“…it is clear to me that that policy of looking good over doing right has been established firmly by this administration and has poisoned not only the military culture but our entire society and political leadership, as well.”

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From: Democracy Now

War veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan came to Capitol Hill earlier this year to testify before Congress and give an eyewitness account about the horrors of war. Like the Winter Soldier hearings in March, when more than 200 service members gathered for four days in Silver Spring, Maryland to give their eyewitness accounts of the injustices occurring in Iraq and Afghanistan, “Winter Soldier on the Hill” was designed to drive home the human cost of the war and occupation—this time, to the very people in charge of doing something about it. […]

SERGIO KOCHERGIN: […] One other responsibility we had in al-Najaf was to guard an ammunition supply point about thirty miles northeast from our base. Our job consisted of patrolling ASB, and when we came into contact with Iraqis stealing stuff, we would take a physical action and to make sure they would never come back. We would shoot their tires out or shoot their windows, putting them on their knees like we’re about to execute them and just shoot in the air and laugh and yell at them and tell them that the next time will be worse. Our orders directly from command was to roughen up all the guys up. They would always tell us that everybody is an enemy and that we can’t trust them and the only way to keep them in place is to put as much fear as possible and to let them know that we’re not playing around. During the deployment in al-Najaf, nothing was fixed or intended on being fixed at all, except keeping the city in the occupied hands and instill the fear into the people at every chance we got.

My second deployment was in the city of Husaybah in Al Anbar province in Al Qaim region on the Syrian border. First thing I want to talk about is the drop weapons. Drop weapons are the weapons that are given to us by our chain of command in case we kill somebody without any weapons, and so that we would not get into trouble. We would carry an AK-47, and if the person that was shot did not have the weapon, an AK-47 would be placed at his corpse, and when the unit would come back to the base, they would turn it in to identify the shot man as the enemy combatant. The weapons could not come from anywhere else but the higher chain of command, because after the raid, all weapons were turned in into the armory and should have been recorded.

Two months into deployment, our rules of engagement changed to a personnel with having a bag and a shovel at the intersection or on the roads, that they were suspicious. This gave us a bigger window on who we can engage. Looking at the situation, this point of view, a lot of enemy combatants that we shot were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We were tired, mad, angry,and we just wanted to go home and stop this killing of our brothers. One of our intelligence officers told us that they received a call from one of the sources in the city telling them that there are fliers posted all over the town that says that there are unknown snipers in the city, they kill the insurgents and the civilians. We did not take into consideration that the innocent people are being killed by us, because every time we sent the pictures to the command post through the interlink system, we would receive an approval to kill people with shovels and the bags. […]

When we all come back from Iraq and we seek help from our command, they call us “weak” and “cowards.” The lines for a psychologist is almost a year long, and the only thing that can help us is the alcohol and the prescription pills they’re giving out to us like candy to keep us down, because it seems like doctors don’t want to do their job and they just don’t care. Use of drugs amongst the military units is critical. We lost numerous numbers of people from failing drug tests. They either want to get out, or they’re just so messed up, and the only one thing that can help them to escape is the drugs. […]

LUIS MONTALVAN: I wrote countless memoranda to my superiors requesting more resources and personnel, but they went unanswered. In Iraq, I witnessed many disturbing things. I witnessed waterboarding. I was given unlawful orders by superiors to not offer humanitarian assistance to refugees caught between Syrian and Iraqi borders. I disobeyed those orders. I witnessed and participated in countless massive operations led by American commanders whose metrics for success were numbers of detainees apprehended without regard to the real effects: tribal, ethnic, sectarian strife conducted by American taxpayer-uniformed and–equipped militias the US military calls Iraqi Security Forces.

