posted by Te-Ping Chen
Over the past two months since this year's Winter Soldier event, a
parade of luminaries has gone before Congress to testify about the
Iraq War: distinguished generals, cabinet secretaries and various
think-tank dignitaries. One group, however, has been conspicuously
absent from the conversation: soldiers.
Today, Iraq Veterans Against the War sought to remedy that, in a
packed, three-hour forum on Capitol Hill in which the Congressional
Progressive Caucus invited over a dozen veterans, gravely suited, to
share their experiences. "We pretty much know what the Americans we
sent did to Iraq," Rep. Lee told the crowd. "What we don't really
know is what Iraq has done to them. That's why we're here today. To
bear witness to their truth."
Echoing themes from Winter Soldier, soldiers like Sergeant Kristofer
Goldsmith--who last Memorial Day tried to kill himself after being
stop-lossed back into the war--spoke about war's psychological toll.
Others, like Sergio Kochergin, testified about the practice of
planting weapons on accidentally murdered civilians. Still others
recalled taking "war trophy" pictures with dead Iraqis--or in Army
lingo, "sand niggers"--and driving Iraqi detainees out into the
middle of the desert before releasing and lobbing rocks "the size of
softballs" after them as they fled.
Beneath it all ran a palpable theme: intense disappointment in a
government that failed to provide for them. "My M-16 was made in the
1970s. There weren't enough night goggles to go around. The line for
psychologists is almost a year long," said Kochergin. "If there's no
care for the Marines, what care can there be for the people of Iraq?"
Listening to their appeals, a piqued Rep. Waters responded with a
kind of determined grit. "Now, I don't like to make commitments I
can't keep, but I'm on it. I'm focused," she said. "You're going to
get your GI Bill. They'd better get out of the way because we're
going to get it."
Rep. Jackson-Lee agreed. "What we've done [today] is commit to you to
be your soldiers," she said.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus kept their promise. Hours later
as the war supplemental spending bill was debated this afternoon, the
House voted 141-149 to reject the supplemental bill's war funding.
(Members of the GOP abstained.) In a second vote, the House adopted a
Dec. 31, 2009 goal for withdrawing combat troops from Iraq. And
finally, by a robust 256-166 margin, Democrats voted triumphantly to
expand the GI Bill's educational benefits.
All three measures now go before the Senate, where they face an
uphill battle. The White House continues to lean on its veto threat.
But at least for today, the victory belonged where it should have--to
those who've actually sacrificed.