Saturday, July 14, 2007

Frontline Dehumanization--GI's to Bring Horror Home to US cities

(The following quotes were excerpted from interviews conducted by Chris Hedges & Laila Al-Arian, "The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness" published on

“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,” said Marine Reserve Lieut. Jonathan Morgenstein, 35, of Arlington, Virginia.
“I guess while I was there, the general attitude was, A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi,” said Spc. Jeff Englehart, 26, of Grand Junction, Colorado. ...“You know, so what?… The soldiers honestly thought we were trying to help the people and they were mad because it was almost like a betrayal. Like here we are trying to help you, here I am, you know, thousands of miles away from home and my family, and I have to be here for a year and work every day on these missions. Well, we’re trying to help you and you just turn around and try to kill us.”...“when they get home, in dealing with veteran issues and meeting other veterans, it seems like the guilt really takes place, takes root, then.”

...“I’ll tell you the point where I really turned,” said Spc. Michael Harmon, 24, Brooklyn. ... “I go out to the scene and [there was] this little, you know, pudgy little 2-year-old child with the cute little pudgy legs, and I look and she has a bullet through her leg.... An IED [improvised explosive device] went off, the gun-happy soldiers just started shooting anywhere and the baby got hit. And this baby looked at me, wasn’t crying, wasn’t anything, it just looked at me like--I know she couldn’t speak. It might sound crazy, but she was like asking me why. You know, Why do I have a bullet in my leg?… I was just like, This is--this is it. This is ridiculous.”

...“The frustration that resulted from our inability to get back at those who were attacking us led to tactics that seemed designed simply to punish the local population that was supporting them,” Sergeant Mejía said.

...A photo of an American soldier pretending to eat the spilled brains of a dead Iraqi man.

“Take a picture of me and this motherfucker, damn, they really fucked you up, didn’t they?” the soldier laughed.

...“So we get started on this day, this one in particular,” recalled Spc. Philip Chrystal, 23, of Reno, 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....

“And--I actually get tears from just saying this right now, but--and I had tears then, too--and I’m looking at the kids and they are so scared. So I got the interpreter over with me and, you know, I get my wallet out and I gave them twenty bucks, because that’s what I had. And, you know, I had him give it to them and told them that I’m so sorry that asshole did that.

“Was a report ever filed about it?” he asked. “Was anything ever done? Any punishment ever dished out? No, absolutely not.”


“You want to catch them off guard,” Sergeant Bruhns ­ex­plained. “You want to catch them in their sleep.” About ten troops were involved in each raid, he said, with five stationed outside and the rest searching the home.

“You run in. And if there’s lights, you turn them on--if the lights are working. If not, you’ve got flashlights.... You leave one rifle team outside while one rifle team goes inside. Each rifle team leader has a headset on with an earpiece and a microphone where he can communicate with the other rifle team leader that’s outside.

“You go up the stairs. You grab the man of the house. You rip him out of bed in front of his wife. You put him up against the wall. You have junior-level troops, PFCs [privates first class], specialists will run into the other rooms and grab the family, and you’ll group them all together. Then you go into a room and you tear the room to shreds and you make sure there’s no weapons or anything that they can use to attack us.

“You get the interpreter and you get the man of the home, and you have him at gunpoint, and you’ll ask the interpreter to ask him: ‘Do you have any weapons? Do you have any anti-US propaganda, anything at all--anything--anything in here that would lead us to believe that you are somehow involved in insurgent activity or anti-coalition forces activity?’

“Normally they’ll say no, because that’s normally the truth,” Sergeant Bruhns said. “So what you’ll do is you’ll take his sofa cushions and you’ll dump them. If he has a couch, you’ll turn the couch upside down. You’ll go into the fridge, if he has a fridge, and you’ll throw everything on the floor, and you’ll take his drawers and you’ll dump them.... You’ll open up his closet and you’ll throw all the clothes on the floor and basically leave his house looking like a hurricane just hit it.

“And if you find something, then you’ll detain him. If not, you’ll say, ‘Sorry to disturb you. Have a nice evening.’ So you’ve just humiliated this man in front of his entire family and terrorized his entire family and you’ve destroyed his home. And then you go right next door and you do the same thing in a hundred homes.”


