Ex-soldiers testify against the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan
by Laura Gunderson, The Oregonian
Saturday October 18, 2008, 6:39 PM
Christopher Arendt said he joined the National Guard after hearing
war stories from his grandfather, who had proudly counted the number
of shells he'd fired during World War II.
In 2004, seven years after his grandfather's death, he recalled
forcibly extracting a Guantanamo Bay detainee from his cell and
watching as the man's head was smashed into a metal fence post. At
that moment, he told a crowd of more than 100 at the First Unitarian
Church in Portland on Saturday, Arendt couldn't tell the difference
between himself and the images he'd seen of Nazi soldiers. now living
in Portland. "What I hate about myself over there was the
callousness, the emptiness. I wish I was angrier while I was there.
"But it's impossible to keep yourself -- the sane, the normal, the
feeling. You figure, 'I'll feel later.' Three years later I'm still
trying to do that."
Arendt was one of 10 American military veterans from Iraq and
Afghanistan who participated in the Winter Soldier, a relaunch of the
Vietnam-era practice of soldiers' publicly testifying against the
war. The soldiers spoke first, followed by two panels that included
mothers of injured veterans, Iraqi refugees and peace activists.
Some on the stage shared stories of combat or difficulties they've
faced upon returning home. Others told of ways they are working to
end the war, such as Camilo Mejia, the National Guard staff sergeant
who was imprisoned for desertion.
He and others at the event organized by the American Friends Service
Committee of Portland, asked the audience not only to call for an end
to the violence in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan.
"You must take the anger and the emotion you feel after all the
testimony you've heard today and put it to work," said Dahr Jamail, a
panelist and independent journalist who spent eight months in Iraq.
He shared a story of coming across a Baghdad area secondary school
that had been overtaken by U.S. soldiers. Soon after Saddam Hussein
had been found, he said, the school's students had been outside
protesting, waving pictures of Hussein from textbooks.
"They were protesting, mainly, because their teachers had told them
not to," said Jamail, explaining that U.S. troops were coming down
hard on local protests at that point. Watching from nearby, Jamail
said he watched heavily armed soldiers come out of the school with
more than a dozen students between the ages of 12 and 17 handcuffed.
"As one of the Bradleys pulled away in the sun, a kid on the side of
the road lifted his arm to throw a rock," Jamail said. "A soldier
inside pulled out a handgun and trained it on the kid's head the
entire time as he drove by."
Such stories were met with shaking heads, yells of encouragement from
older vets, standing ovations and some sobs.
Mary Geddry, the Coquille mother of Marine veteran John Geddry, read
aloud the letter she'd written to three Iraqi women -- one, the
6-year-old daughter of an Iraqi man her Marine son had killed.
"To you, I feel the closest connection, the greatest responsibility
and the deepest agony," she wrote. "You see, your father only wanted
to rescue you... My son and his sergeant didn't understand...
"When the weapons platoon found you, scared and crying, many of them,
including John, fell apart. You undid them. You and your scared wide
brown eyes and dark curls brought some of them to their knees."
Irony and thinly veiled anger rang out in many tales, such as that of
Army counterintelligence agent Josh Simpson, who spent a year in
Mosul. There, he'd follow hundreds of tips from paid Iraqi informants
about supposed terrorists, he said. They'd raid a suspect's home to
find nothing, he said, still -- as his commanders prided themselves
in detainee counts -- they'd usually arrest the suspect and pay the
informant more money.
Any Iraqi who drew up anti-coalition literature was immediately
arrested, he said.
"That's the kind of freedom we're bringing to Iraq," he said. "The
freedom not to dissent."
While some soldiers hit familiar issues that drew cheers from the
anti-war crowd, Seth Manzel gave another perspective.
An Army sergeant from Seattle, Manzel recalled a cool evening when
tracers of flying bullets began to zip over his convoy in what became
a milelong ambush. Once the shooting stopped, he'd noticed a
semi-truck barreling toward him.
He fired two warning shots. The truck stopped, but a passenger car
sped around it and continued. Concerned the car was loaded with
explosives, he fired more warnings with his pistol.
"I fired another warning shot," he said, "then I emptied my pistol
into the car and it came to a stop."
He'd never thought his 9-mm could do what it did, he said. It had
ripped into the car, through the stomach of the driver and into the
back of a passenger in the rear seat.
"It turned out the men were in vests," meaning they were members of a
U.S. backed militia, he said. "They were probably in the same ambush
and trying to get to us. I couldn't have allowed a civilian car to
come that close to our vehicles.
