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Web Letter

What do Americans think happens in war? The average American still blindly believes our nation's brutal occupations are all about bravery, honor and glory. But then again, they still believe watching CNN everyday keeps them informed.

John Giarratana

Jersey City, NJ

Dec 21 2007 - 9:11am

Web Letter

While I haven't always agreed with The Nation, I have long valued its writing, and in fact, was a subscriber while I was serving in Iraq. This makes it all the more disappointing that the lengthy interviews I gave to Laila Al-Arian for your recent article, "The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness" resulted in my quotes being taken way out of context. These mistakes reflect poorly on me personally and lead me to question whether Ms. Al-Arian and co-author Chris Hedges are guilty of poor analysis or of using my quotes to their own ends. I know this comes several weeks after the article was published, however I have been overseas most of this time conducting conflict resolution workshops and so it has been difficult to respond promptly.

One example of my problems with this article are that I am quoted saying, "I mean, you physically could not do an investigation every time a civilian was wounded or killed because it just happens a lot and you'd spend all your time doing that."

Your article's premise that unjustified shootings of civilians were rampant and that these were almost never investigated is not the question I was responding to when I made the above statement. The overwhelming majority of civilians wounded or killed I was referring to were not from shootings, let alone American shootings outside of full-scale fire-fights. They were mostly from IEDs, or shootings by insurgents. Moreover, I was referring to the fact that civilians mistakenly shot by Americans, clearly in the course of legitimate self-defense, was the overwhelming source of civilian casualties at the hands of Americans. I made no judgment at all about whether shootings under any questionable circumstances were investigated or not, because I had such little exposure to such issues. Ms. Al-Arian didn't ask me about such circumstances, yet she portrays my statement as if it directly reflects on such types of events. While your other interviewees appear to support your article's premise with their quotes, mine refers to a substantially different issue and I feel you have utilized my statement disingenuously.

I cannot contradict what others saw, as I was not in their shoes. And I am not na¨ve enough to assert that no troops in Iraq have deliberately done wrong. However, I categorically disagree that any of my statements or experiences would support your assertion that there has been a pervasive and chronic trend among US forces in Iraq to deliberately wound and/or kill innocent civilians.

Next, in a section about checkpoints, you write:

In the moment, what's passing through your head is, Is this person a threat? Do I shoot to stop or do I shoot to kill?" said Lieutenant Morgenstein, who served in Al Anbar.

This implies I was referring to every car passing through a checkpoint. I was not. I was specifically referring to if a car drives through a checkpoint despite warnings to stop. The difference is someone making a blanket assumption about all Iraqis versus making an analytical decision based on reasonable evidence in the moment. By portraying it in the former way, you mislead the reader about my intentions and views.

Next, the authors' analysis directly contradicts what my quote says about the rules of engagement:

Lieutenant Morgenstein said that when he arrived in Iraq in August 2004, the rules of engagement barred the use of warning shots. "We were trained that if someone is not armed, and they are not a threat, you never fire a warning shot because there is no need to shoot at all," he said. "I don't recall at this point if this was an ROE [rule of engagement] explicitly or simply part of our consistent training." But later on, he said, "we were told the ROE was changed" and that warning shots were now explicitly allowed in certain circumstances.

I told The Nation that I specifically did not know if "the rules of engagement barred the use of warning shots." As you can read in the very quote you published, I said I did not recall what the official ROEs were regarding warning shots. I said our training in the Marines barred warning shots, which is a fundamentally different idea.

Lastly, you write:

Fearing a backlash against these shootings of civilians, Lieutenant Morgenstein gave a class in late 2004 at his battalion headquarters in Ramadi to all the battalion's officers and most of its senior noncommissioned officers during which he asked them to put themselves in the Iraqis' place.

"I told them the obvious, which is, everyone we wound or kill that isn't an insurgent, hurts us," he said. "Because I guarantee you, down the road, that means a wounded or killed marine or soldier.... One, it's the right thing to do to not wound or shoot someone who isn't an insurgent. But two, out of self-preservation and self-interest, we don't want that to happen because they're going to come back with a vengeance."

I did not give the class in reaction to a rash of intentional killings of civilians. I did not give this class in reaction to anything US forces had done in particular at all, let alone in reaction to any killing of Iraqis. The class I gave was about Civil Affairs, which I am pretty sure I very clearly told Ms. Al-Arian. During that class I gave them the warnings you cited, but I gave it entirely as a preventative measure. Your categorization of my class indicates that I was trying to stop a massive problem, which was not the case. I was performing the most basic responsibility of military officers--which your magazine should be applauding rather than criticizing--the proper, on-going training of forces to follow the law-of-war.