“So you have all these troops, and they’re all wound up,” said Sergeant Bruhns. “And a lot of these troops think once they kick down the door there’s going to be people on the inside waiting for them with weapons to start shooting at them.”

Sgt. Dustin Flatt, 33, of Denver, “We scared the living Jesus out of them every time we went through every house,” he said.


“We had our flashlights and...I told my guys, ‘On the count of three, just hit them with your lights and let’s see what we’ve got here. Wake ‘em up!’ ”

“The man screamed this gut-wrenching, blood-curdling, just horrified scream,” Sergeant Westphal recalled. “I’ve never heard anything like that. I mean, the guy was absolutely terrified. I can imagine what he was thinking, having lived under Saddam.”

“Sure enough, as we started to peel back the layers of all these people sleeping, I mean, it was him, maybe two guys...either his sons or nephews or whatever, and the rest were all women and children,” Sergeant Westphal said. “We didn’t find anything.

“I can tell you hundreds of stories about things like that and they would all pretty much be like the one I just told you. Just a different family, a different time, a different circumstance.”

“I just remember thinking to myself, I just brought terror to someone else under the American flag, and that’s just not what I joined the Army to do,” he said.

...“People would make jokes about it, even before we’d go into a raid, like, Oh fucking we’re gonna get the wrong house,” he said. “ ’Cause it would always happen. We always got the wrong house. This is, you know, Thirty-One Lima. Yeah, I found the weapons of mass destruction in here.”

“They’re waiting for us to show up and there will be a lot of shooting."

“So I said, ‘If you’re so confident that there are a bunch of Syrian terrorists, there, why in the world are you going to send me and three guys in the front door, because chances are I’m not going to be able to squeeze the trigger before I get shot.’ ” “a few little kids, a woman and an old man.”

Specialist Chrystal: “What the hell were you doing?” he asked. “Well, we just searched the house and it’s clear,” Specialist Chrystal said. “Apparently he’d been dimed out by somebody as being an insurgent,” Specialist Chrystal said. “For that mission, they’d only handed out the target sheets to officers, and officers aren’t there with the rest of the troops.”

Sgt. Larry Cannon, 27, of Salt Lake City, “We would go on one raid of a house and that guy would say, ‘No, it’s not me, but I know where that guy is.’ And...he’d take us to the next house where this target was supposedly at, and then that guy’s like, ‘No, it’s not me. I know where he is, though.’ And we’d drive around all night and go from raid to raid to raid.”

“I can’t really fault military intelligence,” said Specialist Reppenhagen, “It was always a guessing game. We’re in a country where we don’t speak the language. We’re light on interpreters. It’s just impossible to really get anything. All you’re going off is a pattern of what’s happened before and hoping that the pattern doesn’t change.”

Sgt. Geoffrey Millard, 26, of Buffalo, New York, “We’re not police,” he said. “We don’t go around like detectives and ask questions. We kick down doors, we go in, we grab people.”

First Lieut. Brady Van Engelen, 26, of Washington, DC, “That’s really about the only thing we had,” he said. “A lot of it was just going off a whim, a hope that it worked out,” he said. “Maybe one in ten worked out.”

Sergeant Bruhns: “We did find small materials for IEDs, like maybe a small piece of the wire, the detonating cord,” said Sergeant Cannon. “We never found real bombs in the houses.” In the thousand or so raids he conducted during his time in Iraq, Sergeant Westphal said, he came into contact with only four “hard-core insurgents.”

“You weren’t allowed to, but it was still done,” said Sergeant Cannon. “I remember in Mosul [in January 2005], we had guys in a raid and they threw them in the back of a Bradley, these guys were really throwing up,” ... “They were so sick and nervous. And sometimes, they were peeing on themselves. Can you imagine if people could just come into your house and take you in front of your family screaming? And if you actually were innocent but had no way to prove that? It would be a scary, scary thing.” Specialist Reppenhagen: “Sometimes we didn’t even have a translator, so we find some poster with Muqtada al-Sadr, Sistani or something, we don’t know what it says on it. We just apprehend them, document that thing as evidence and send it on down the road and let other people deal with it.”

