Report from Winter Soldier

— Elaine Brower

The following are excerpts from the account of Elaine Brower. Brower is a marine’s mom who attended Winter Soldier, “is adamantly opposed to the so called ‘war on terror,’ the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan,” and a leader in the anti-war movement:

On Friday, Day 2, testimony began at 9 AM with a panel about the Rules of Engagement. Speakers from the Army and Marine Corps recounted the atrocities that they not only witnessed but participated in. The stories they were telling about the rules of engagement they learned while training at boot camp, or on a military base “back home,” were the same as what I had heard from my son. I broke down sobbing. The photographs they were showing on the five viewing screens of bloodied bodies torn apart by close gunfire, 50-calibre Machine guns, rocket launchers, and every other damn weapon our great military industrial complex has created, were all too familiar to me.

Watching and listening to the testimony made me very ill. Here were these young men and women, handsomely dressed, some wearing medals, talking about how they shot civilians who were holding nothing more threatening than a cell phone, groceries, a shovel, a white flag, or a pair of binoculars. Anyone deemed suspicious by the particular soldier or Marine on watch was fair game, subject to the orders, “Take ’em out!” The Rules of Engagement as stated by Garrett Rapenhagen were “a joke and disgrace, and ever changing.” I knew that. I had heard it back home from my son.

Camilo Mejia spoke about how soldiers were trained that dehumanizing the enemy is necessary to survival, and how they are taught to think of Iraqis as “hajjis.” I know that word all too well; I have heard my son talk about it, as well as other anti-Iraqi slurs such as “towel head,” and “sand nigger.” The expression “if you feel threatened, use your weapon” was also a familiar phrase to me. So, too, was the slogan, “Do what you need to do.”

One other Marine, Bryan Casler, was part of the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003. He described [how Marines would] remove the chemical packets that were within the MREs (which helped heat the food) and hand them to children to eat ... when they went into Babylon, the marines would drive vehicles into mosques and historic ruins, and break off pieces to take home with them.

Some of the soldiers’ testimony was characterized by defiant anger. At the end of his testimony, former Marine Mike Totten ripped up the commendation he had received from General Petraeus, and threw it on the floor in front of him, to a huge applause. One day earlier, Jon Turner had taken a chest full of medals and thrown them into the audience. “I don’t work for you anymore!” Turner said.

ATC 134, May–June 2008