- As the blood of US soldiers continues to drain into the
hot sands of Iraq over the last several days with at least 27 US soldiers
killed and the approval rating for his handling of the debacle in Iraq
dropping to an all-time low of 38%, Mr. Bush commented from the comforts
of his ranch in Crawford, Texas today, "We will stay the course, we
will complete the job in Iraq."
- Just a two hour drive away in Dallas, at the Veterans
for Peace National Convention in Dallas, I'm sitting with a roomful of
veterans from the current quagmire.
- When asked what he would say to Mr. Bush if he had the
chance to speak to him, Abdul Henderson, a corporal in the Marines who
served in Iraq from March until May, 2003, took a deep breath and said,
"It would be two hits-me hitting him and him hitting the floor. I
see this guy in the most prestigious office in the world, and this guy
says 'bring it on.' A guy who ain't never been shot at, never seen anyone
suffering, saying 'bring it on?' He gets to act like a cowboy in a western
movieit's sickening to me."
- The other vets with him nod in agreement as he speaks
somberlyhis anger seething.
- One of them, Alex Ryabov, a corporal in an artillery
unit which was in Iraq the first three months of the invasion, asked for
some time to formulate his response to the same question.
- "I don't think Bush will ever realize how many millions
of lives he and his lackeys have ruined on their quest for money, greed
and power," he says, "To take the patriotism of the American
people for grantedthe fact that people (his administration) are willing
to lie and make excuses for you while you continue to kill and maim the
youth of America and ruin countless familiesand still manage to do so with
a smile on your face."
- Taking a deep breath to steady himself he continues as
if addressing Bush first-hand; "You needs to resign, take the billions
of dollars you've made off the blood and sweat of US service members.all
the suffering you've caused us, and put those billions of dollars into
the VA to take care of the men and women you sent to be slaughtered. Yet
all those billions aren't enough to even try to compensate all the people
who have been affected by this."
- These new additions to Veterans for Peace are actively
living the statement of purpose of the organization, having pledged to
work with others towards increasing public awareness of the costs of war,
to work to restrain their government from intervening, overtly and covertly,
in the internal affairs of other nations and to see justice for veterans
and victims of war, among other goals.
- I type furiously for three hours, trying to keep up with
the stories each of the men shared.about the atrocities of what they saw,
and committed, while in Iraq.
- Camilo Mejia, an army staff sergeant who was sentenced
to a year in military prison in May, 2004 for refusing to return to Iraq
after being home on leave, talks openly about what he did there:
- "What it all comes down to is redemption for what
was done there. I was turning ambulances away from going to hospitals,
I killed civilians, I tortured guysand I'm ashamed of that. Once you are
there, it has nothing to do with politicsit has to do with you as an individual
being there and killing people for no reason. There is no purpose, and
now I'm sick at myself for doing these things. I kept telling myself I
was there for my buddies. It was a weak reasoningbecause I still shut my
mouth and did my job."
- Mejia then spoke candidly about why he refused to return:
- "It wasn't until I came home that I felt it-how
wrong it all was and that I was a coward for pushing my principles aside.
I'm trying to buy my way back into heavenand it's not so much what I did,
but what I didn't do to stop it when I was there. So now it's a way of
trying to undo the evil that we did over there. This is why I'm speaking
out, and not going back. This is a painful process and we're going through
- Camilo Mejia was then quick to point towards the success
of his organization and his colleagues. "When I went back to Iraq
in October of 2003, the Pentagon said there were 22 AWOL's. Five months
later it was 500, and when I got out of jail that number was 5,000. These
are the Pentagons' numbers for the military. Two things are significant
here-the number went from 500-5,000 in 11 months, and these are the numbers
from the Pentagon."
- While the military is falling short of its recruitment
goals across the board and the disaster in Iraq spiraling deeper into chaos
with each passing day, these are little consolation for these men who have
paid the price they've had to pay to be at this convention. They continue
to pay, but at the same time stand firm in their resolve to bring an end
to the occupation of Iraq and to help their fellow soldiers.
- Ryabov then begins to tell of his unit firing the wrong
artillery rounds which hit 5-10 km from their intended target.
- "We have no idea where those rounds fell, or what
they hit," he says quietly while two of the men hold their heads in
their hands, "Now we've come to these realizations and we're trying
to educate people to save them from going through the same thing."
- After talking of the use of uranium munitions, of which
Ryabov stated 300 tons of which were used in the '91 Gulf War, and 2,200
tons and counting having been used thus far in the current war, he adds,
"We were put in a foreign country and fire artillery and kill peopleand
it shouldn't have even happened in the first place. It's hard to put into
words the full tragedy of it-the death and suffering on both sides. I feel
a grave injustice has been done and I'm trying to correct it. You do all
these things and come back and think, 'what have we done?' We just rolled
right by an Iraqi man with a gunshot in his thigh and two guys near him
waving white flags.he probably bled to death."