Sergeant Bruhns, Sergeant Bocanegra and others:“It was just soldiers being soldiers,” Sergeant Bocanegra said. “You give them a lot of, too much, power that they never had before, and before you know it they’re the ones kicking these guys while they’re handcuffed. And then by you not catching [insurgents], when you do have someone say, ‘Oh, this is a guy planting a roadside bomb’--and you don’t even know if it’s him or not--you just go in there and kick the shit out of him and take him in the back of a five-ton--take him to jail.”

“They were wearing Arab clothing and military-style boots, they were considered enemy combatants and you would cuff ’em and take ’em in,” he said. “When you put something like that so broad, you’re bound to have, out of a hundred, you’re going to have ten at least that were, you know what I mean, innocent.”

“I remember on some raids, anybody of military age would be taken,” he said. “Say, for example, we went to some house looking for a 25-year-old male. We would look at an age group. Anybody from 15 to 30 might be a suspect.”

“I knew that a large percentage of these prisoners were innocent,” he said. “Just living with these people for months you get to see their character.... In just listening to the prisoners’ stories, I mean, I get the sense that a lot of them were just getting rounded up in big groups.”

Specialist Murphy: “maybe see a few feet in front of his face” : “I thought to myself, What could he have possibly done?”

“He would make his recommendations and he’d have to send it up to the next higher command,” Specialist Murphy said. “It was just a snail’s crawling process.... The system wasn’t working.”

...“It was very graphic,” he said. “A head split open. One of them was of two soldiers in the back of the truck. They open the body bags of these prisoners that were shot in the head and [one soldier has] got an MRE spoon. He’s reaching in to scoop out some of his brain, looking at the camera and he’s smiling. And I said, ‘These are some of our soldiers desecrating somebody’s body. Something is seriously amiss.’ I became convinced that this was excessive force, and this was brutality.”

Spc. Patrick Resta, 29, Philadelphia: “The Geneva Conventions don’t exist at all in Iraq, and that’s in writing if you want to see it.”

“That was when I totally walked away from the Army,” Specialist Delgado said. “I read these rap sheets on all the prisoners in Abu Ghraib and what they were there for. I expected them to be terrorists, murderers, insurgents. I look down this roster and see petty theft, public drunkenness, forged coalition documents. These people are here for petty civilian crimes.”

“These aren’t terrorists,” he recalled thinking. “These aren’t our enemies. They’re just ordinary people, and we’re treating them this harshly.”

..."getting yelled at every day if you have a dirty weapon"--to the streets of Iraq, where “it’s like life and death. And 40-year-old Iraqi men look at us with fear and we can--do you know what I mean?--we have this power that you can’t have. That’s really liberating. Life is just knocked down to this primal level.”
In Iraq, Specialist Middleton said, “a lot of guys really supported that whole concept that, you know, if they don’t speak English and they have darker skin, they’re not as human as us, so we can do what we want.”


“You can honestly see how the Iraqis in general or even Arabs in general are being, you know, kind of like dehumanized,” said Specialist Englehart. “Like it was very common for United States soldiers to call them derogatory terms, like camel jockeys or Jihad Johnny or, you know, sand nigger.”

Sergeant Millard: “It becomes this racialized hatred towards Iraqis.” “By calling them names,” he said, “they’re not people anymore. They’re just objects.”

“They were the law,” Specialist Harmon: “They were very mean, very mean-spirited to them. A lot of cursing at them. And I’m like, Dude, these people don’t understand what you’re saying.... They used to say a lot, ‘Oh, they’ll understand when the gun is in their face.’”

“I had the night shift one night at the aid station,” said Specialist Resta, “We were told from the first second that we arrived there, and this was in writing on the wall in our aid station, that we were not to treat Iraqi civilians unless they were about to die.... So these guys in the guard tower radio in, and they say they’ve got an Iraqi out there that’s asking for a doctor.

“So it’s really late at night, and I walk out there to the gate and I don’t even see the guy at first, and they point out to him and he’s standing there. Well, I mean he’s sitting, leaned up against this concrete barrier--like the median of the highway--we had as you approached the gate. And he’s sitting there leaned up against it and, uh, he’s out there, if you want to go and check on him, he’s out there. So I’m sitting there waiting for an interpreter, and the interpreter comes and I just walk out there in the open. And this guy, he has the shit kicked out of him. He was missing two teeth. He has a huge laceration on his head, he looked like he had broken his eye orbit and had some kind of injury to his knee.”