"I'm not trying to justify anything," he finished. "These are just
the choices people have to make there. You take these things home with you."
Laura Gunderson: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Winter Soldier Northwest": Veterans' testimonies in Portland Sat Oct 18
October 16, 2008
The original Winter Soldier hearings were held by Vietnam veterans
opposed to that war in 1971, including a young John Kerry.
In March 2008 Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) organized new
Winter Soldier hearings near Washington D.C., on the fifth
anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Since then regional
hearings have been held around the country.
The name "Winter Soldier" comes from the beginning of Thomas Paine's
pamphlet The Crisis, written in December 1776 as the Continental Army
was trying to survive the first winter of the American Revolution at
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania:
These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the
sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his
country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of
man and woman.
Winter Soldier expresses the idea that opposition to unjust war by
those who have experienced it first hand, despite the great costs to
themselves of such opposition, reflects the highest service and most
courageous patriotism they can offer their country and humanity.
This Saturday, October 18, there will be Winter Soldier testimonies
at the First Unitarian Church (doors open at 11:30 a.m., panels
12:30-5 p.m.), followed in the evening by "Voices of Resistance," a
cultural event from 7-9 p.m. These Winter Soldier events are being
organized by the PDX Peace Coalition, with the endorsement and
central participation of the Seattle chapter of IVAW, Military
Families Speak Out Oregon, and Veterans for Peace chapters in
Portland, Corvallis and Seattle.
Winter Soldier testimonies and reports will be heard from veterans
from Oregon, the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere, of members of
military families, Iraqi civilians and refugees, and academic experts
on Afghanistan and suicide among veterans. Among those participating
will be Camilo Mejia, the first member of the U.S. military to refuse
deployment to Iraq and be prosecuted, and Dahr Jamail, a journalist
who has covered the occupation of Iraq from an independent standpoint
not embedded within the U.S. military.
"Voices of Resistance" will feature poetry readings by veterans, a
spoken-word performance Good Sista/Bad Sista, Walidah and Turiya,
locally-based performance poets who have traveled throughout the
country sharing their voice and vision, and music by David Rovics.
Rovics has been called the "peace poet and troubadour of our time" by
Cindy Sheehan and the "musical version of Democracy Now" by Amy Goodman.
Winter Soldier Northwest aims to provide information and education to
the general public. More particularly it aims to offer resources and
support to veterans of the conflicts of Iraq and Afghanistan, to
military families, and to members of the military who are considering
or engaging in war resistance or want information about their rights
in the face of phenomena like multiple deployments, "stop-loss"
coerced service, violence within the military including sexual
assault, and missing or inadequate support for physical or
psychological injuries. One possible outcome of the hearings may be
the formation of a Portland chapter of IVAW, with support from the
Seattle chapter as well as local peace/anti-war groups, if there is interest.
Please come, and please spread the word to anyone who might be interested.
Winter Soldier Speakers
Panel 1: Voices of Veterans From Iraq & Afghanistan (12:30-2:15)
• Chris Arendt, served in the Army National Guard and was stationed
at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where he witnessed the dehumanization and
mistreatment of prisoners. He is a member of IVAW Chicago.
• Jan Critchfield, a specialist with the Army National Guard who
served as an army "journalist" while attached to the 1st Cavalry in
Baghdad during 2004. His unspoken job in Iraq was to "counter the
liberal media bias" about the occupation. He is a member of IVAW Seattle.
• Joseph Holness, from Gresham, Oregon served eight years in the US
Army in Iraq and nine years with the US Air Force Reserves supporting
Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
• Evan Knappenberger, served one year in Iraq with the Army 4th
Infantry Division working as an intelligence analyst; held one week
long "Tower Guard Vigils" in Bellingham, WA and Washington, DC to
call attention to the STOP-LOSS policy.
• David Mann, was an Army Specialist whose Army occupation was mainly
working on the Army radios. He was deployed to Nasiriyah, Iraq in
2003 and stop lossed for a second deployment to Balad, Iraq in 2005.
He is a member of IVAW Denver.
• Seth Manzel, an Army sergeant who served as a vehicle commander and
machine gunner in Iraq. Member of IVAW Seattle.
• Camilo Mejia, a National Guard staff sergeant who after fighting
for five months in Iraq, became the first combat soldier to refuse to
go back to Iraq. He now serves as Chair of the Board of Iraq Veterans
Against the War and is the author of Road from ar Ramadi.
