The Things They Witnessed

Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian interviewed 50 Iraq combat veterans to learn, through the troops’ perceptions and experiences, how the military occupation has affected ordinary Iraqis. The results are very disturbing:

… These combat veterans, some of whom bear deep emotional and physical scars, and many of whom have come to oppose the occupation, gave vivid, on-the-record accounts. They described a brutal side of the war rarely seen on television screens or chronicled in newspaper accounts.

Their stories, recorded and typed into thousands of pages of transcripts, reveal disturbing patterns of behavior by American troops in Iraq. Dozens of those interviewed witnessed Iraqi civilians, including children, dying from American firepower. Some participated in such killings; others treated or investigated civilian casualties after the fact. Many also heard such stories, in detail, from members of their unit. The soldiers, sailors and marines emphasized that not all troops took part in indiscriminate killings. Many said that these acts were perpetrated by a minority. But they nevertheless described such acts as common and said they often go unreported–and almost always go unpunished.

Court cases, such as the ones surrounding the massacre in Haditha and the rape and murder of a 14-year-old in Mah­mudiya, and news stories in the Washington Post, Time, the London Independent and elsewhere based on Iraqi accounts have begun to hint at the wide extent of the attacks on civilians. Human rights groups have issued reports, such as Human Rights Watch’s Hearts and Minds: Post-war Civilian Deaths in Baghdad Caused by U.S. Forces, packed with detailed incidents that suggest that the killing of Iraqi civilians by occupation forces is more common than has been acknowledged by military authorities.

There are a lot of horrors in here, so be prepared. Here is just one:

“So we get started on this day, this one in particular,” recalled Spc. Philip Chrystal, 23, of Reno, who said he raided between twenty and thirty Iraqi homes during an eleven-month tour in Kirkuk and Hawija that ended in October 2005, serving with the Third Battalion, 116th Cavalry Brigade. “It starts with the psy-ops vehicles out there, you know, with the big speakers playing a message in Arabic or Farsi or Kurdish or whatever they happen to be, saying, basically, saying, Put your weapons, if you have them, next to the front door in your house. Please come outside, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And we had Apaches flying over for security, if they’re needed, and it’s also a good show of force. And we’re running around, and they–we’d done a few houses by this point, and I was with my platoon leader, my squad leader and maybe a couple other people.

“And we were approaching this one house,” he said. “In this farming area, they’re, like, built up into little courtyards. So they have, like, the main house, common area. They have, like, a kitchen and then they have a storage shed-type deal. And we’re approaching, and they had a family dog. And it was barking ferociously, ’cause it’s doing its job. And my squad leader, just out of nowhere, just shoots it. And he didn’t–mother­fucker–he shot it and it went in the jaw and exited out. So I see this dog–I’m a huge animal lover; I love animals–and this dog has, like, these eyes on it and he’s running around spraying blood all over the place. And like, you know, What the hell is going on? The family is sitting right there, with three little children and a mom and a dad, horrified. And I’m at a loss for words. And so, I yell at him. I’m, like, What the fuck are you doing? And so the dog’s yelping. It’s crying out without a jaw. And I’m looking at the family, and they’re just, you know, dead scared. And so I told them, I was like, Fucking shoot it, you know? At least kill it, because that can’t be fixed….

You can also read excerpts from many of the interviews at The Independent.



Filed under 05_kathy

10 responses to “The Things They Witnessed

  1. Jay in Oregon


    Fifteen soldiers we spoke with told us the information that spurred these raids was typically gathered through human intelligence–and that it was usually incorrect. Eight said it was common for Iraqis to use American troops to settle family disputes, tribal rivalries or personal vendettas.


    Specialist Murphy said one prisoner, a mentally impaired, blind albino who could “maybe see a few feet in front of his face” clearly did not belong in Abu Ghraib. “I thought to myself, What could he have possibly done?”


    Iraqi culture, identity and customs were, according to at least a dozen soldiers and marines interviewed by The Nation, openly ridiculed in racist terms, with troops deriding “haji food,” “haji music” and “haji homes.” In the Muslim world, the word “haji” denotes someone who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca. But it is now used by American troops in the same way “gook” was used in Vietnam or “raghead” in Afghanistan.

    I could cherry-pick even more, but we all get the picture.

  2. oddjob

    I commented on that earlier today here. (Not sure if this link will work.)

  3. oddjob

    Good. It worked.

  4. Of course, there will be no response from the Bush administration, probably ever, and no response from the military, until pressed. At that point, the “few bad apples” meme will kick in, and various military officers will take umbrage at the mere suggestion that US troops have any pattern of engaging in such behavior.

    The MSM will support this view, as always. The general populace will be happy not to face the consequences of the actions supposedly done in our name and to our benefit.

    And the rest of the world will continue to hold us in contempt or react with hatred for all Americans.

    And so on.

  5. Kathy Kattenburg

    At that point, the “few bad apples” meme will kick in,

    Of course, the veterans themselves said the things they described were very common. But what do they know?

  6. ginmar

    If you didn’t go through combat, you were lucky. And if you don’t get PTSD as a result of it, you’re lucky. But God help you if you try and get help as a result of that PTSD.

  7. Yeah. If you read the Iraqi blogs (Salam Pax, Riverbend, Raed, Zeyyad, Iraqi Screen, I’ll try to go back and get links for them, but I’m as upset as I always get about this stuff right now) … as I was saying, if you read the Iraqi blogs, you’ve known about this forever. As you say, Kathy. But what do they know?

  8. Jay in Oregon

    I’ve been following your blog so I know what you’re going through.

    Although I’m of the impression that veterans have traditionally gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to treatment, medical care, etc., I cannot believe the repulsive depths this Adminstration has sunk to when it comes to taking care of our men and women in uniform.

    And conservatives have the temerity to accuse liberals of not supporting the troops! (Of course, too damn many of them mindlessly swallow the “liberals hate God and our country and our men and women in uniform” meme, because we’re just another “Them” to hate.)

  9. Chief

    Until and unless the number of returning vets reaches some critical mass in talking about the realities of killing in Iraq, the MSM will ignore it.

    Truth be told the vast majority will NOT talk about their combat experience.

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