“I open a bag and I’m trying to get bandages out and the guys in the guard tower are yelling at me, ‘Get that fucking haji out of here,’” Specialist Resta said. “And I just look back at them and ignored them, and then they were saying, you know, ‘He doesn’t look like he’s about to die to me,’ ‘Tell him to go cry back to the fuckin’ IP [Iraqi police],’ and, you know, a whole bunch of stuff like that. So, you know, I’m kind of ignoring them and trying to get the story from this guy, and our doctor rolls up in an ambulance and from thirty to forty meters away looks out and says, shakes his head and says, ‘You know, he looks fine, he’s gonna be all right,’ and walks back to the passenger side of the ambulance, you know, kind of like, Get your ass over here and drive me back up to the clinic. So I’m standing there, and the whole time both this doctor and the guards are yelling at me, you know, to get rid of this guy, and at one point they’re yelling at me, when I’m saying, ‘No, let’s at least keep this guy here overnight, until it’s light out,’ because they wanted me to send him back out into the city, where he told me that people were waiting for him to kill him.

“When I asked if he’d be allowed to stay there, at least until it was light out, the response was, ‘Are you hearing this shit? I think Doc is part fucking haji,’” Specialist Resta said.

“So I walk inside the gate and the interpreter helps him up and the guy turns around to walk away and the guys in the guard tower go, say, ‘Tell him that if he comes back tonight he’s going to get fucking shot,’” Specialist Resta said. “And the interpreter just stared at them and looked at me and then looked back at them, and they nod their head, like, Yeah, we mean it. So he yells it to the Iraqi and the guy just flinches and turns back over his shoulder, and the interpreter says it again and he starts walking away again, you know, crying like a little kid. And that was that.”


“A moving target is harder to hit than a stationary one,” said Sgt. Ben Flanders, 28, a National Guardsman from Concord, New Hampshire, who served in Balad with the 172nd Mountain Infantry for eleven months beginning in March 2004. Flanders ran convoy routes out of Camp Anaconda, about thirty miles north of Baghdad. “So speed was your friend. And certainly in terms of IED detonation, absolutely, speed and spacing were the two things that could really determine whether or not you were going to get injured or killed or if they just completely missed, which happened.”

“One example I can give you, you know, we’d be cruising down the road in a convoy and all of the sudden, an IED blows up,” said Spc. Ben Schrader, 27, of Grand Junction, Colorado. “And, you know, you’ve got these scared kids on these guns, and they just start opening fire. And there could be innocent people everywhere. And I’ve seen this, I mean, on numerous occasions where innocent people died because we’re cruising down and a bomb goes off.”

...“The second you left the gate of your base, you were always worried,” said Sergeant Flatt. “You were constantly watchful for IEDs. And you could never see them. I mean, it’s just by pure luck who’s getting killed and who’s not. If you’ve been in firefights earlier that day or that week, you’re even more stressed and insecure to a point where you’re almost trigger-happy.”

...Sergeant Flatt: “A car following got too close to their convoy,” he said. “Basically, they took shots at the car. Warning shots, I don’t know. But they shot the car. Well, one of the bullets happened to just pierce the windshield and went straight into the face of this woman in the car. And she was--well, as far as I know--instantly killed. I didn’t pull her out of the car or anything. Her son was driving the car, and she had her--she had three little girls in the back seat. And they came up to us, because we were actually sitting in a defensive position right next to the hospital, the main hospital in Mosul, the civilian hospital. And they drove up and she was obviously dead. And the girls were crying.”


“He’s just holding the trigger down and it wound up jamming, so he didn’t get off as many shots maybe as he wanted,” Sergeant Flanders recalled. “But I said, ‘How many did you get off?’ ’Cause I knew they would be asking that. He said, ‘Twenty-three.’ He launched twenty-three grenades....

“I remember looking out the window and I saw a little hut, a little Iraqi house with a light on.... We were going so fast and obviously your adrenaline’s--you’re like tunnel vision, so you can’t really see what’s going on, you know? And it’s dark out and all that stuff. I couldn’t really see where the grenades were exploding, but it had to be exploding around the house or maybe even hit the house. Who knows? Who knows? And we were the last vehicle. We can’t stop.”


