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.