I commend The Nation for interviewing fifty service members about their experiences in Iraq and for trying to tell stories that other media outlets miss. However, by taking my experiences severely out of context, you have disserved your readers overall as well as me personally.

Jonathan Morgenstein

Arlington, VA

Aug 2 2007 - 7:51am

Web Letter

I was disappointed but not surprised to read the response from Paul Rieckhoff of IAVA. I was one of the veterans interviewed for the story and I want to say unequivocally that nothing about what I had to say was taken out of context or distorted. I was told exactly what the article was about and the questions were very direct. My interview was recorded as I imagine the others were, so Mr. Rieckhoff should be pointed with his criticisms and give specific examples rather than making vague accusations.

A "fog of war" does not exist. Politicians and generals that are not even remotely close to a battlefield deliberate the bad decisions that are being made, not rank and file troops. The invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq violates the UN Charter, the Nuremberg Accords and the Geneva Convention. Subsequently, the politicians and military leaders that allowed and continue to allow the occupation of Iraq are guilty of war crimes. These crimes are further compounded by the assertions of those in the highest reaches of this Administration that medical care be withheld from Iraqi civilians, that the Geneva Conventions don't exist in Iraq, and for not meeting the responsibilities of an occupying power under international law.

As an Infantry Officer Mr. Rieckhoff should know these things. He should also know that you couldn't succeed in a "guerrilla war" without the support of the majority of the indigenous population. If we ever had that support we certainly don't now. Mr. Rieckhoff knows that every Iraqi killed, injured, or degraded makes an impossible mission even harder. He also knows the futility of keeping US troops in a situation where there can be no military solution. This article never alleged that US troops are intentionally gunning down Iraqis, and I don't know anyone with a drop of sanity that has advanced that idea. The Iraqis already know that these things have happened and are still happening and reporting them here in the US isn't going to change that. Americans need to know what is happening in Iraq because it's being done in their name.

I have never heard Mr. Rieckhoff challenge politicians about Iraq. In fact, he has done anything but that. While doing PR work for his book release Rieckhoff was interviewed on NPR. During the interview he was pressed again and again about what needed to change in Iraq. He repeatedly ducked the question and finally responded with, "It needs to be somewhere between the President's 'Stay the course' and Cindy Sheehan's 'bring them home now.' " What does that even mean?

While I commend Rieckhoff for the work that his organization does in pointing out a lack of care, training, and equipment for troops it seems a bit myopic. It's like telling someone that is on fire that they'll have great burn care if they can put themselves out and survive the complications. Our troops should never have been sent to Iraq and they need to leave now so that the Iraqis can have their country back and decide their own future. The only way that anyone will be held accountable for what has happened in Iraq is for the men and women that have served there to continue to come forward.

This country has enough apologists for our continued occupation of Iraq across the political spectrum. What it needs are people that can speak plainly and tell the truth even when it isn't popular or easy to hear. My fellow troops in this story should be commended for speaking out and the military needs more people like them. I'll never understand why some of the most ardent defenders of our actions in Iraq sit in offices typing letters in places like Manhattan when it would seem they should be in Iraq fighting what they believe is the good fight.

Patrick Resta

Philadelphia, PA

Jul 31 2007 - 3:24am

Web Letter

I, too, was a contributor to this piece. I respect the position of the other contributors and don't deny that in war bad things do happen. But in an effort to disclose all truths the below should also be known to readers.

I was personally outraged, appalled and horrified while reading this article and not due to the alleged findings...the alleged truths that this article supposedly uncovered. I was in complete disbelief at how inaccurately my statements were portrayed and how conveniently they were selected to support the thesis of the authors. I suspect that I'm not the only veteran of the fifty interviewed who shares these sentiments. I'm sickened and ashamed to be, in any way, associated with this article.

Megan O'Connor

Venice, CA

Jul 27 2007 - 12:45am

Web Letter

I am one of the soldiers who contributed to this piece. I have enjoyed reading the varied responses to this article because that's precisely why I agreed to be interviewed: I wanted to spark a conversation; a dialogue, long overdue.