“It’s like very barren desert, so most of the people that live there, they’re nomadic or they live in just little villages and have, like, camels and goats and stuff,” she recalled. “There was then a little boy--I would say he was about 10 because we didn’t see the accident; we responded to it with the investigative team--a little Iraqi boy and he was crossing the highway with his, with three donkeys. A military convoy, transportation convoy driving north, hit him and the donkeys and killed all of them. When we got there, there were the dead donkeys and there was a little boy on the side of the road.

“We saw him there and, you know, we were upset because the convoy didn’t even stop,” she said. “They really, judging by the skid marks, they hardly even slowed down. But, I mean, that’s basically--basically, your order is that you never stop.”


“It just seemed insane to run civilians around the country,” he added. “I mean, Iraq is such a security concern and it’s so dangerous and yet we have KBR just riding around, unarmed.... Remember those terrible judgments that we made about what Iraq would look like postconflict? I think this is another incarnation of that misjudgment, which would be that, Oh, it’ll be fine. We’ll put a Humvee in front, we’ll put a Humvee in back, we’ll put a Humvee in the middle, and we’ll just run with it.

“It was just shocking to me.... I was Army trained and I had a good gunner and I had radios and I could call on the radios and I could get an airstrike if I wanted to. I could get a Medevac.... And here these guys are just tooling around. And these guys are, like, they’re promised the world. They’re promised $120,000, tax free, and what kind of people take those jobs? Down-on-their-luck-type people, you know? Grandmothers. There were grandmothers there. I escorted a grandmother there and she did great. We went through an ambush and one of her guys got shot, and she was cool, calm and collected. Wonderful, great, good for her. What the hell is she doing there?

“We’re using these vulnerable, vulnerable convoys, which probably piss off more Iraqis than it actually helps in our relationship with them,” Flanders said, “just so that we can have comfort and air-conditioning and sodas--great--and PlayStations and camping chairs and greeting cards and stupid T-shirts that say, Who’s Your Baghdaddy?”


“Every time we got on the highway,” he said, “we were firing warning shots, causing accidents all the time. Cars screeching to a stop, going into the other intersection.... The problem is, if you slow down at an intersection more than once, that’s where the next bomb is going to be because you know they watch. You know? And so if you slow down at the same choke point every time, guaranteed there’s going to be a bomb there next couple of days. So getting onto a freeway or highway is a choke point ‘cause you have to wait for traffic to stop. So you want to go as fast as you can, and that involves added risk to all the cars around you, all the civilian cars.

“The first Iraqi I saw killed was an Iraqi who got too close to our patrol,” he said. “We were coming up an on-ramp. And he was coming down the highway. And they fired warning shots and he just didn’t stop. He just merged right into the convoy and they opened up on him.”

Sergeant Campbell: “I heard three gunshots,” he said. “We get about halfway down the road and...the guy in the car got out and he’s covered in blood. And this is where...the impulse is just to keep going. There’s no way that this guy knows who we are. We’re just like every other patrol that goes up and down this road. I looked at my lieutenant and it wasn’t even a discussion. We turned around and we went back.

“So I’m treating the guy. He has three gunshot wounds to the chest. Blood everywhere. And he keeps going in and out of consciousness. And when he finally stops breathing, I have to give him CPR. I take my right hand, I lift up his chin and I take my left hand and grab the back of his head to position his head, and as I take my left hand, my hand actually goes into his cranium. So I’m actually holding this man’s brain in my hand. And what I realized was I had made a mistake. I had checked for exit wounds. But what I didn’t know was the Humvee behind me, after the car failed to stop after the first three rounds, had fired twenty, thirty rounds into the car. I never heard it.

“I heard three rounds, I saw three holes, no exit wounds,” he said. “I thought I knew what the situation was. So I didn’t even treat this guy’s injury to the head. Every medic I ever told is always like, Of course, I mean, the guy got shot in the head. There’s nothing you could have done. And I’m pretty sure--I mean, you can’t stop bleeding in the head like that. But this guy, I’m watching this guy, who I know we shot because he got too close. His car was clean. There was no--didn’t hear it, didn’t see us, whatever it was. Dies, you know, dying in my arms.”