• Josh Simpson, spent six years in the US Army as a
counterintelligence agent including a one year tour in Mosul, Iraq.
He is now involved with the GI voice project, Port Militarization
Resistance, and making Olympia a sanctuary city for war resisters and
undocumented immigrants. He is a member of IVAW Olympia.
• Chanan Suarezdiaz, a Navy hospital corpsman and purple heart
recipient who served in Ramadi from September 2004 to February 2005
with a weapons company. He is now the Seattle Chapter president of IVAW.
• and more local veterans to be announced.
Panel 2: The Human Costs of War (2:30-3:45)
• Ahmed Abed, father of Mustafa Abed, an Iraqi child who was injured
by an American air raid and is currently receiving medical care in
Portland through the No More Victims project.
• Dr. Baher Butti, formerly the chief psychiatrist at a mental health
clinic Baghdad, now an Iraqi refugee and faculty member at the OHSU
School of Medicine.
• Mary Geddry, member of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) Oregon
and mother of a Marine son who served two tours of duty in Iraq.
• Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist who spent a total of 8
months as an unembedded reporter in occupied Iraq. He has written for
Mother Jones and The Nation, among other publications, and has
provided radio reports on Democracy Now! and the BBC. Author of
Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in
• Dr. Mark Kaplan, Professor in the Department of Community Health -
Urban & Public Affairs at Portland State University who has conducted
research on suicide rates among male veterans.
• Adele Kubein, Military Families Speak Out Oregon chapter president,
mother of an Iraq war veteran.
• Sara Rich, M.S.W., anti-war activist and spokesperson for Courage
to Resist; mother of Eugene Iraq war vet & war resister Suzanne Swift.
• Dr. Zaher Wahab, Professor of Education at Lewis & Clark College;
serves as a senior advisor to the Minister of Higher Education in
Afghanistan, and has been spending about five months annually in that
country since 2002.
Panel 3: Building Resistance to War (4:00-5:00)
• Leah Bolger, Veterans for Peace Chapter 132 from Corvallis, on the
statewide effort to keep Oregon's National Guard in Oregon.
• Gerry Condon, refused orders to Vietnam and deserted from the Army
in 1969. He lived in Sweden and Canada for six years before returning
to the U.S. to organize for amnesty for all war resisters. For the
last five years he has been working with Iraq War resisters in
Canada. He directs Project Safe Haven and works with the War Resister
Support Action Team of VFP Ch. 92 in Seattle.
• Adriana Moyola, is a Mexican born woman who came to the United
States in search of a better life. She joined the Army Reserve in
2000 right after high school. In 2006 she resisted deployment to
Iraq. She will speak on her experience as a war resister and on
building an Oregon IVAW Chapter.
• Daniel Shea, Veterans for Peace Chapter 72 on the PDX Peace
campaign to make Portland a Sanctuary City for War Resisters.
• Michael William, Army National Guardsmen who went AWOL, IVAW
Northwest Regional Coordinator.
• and more discussion of local actions we can take to support
veterans, refugees and end the war.
Time and Place
Winter Solider Northwest: Eyewitness Accounts of War
Where: First Unitarian Church 1011 SW 12th Street (at Main), Portland Oregon
When: Saturday, October 18 12:30-5:00 (doors open at 11:30)
Topics include: Veterans' Voices from Iraq and Afghanistan, Human
Costs of War and Building Resistance to War.
Cost: $5-10 sliding scale, no one turned away.
Voices of Resistance
Where: First Unitarian Church 1011 SW 12th Street (at Main), Portland Oregon
When: Saturday, October 18. Doors open at 6:30
Cost: Free to Winter Soldier attendees. For others, sliding scale
$10-15, no one turned away.
Sponsored by: PDX Peace Coalition, Iraq Veterans Against the War
(IVAW) Seattle Chapter, Veterans for Peace Chapter 72, Military
Families Speak Out Oregon, American Friends Service Committee,
American Iranian Friendship Council, Code Pink Portland, First
Unitarian Church Peace Action Committee, International Socialist
Organization (ISO) Portland Chapter, KBOO Community Radio 90.7 FM,
MoveOn Portland, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, Peace
Memorial Park Foundation of Portland, People of Faith for Peace,
Portland Peaceful Response Coalition, Recruiter Watch PDX, Unitarian
Universalist Service Committee, Vancouver for Peace, Veterans Bridge
Fund, War Resisters League Portland and more.
(Full Disclosure: I serve on the Coordinating Committee of the PDX
Peace Coalition and am part of the task force that has organized these events.)