Reading some of the responses from other veterans who found the piece to be a "hatchet job" full of drummed-up, exaggerated stories compelled me to write my own response. To overcome the polarization that plagues our nation we need to have an open, honest conversation.

Since I've been back from the war in Iraq, I have been very forthcoming with the truth about what I saw and experienced there. I have been labeled as an "unpatriotic traitor." I take no issue with being called unpatriotic because blind patriotism is part of the reason we got into this mess. I do, however, take issue with being called a traitor.

I am still very loyal to the men of B. Company, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. I am proud to have served with such a fine, disciplined unit. Our leadership was among the best in the military. Our Chain of Command inspired us to display integrity, discipline, and compassion on every mission. Some of my dearest friends are currently deployed to Iraq (again) and I support them with all of my heart...in honor of that cherished brotherhood that only an Infantryman can know. And I continue to stand by my oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States" and I love my country deeply. However, all of these loyalties are secondary to my loyalty to the truth. And truthfully, in war, bad things happen.

I will not remain silent in order to protect my hero's status nor will I forfeit my conscience to hide the truth under a shroud of patriotism. I believe the world has a right to hear my story. And I believe it is my duty as an American, a veteran and a man, to tell the truth. The fact that I contributed to what history will someday remember as a societal travesty on par with Nazi Germany's Holocaust will torment me for the rest of my life.

I can not rely on the "only following orders" rationale to offset my guilt, take back my deeds, or justify my involvement. So my only choice is to share with others and to be honest. And I hope some of the other guys interviewed in this piece share my motivation. I want our troops to come home now. Instead, we argue amongst ourselves while our elected leaders are allowed to let politics trump moral reason. Meanwhile, the human cost of this war will continue its deadly toll, the hatred of America will grow, and the chances for a lasting peace will fade...and then, what will we do? Hopefully, the world will forgive us.

And that's the truth.

Timothy J. Westphal

Denver, CO

Jul 25 2007 - 1:52am

Web Letter

Thank for compiling this mass of truth. It's great that Iraq War vets are speaking out so clearly and forcefully about their experiences.

Here in Canada, we continue to welcome US military personnel who refuse to take part in the Iraq War. Many of them have served in Iraq, some more than once. They have similar stories to tell, and they have been telling them since 2004, when the first war resister, Jeremy Hinzman, came north.

The War Resisters Support Campaign exists to help the US soldiers, seamen, Marines, and airmen who come to Canada to seek sanctuary. These are people who did not wait until the military was finished with them. They decided on their own to leave the military.

One of them, Joshua Key, has written a book, The Deserter's Tale (with Lawrence Hill), which has been published in ten countries, including the US (Atlantic Monthly Press). In it, Josh describes some incidents and experiences that are similar to what are reported in your article. He also tells of his experience as an AWOL GI hiding out in the US for fourteen months before coming to Canada. I hope Nation readers will take a look at Josh's book, which is, I believe the first by a front-line solider about the Iraq War (we surely have enough accounts by "experts and "analysts").

In writing about Iraq War veterans, please don't ignore those who have decided to come to Canada. They are as much a part of the reality of the war as other veterans, and they have been speaking their truth for a long time. Their message has gone out all over the world via TV radio, and print, in languages including Japanese to Basque and everything in between. The war resisters in Canada have had a big impact in educating the world about the reality of Iraq, and it's great to see The Nation adding to that with this article.

Lee Zaslofsky

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Jul 23 2007 - 5:24pm

Web Letter

Soldiers again. Between Kerry calling us "uneducated losers" and The Nation making us out to be "victims" and "killers." I for one love serving my America.

The basic problem with all these soldier's stories (some have by the way been debunked already) is that you sought out the most anti-American and leftist "veteran" organizations out there. Why not go to a regular veterans' organanization like the VFW or the American Legion that is respected by most vets. It's because you all want to hear about these stories to confirm your bias. It’s a guarantee that some will be exaggerated and some false. I could give you fifty soldiers' stories that could paint a very different picture.

I have served in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. I am about to go again. I may not be the highest speed infantryman but I have not seen one-millionth of what is said here. Are there bad things that happened and will happen? Yes! It happens in every war and the incidents are very low in this war.