“You don’t want to shoot kids, I mean, no one does,” said Sergeant Campbell, “But you have this: I remember my unit was coming along this elevated overpass. And this kid is in the trash pile below, pulls out an AK-47 and just decides he’s going to start shooting. And you gotta understand...when you have spent nine months in a war zone, where no one--every time you’ve been shot at, you’ve never seen the person shooting at you, and you could never shoot back. Here’s some guy, some 14-year-old kid with an AK-47, decides he’s going to start shooting at this convoy. It was the most obscene thing you’ve ever seen. Every person got out and opened fire on this kid. Using the biggest weapons we could find, we ripped him to shreds.”

“Everyone was so happy, like this release that they finally killed an insurgent,” he said. “Then when they got there, they realized it was just a little kid. And I know that really fucked up a lot of people in the head.... They’d show all the pictures and some people were really happy, like, Oh, look what we did. And other people were like, I don’t want to see that ever again.”

“The ground forces were put in that position,” said First Lieut. Wade Zirkle of Shenandoah County, Virginia, “You got a guy trying to kill me but he’s firing from houses...with civilians around him, women and children. You know, what do you do? You don’t want to risk shooting at him and shooting children at the same time. But at the same time, you don’t want to die either.”

Sergeant Dougherty: “It was just, like, the mentality of my squad leader was like, Oh, we have to kill them over here so I don’t have to kill them back in Colorado,” she said. “He just, like, seemed to view every Iraqi as like a potential terrorist.”

“It would always be an AK because they have so many of these weapons lying around,” said Specialist Aoun.

“Every good cop carries a throwaway,” said Hatcher: “If you kill someone and they’re unarmed, you just drop one on ‘em.”

...“I come to find out later that, while I was treating him, the snipers had planted--after they had searched and found nothing--they had planted bomb-making materials on the guy because they didn’t want to be investigated for the shoot,” Sergeant Campbell said. “And to this day, I mean, I remember taking that guy to Abu Ghraib prison--the guy who didn’t get shot--and just saying ‘I’m sorry’ because there was not a damn thing I could do about it.... I mean, I guess I have a moral obligation to say something, but I would have been kicked out of the unit in a heartbeat. I would’ve been a traitor.”


Sgt. Matt Mardan, 31, of Minneapolis, “People think that’s dangerous, and it is,” he said. “But I would do that any day of the week rather than be a marine sitting on a fucking checkpoint looking at cars.”

Sergeant Dougherty: “You start looking at everyone as a criminal.... Is this the car that’s going to try to run into me? Is this the car that has explosives in it? Or is this just someone who’s confused?” The perpetual uncertainty, she said, is mentally exhausting and physically debilitating.

“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.

Sergeant Mejía:“this sort of killing of civilians had long ceased to arouse much interest or even comment.”

Sergeant Millard: “This unit sets up this traffic control point, and this 18-year-old kid is on top of an armored Humvee with a .50-caliber machine gun, “this car speeds at him pretty quick and he makes a split-second decision that that’s a suicide bomber, and he presses the butterfly trigger and puts 200 rounds in less than a minute into this vehicle. It killed the mother, a father and two kids. The boy was aged 4 and the daughter was aged 3. And they briefed this to the general. And they briefed it gruesome. I mean, they had pictures. They briefed it to him. And this colonel turns around to this full division staff and says, ‘If these fucking hajis learned to drive, this shit wouldn’t happen.’”

“Better to be tried by twelve men than carried by six.” ...“Basically it always came down to self-defense and better them than you,” said Sgt. Bobby Yen, 28, of Atherton, California.

“Cover your own butt was the first rule of engagement,” Lieutenant Van Engelen confirmed. “Someone could look at me the wrong way and I could claim my safety was in threat.”

Sergeant Jefferies explained: “We didn’t get straight-up rules,” he said. “You got things like, ‘Don’t be aggressive’ or ‘Try not to shoot if you don’t have to.’ Well, what does that mean?”

Shout a warning,

Shove (physically restrain),

Show a weapon,

Shoot non-lethal ammunition in a vehicle’s engine block or tires,

Shoot to kill.

”Jeffries said: “The escalation-of-force methodology was meant to be a guide to determine course of actions you should attempt before you shoot, ’Shove’ might be a step that gets skipped in a given situation. In vehicles, at night, how does ‘Shout’ work? Each soldier is not only drilled on the five S’s but their inherent right for self-defense.”

“There’s no such thing as warning shots,” Specialist Resta said, “I even specifically remember being told that it was better to kill them than to have somebody wounded and still alive.”

