quietly, "It got to the point where we started calling the
Iraqi patients 'range balls' because, just like on the driving range [in golf],
you don't care about losing them."
Channan Suarez Diaz was a Navy hospital corpsman who returned from Iraq with
a purple heart, among other medals. He served in Ramadi from September 2004
to February 2005 with a weapons company. He is now the Seattle chapter president
"Our commanding officer wanted us to go through a route that another platoon
did and was completely wiped out in an ambush," Diaz explained. "We
refused. They canceled that mission and we didn't go. I don't think these are
isolated incidents. I think this is happening every day in Iraq. The military
doesn't want you to know about this, because it's kind of like lighting a fire
in a prairie."
The first Winter Soldier event was organized in 1971 by Vietnam Veterans Against
the War in response to a growing list of human rights violations occurring in
From March 13-16, 2008, IVAW held a national conference titled "Winter
Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan" outside Washington, D.C. The four-day event
brought together veterans from across the country to testify about their experiences
in Iraq and Afghanistan.
(Inter Press Service)