- Harvey Tharp sitting with us served in Kirkuk. His position
of being in charge of some reconstruction projects in northern Iraq allowed
him to form many close friendships with Iraqissomething that prompts him
to ask me to tell more people of the generous culture of the Iraqi people.
His friendships apparently brought the war much closer to home for him.
- "What I concluded last summer when I was waiting
to transfer to NSA was that not only were our reasons for being there lies,
but we just weren't there to help the Iraqis. So in November of '04 I told
my commander I couldn't take part in this. I would have been sent into
Fallujah, and he was going to order me in to do my job. I also chose not
to go back because the dropping of bombs in urban areas like Fallujah are
a violation of the laws of warfare because of the near certainty of collateral
damage. For me, seeing the full humanity of Iraqis made me realize I couldn't
participate in these operations."
- Tharp goes on to say that he believes there are still
Vietnam vets who think that that was a necessary war and adds, "I
think it's because that keeps the demons at bay for them to believe it
is justifiedthis is their coping mechanism. We, as Americans, have to face
the total obvious truth that this was all because of a lie. We are speaking
out because we have to speak out. We want to help other vets tell other
vets their storyto keep people from drinking themselves to death."
- When he is asked what he would say to Mr. Bush if he
had a few moments with him, he too took some time to think about it, then
says, "It is obvious that middle America is starting to turn against
this war and to turn against youfor good reason. The only thing I could
see that would arrest this inevitable fall that you deserve, is another
9/11 or another war with say, Iran. There are some very credible indications
in the media that we are already in pre-war with Iran. What I'm trying
to do is find a stand Americans can take against you, but I think people
are willing to say 'don't you dare do this to us again.' My message to
the American people is this-do you want to go another round with these
people? If not-now is the time to say so."
- The men are using this time to tell more of why they
are resisting the illegal occupation, and it's difficult to ask new questions
as they are adding to what one another share.
- "I didn't want to kill another soul for no reason.
That's it," adds Henderson, "We were firing into small towns.you
see people just running, cars going, guys falling off bikesit was just
sad. You just sit there and look through your binos and see things blowing
up, and you think, man they have no water, living in the third world, and
we're just bombing them to hell. Blowing up buildings, shrapnel tearing
people to shreds."
- Tharp jumps in and adds, "Most of what we're talking
about is war crimeswar crimes because they are directed by our government
for power projection. My easy answer for not going is PTSDbut the deeper
moral reason is that I didn't want to be involved in a crime against humanity."
- Ryabov then adds, "We were put in a foreign country
to fire artillery and kill peopleand it shouldn't have even happened in
the first place. It's hard to put into words the full tragedy of it-the
death and suffering on both sides. I feel a grave injustice has been done
and I'm trying to correct it. You do all these things and come back and
think, what have we done?"
- Michael Hoffman served as a Marine Corps corporal who
fought in Tikrit and Baghdad, and has since become a co-founder of Iraq
Veterans Against the War.
- "Nobody wants to kill another person and think it
was because of a lie. Nobody wants to think their service was in vain,"
- His response to what he would say to Mr. Bush is simple,
"I would look him straight in the eye and ask him 'why?' And I would
hold him there and make him answer me. He never has to deal with us one
on one. I dare him to talk to any of us like that, one on one, and give
us an answer."
- Hoffman then adds, "What about the 3 year old Iraqi
girl who is now an orphan with diseases and nightmares for the rest of
her life for what we did? And the people who orchestrated this don't have
to pay anything. How many times are my children going to have to go through
this? Our only choice is to fight this to try to stop it from happening
- Earlier this same day Mr. Bush said, "We cannot
leave this task half finished, we must take it all the way to the end."
- However, Charlie Anderson, another Iraq veteran, had
strong words for Bush. After discussing how the background radiation in
Baghdad is now five times the normal rate-the equivalent of having 3 chest
x-rays an hour, he said, "These are not accidents-the DU [Depleted
Uraniaum]-it's important for people to understand this-the use of DU and
its effects are by design. These are very carefully engineered and orchestrated
- While the entire group nods in agreement and two other
soldiers stand up to shake his hand, Anderson says firmly, "You subverted
us, you destroyed our lives, you owe us. I want your resignation in my
hand in the next five minutes. Get packin' Georgie."
- More writing, photos and commentary at http://dahrjamailiraq.com
- (c)2004, 2005 Dahr Jamail. All images and text are protected
by United States and international copyright law. If you would like to
reprint Dahr's Dispatches on the web, you need to include this copyright
notice and a prominent link to the DahrJamailIraq.com website. Any other
use of images and text including, but not limited to, reproduction, use
on another website, copying and printing requires the permission of Dahr
Jamail. Of course, feel free to forward Dahr's dispatches via email.