William Starrarr

Camp Shelby, MS

Jul 23 2007 - 3:40pm

Web Letter

Since General Petreas took over in Iraq, we cut a deal with the tribal leaders in Anbar province to put them in charge of protecting and securing their territory from Al Qaeda members. We provided them with financial aid and arms, and as a result the number of attacks on our troops dropped from almost 500 to under 100 per month. That's great news. The only problem is that this deal is almost identical to a agreement that General Musharaf struck with the tribal leaders in Waziristan, the uncontrolled region next to the Pakistani-Afghanistan border, which dramatically reduced the number of attacks on the Pakistani troops in Waziristan, but provided a safe haven for attacks on our troops in Afghanistan. Is it necessary to remind anybody that our generals are highly critical of Musharaf’s deal?

Is it necessary to remind anybody that de facto formation of another powerful militia outside the constitutional Iraqi Army and police forces directly undermines everything we did during last four years in Iraq--democratic elections, the Iraqi Constitution--as well as our previous determination not to deal with the insurgents?

Additionally, if the Iraqis themselves were able to stabilize the situation in volatile Anbar province on their own, then the argument of our generals that we should stay several additional years to protect Iraq and its democratically elected government from Al Qaeda is wrong, since it is obvious that the main danger to Iraq comes from the elected government, which is extremely instrumental in inflaming sectarian tensions and violence--which means that the longer we stay in Iraq, the more time those politicians have to play their bloody sectarian game.

There is an old cure for the incompetent politicians: a new election. The fact that the White House isn’t proposing new elections means its judgment is that there is no guarantee that even more intolerant politicians wouldn’t be elected--which means that a prolonged stay in Iraq doesn’t solve any problem. We cannot fix Iraq's problems, only the Iraqis can do it.

The question is, if our generals are willing to deal with the tribal leaders today, why they didn’t do it four years ago. That might have dramatically reduced the number of our casualties in Iraq, but it would have been bad for Bush’s re-election efforts and his proclaimed goals. If you still remember, the name of the game in 2003 was de-Baathification of Iraq, which meant kicking out of their jobs members of exactly those Anbar-based tribes for being the hardcore Saddam base. Four years later everybody has forgotten why we went to Iraq, so our generals can change their strategy anyway they want.

Kenan Porobic

Charlotte, NC

Jul 22 2007 - 11:59am

Web Letter

Thank you for this article. I found it to be very informative and even inspiring, but not surprising.

I remember how I felt at learning some of the truth about what occurred in Vietnam, especially regarding the death of so many innocents and the effects on the soldiers. I understood both the short-term effects that influenced their decisions to engage over there, and the long-term that we all saw here at home. (My uncle was never the same, always depressed, and refused to talk about the war.)

I realized then that all wars have these effects, and that they are part of the cost of war. Even though I was a kid during Vietnam, I don't think I was extraordinary in my ability to reach these conclusions about war.

When this Iraq war started, I naïvely thought that everyone understood the effects of war, and that the calculus had been made with this in mind, especially by the leaders of a country as open and benevolent as our United States of America. But not only have the lessons of war not been learned, it seems those chosen to be responsible for making decisions about war didn't even care to learn about its effects. Our leaders do not understand the power of openness and benevolence, and as a result our soldiers are left out in the dark, fighting against an unclearly defined enemy and creating more of them.

I am convinced that whatever we need to do to get to a positive resolution of this conflict will require new leadership. A leadership that is committed to honesty, openness, and is fiercely benevolent.

When are we going to learn?

Michael Schaefer

Columbus, OH

Jul 21 2007 - 10:48am

Web Letter

I am the father of one of the former soldiers interviewed in "The Other War," Specialist Philip Chrystal, and I couldn't be prouder of him and all of the other interviewees who have taken a risk by talking outside of the military culture to tell an unknowing public the truth about what they saw in Iraq.

In almost daily contact with Phil when he was overseas, I can tell you that he was deeply affected by the experiences related in the article and by other events. While serving there, he was also fully aware that I was burying young men killed in Iraq (to date I have conducted three funerals for Iraq KIAs and I've worked with the families of two Nevada Army National Guardsmen who were killed in Afghanistan--one of whom was Sgt. Patrick Stewart, a Wiccan, who was denied a memorial plaque bearing the symbol of his faith until his wife, Roberta, sued in Federal District Court and the Veterans Administration settled).

Because of my activities on the "homefront," I echo what is being said by the veterans in the article, and add that this country isn't taking adequate care of many of the families of those who are killed.

Thanks for this marvelous piece. May it help to wake up our sleeping nation!

Major (Chaplain) William G. Chrystal, US Army (Retired)

Reno, NV

Jul 19 2007 - 8:29pm

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