Beginning today and lasting through the weekend in Silver Spring, Maryland, veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are gathering to publicly discuss their experiences in war and to expose the darker side of the U.S.'s recent military efforts. The event is sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War and patterned after the original Winter Soldier Investigation, which took place in Detroit in 1971. Pacifica Radio will suspend regular programming for the entire three days to broadcast the hearings. To listen live via the web, click here. To watch live video, click here.
What was the original Winter Soldier Investigation...?
In 1971, members of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War gathered in Detroit to hold public hearings about the atrocities and brutality committed by U.S. troops in Southeast Asia. The event was an attempt to get out to the media what these soldiers believed was the truth of their experience in Vietnam in an effort to bring the war to an end. Discharged servicemen from each branch of military service, as well as civilian contractors, medical personnel and academics, all gave testimony about war crimes they had committed or witnessed during the years of 1963-1970. The purpose of the Winter Soldier Investigation was to prove that incidents like the My Lai massacre were not isolated and rare occurrences, as many government and military officials claimed, but were instead the frequent and predictable result of official American war policy. As one soldier stated, "We gathered not to sensationalize our service but to decry the travesty that was Lt. William Calley's trial for the My Lai Massacre. The U.S. had established the principle of culpability with the Nuremberg trials of the Nazis. Following those principles, we held that if Calley were responsible, so were his superiors up the chain of command — even to the president. The causes of My Lai and the brutality of the Vietnam War were rooted in the policies of our government as executed by our military commanders."
In the end, 109 vets gave testimony and more than 700 others attended. Here are a few brief excerpts:
• Stephen Craig: "...My testimony covers the maltreatment of prisoners, the suspects actually, and a convoy running down an old woman with no reason at all..."
• Rusty Sachs: "...my testimony concerns the leveling of villages for no valid reason, throwing Viet Cong suspects from the aircraft after binding them and gagging them with copper wire..."
• Scott Camil: "...My testimony involves burning of villages with civilians in them, the cutting off of ears, cutting off of heads, torturing of prisoners, calling in of artillery on villages for games, corpsmen killing wounded prisoners..."
• Kenneth Campbell: "...My testimony will consist of eyewitnessing and participating in the calling in of artillery on undefended villages, mutilation of bodies, killing of civilians, mistreatment of civilians..."
• Fred Nienke: "...My testimony includes killing of non-combatants, destruction of Vietnamese property and livestock, use of chemical agents and the use of torture in interpreting prisoners..."
Sadly, with the exception of Pacifica, the mainstream media outside of Detroit refused to cover this courageous event. There were camera crews in attendance, though, and a documentary of the proceedings was released in 1972 and recently rereleased on DVD. Ultimately, the full testimony was read into the Congressional record.
Go to the following YouTube playlist to watch the original Winter Soldier documentary, broken into nine parts, each running ten minutes, except the last part, which runs only 5+ minutes. I hope you will take some time to watch part or all of this historic and important documentary. I also hope you will seek out information on the new Winter Soldier investigation taking place this weekend...
Winter Soldier documentary
UPDATE: This all on the day after Gen. David Petreaus admitted, "Iraqi leaders have failed to take advantage of a reduction in violence to make adequate progress toward resolving their political differences, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Thursday." Did you hear that? Petraeus, who is preparing to testify to Congress next month on the Iraq war, said in an interview that "no one" in the U.S. and Iraqi governments "feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation," or in the provision of basic public services.