Lieutenant Morgenstein: “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, you signal to them with some other means than bullets. If they are armed and they are a threat, you never fire a warning shot because...that just gives them a chance to kill you. I don’t recall at this point if this was an ROE [rule of engagement] explicitly or simply part of our consistent training.”

...Sergeant Flatt: “The car was approaching what was in my opinion a very poorly marked checkpoint, or not even a checkpoint at all, and probably didn’t even see the soldiers,” he said. “The guys got spooked and decided it was a possible threat, so they shot up the car. And they literally sat in the car for the next three days while we drove by them day after day.”

...“I’ve never done this before,” he said. “I had to go tell this woman that her husband was actually dead. We gave her money, we gave her, like, ten crates of water, we gave the kids, I remember, maybe it was soccer balls and toys. We just didn’t really know what else to do.”

...“The guy that the cops were chasing got through and I guess the soldiers got scared or nervous, so when the pickup truck came they opened fire on it,” Sergeant Mejía said. “The Iraqi police tried to cease fire, but when the soldiers would not stop they defended themselves and there was a firefight between the soldiers and the cops. Not a single soldier was killed, but eight cops were.”


“As an American, you just put your hand up with your palm towards somebody and your fingers pointing to the sky,” said Sergeant Jefferies. “That means stop to most Americans, and that’s a military hand signal that soldiers are taught that means stop. Closed fist, please freeze, but an open hand means stop. That’s a sign you make at a checkpoint. To an Iraqi person, that means, Hello, come here. So you can see the problem that develops real quick. So you get on a checkpoint, and the soldiers think they’re saying stop, stop, and the Iraqis think they’re saying come here, come here. And the soldiers start hollering, so they try to come there faster. So soldiers holler more, and pretty soon you’re shooting pregnant women.”

“You can’t tell the difference between these people at all,” said Sergeant Mardan. “They all look Arab. They all have beards, facial hair. Honestly, it’ll be like walking into China and trying to tell who’s in the Communist Party and who’s not. It’s impossible.”

...“The bottom line is he always said, you know, We weren’t there,” she said. “We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, but make sure that they know that this is not OK and we’re watching them.”

“Even after a thorough investigation, there’s not much that could be done,” said Specialist Reppenhagen. “It’s just the nature of the situation you’re in. That’s what’s wrong. It’s not individual atrocity. It’s the fact that the entire war is an atrocity.”

“Needless to say, our unit was under a lot of scrutiny not to shoot any more people than we already had to because we were kind of a run-and-gun place,” said Sergeant Campbell. “One of the things they did was they started saying, Every time you shoot someone or shoot a car, you have to fill out a 15-[6] or whatever the investigation is. Well, that investigation is really onerous for the soldiers. It’s like a ‘You’re guilty’ investigation almost--it feels as though. So commanders just stopped reporting shootings. There was no incentive for them to say, Yeah, we shot so-and-so’s car.”

“I think they reduced, from when we started to when we left, the number of Iraqi civilians dying at checkpoints from one a day to one a week,” he said. “Inherent in that number, like all statistics, is those are reported shootings."

Lieutenant Morgenstein: “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.”


“Just the carnage, all the blown-up civilians, blown-up bodies that I saw,” Specialist Englehart said. “I just--I started thinking, like, Why? What was this for?”

“It just gets frustrating,” Specialist Reppenhagen said. “Instead of blaming your own command for putting you there in that situation, you start blaming the Iraqi people.... So it’s a constant psychological battle to try to, you know, keep--to stay humane.”

“I felt like there was this enormous reduction in my compassion for people,” said Sergeant Flanders. “The only thing that wound up mattering is myself and the guys that I was with. And everybody else be damned.”

And where to these desensitized young soldiers who have murdered hourly apply for jobs when they get stateside? Why, they go back to their police jobs in the public sector and carry their freshly-honed disregard for human life (other than their immediate families) into the street and work in strike teams and SWAT teams to "shock and awe" their poorer neighbors in the service of the murdering malicious Republicans who sent them to war; safely insulated from normal human feelings and minimal compassion; reactively "lighting up" the population of urban America upon their return home to America. The overseas wars are just warm-ups for the madness which waits just around the corner in our American nightmare.