Most reprehensible was that we have never had close to the amount of troops we needed in Iraq. Yet from 2003 until today, General Sanchez, Casey and Petraeus, among others, did not heed the requests of their subordinate officers for more resources and more troops. Instead, they perpetually painted a rosy picture of the situation to the country, while the country fell into civil war. These generals consistently overstated the strength and number of Iraqi Security Forces to Congress and still do. The misrepresentation of the facts should be grounds for courts-martial and criminal indictments. […]

VINCENT EMANUELE: […] Another mission our platoon was tasked to take on was that of transporting prisoners from our detention facility on base back to the desert. The reason I say the desert and not their town is because that is exactly where we would drop them off, in the middle of nowhere. Now, most of these men had obviously been deemed innocent, or else they would have been moved to a more permanent detention facility and not released back into the local population. Our unit engaged in punching, kicking, butt stroking or generally harassing and abusing these very prisoners until the point at which our unit would be take them in the middle of the desert, miles from their respective homes, and at times throw them out of the back of our Humvees, all the while continually punching, kicking and at times even throwing softball-sized rocks at their backs as they ran away. This, once again, was not an isolated incident.

Possibly the most disturbing of what took place in Iraq was the mishandling of the dead. On several occasions, our convoy came across bodies that had been decapitated and were lying on the road, sometimes for weeks. When encountering these bodies, standard procedure was to run over the corpses, sometimes even stopping and taking pictures, which was also a standard practice when encountering the dead in Iraq—this, along with neglecting to account for many of those who were killed or wounded. On one specific occasion, after I had personally shot a man attempting to flee while planting a roadside bomb, we drug his body out of the ditch he was laying in, and we subsequently left that body—slide please—we subsequently left that body to rot in the field, where we saw this man up to a week later.

These are just a few of the disturbing and unacceptable stories I could share with you from my time in Iraq. Others would include continually dehumanizing Iraqis by referring to them as “hajis” or “sand niggers.” Even the racist and sexist nature that exists within the military itself, which was obviously—overtly obvious on a daily basis. I could also tell story upon story of families being destroyed as a result of an occupation that unfortunately should have never taken place. Several members of my platoon—several members of my platoon went through divorces and/or separations, many of the time with children involved.

I could also testify to the overwhelming majority of those I served with who did not think dying in Iraq was honorable or acceptable, nor did they enjoy or want to go back to Iraq a second or third time. Unfortunately, because of personal circumstances, whether they be financial or family issues, many indeed were deployed up to three times during their four-year enlistment. In fact, many, including myself, at times did not have intention of helping the Iraqis. Because of the hostile intent, as well as the loss of lives close to us, our best friends, our unit had a general disdain and distaste for Iraqis and their country. Further, our unit, for the most part, did not trust our command and had a general mistrust and distaste of this occupation from its inception onward.

I could also speak to the personal attacks veterans, including myself and many others, had to encounter once we were willing to be treated for PTSD within our unit. The idea of being a real Marine that does not complain when coming back home and who sucks it up and just does the job that we were tasked to do, this mentality resulted in many of the Marines I served with, including myself, turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with the horrors of this bloody occupation.

JAMES GILLIGAN: […] Today is the Conscientious Objector Day, May 15th, and the day that honors those who choose not to fire their weapons. They do go to combat sometimes by force of their command. We were just a week before the flight to Kuwait when I saw my first sergeant chew someone out about his CO status. I heard the first sergeant say, “What if those f-blank ragheads came into your home and raped your daughter and tortured and murdered your wife?” I was shocked to hear the bravery in the young lance corporal’s voice as he told the first sergeant, “No, I don’t know what I would do. Why? Would we do that to them?”

Destroying Iraqi property was such a pleasure for some, but for me one day it was orders. I was ordered to take Lance Corporal Jerome with me as security, and I received orders via inter-squad radio to destroy a civilian’s pickup truck. I slashed as much as I could, and I kicked in the windshield for good measure. It was later with regret that I thought that this might have been this man’s livelihood.

Looting during the initial invasion was rampant. Nearly everyone had something: rugs, pens, pictures, you name it, anything you could find that would fetch a price. […]

REP. BARBARA LEE: Now, I know part of the psychology of war is to dehumanize people so that the atrocities that are required—the atrocities that are committed, that those atrocities would bear minimal emotional impact on the soldier. How does this affect the mental health of those who have to do these things? And how do we need to move forward to make sure that suicide attempts don’t occur and that post-traumatic stress syndrome is minimized and that we could really help with the psychology and the psychological needs of our veterans? Because all of you talked about, and we saw and we witnessed on the slides, this dehumanization process in action, and that’s part of war. And I don’t know how they train our young men and women for this, but that’s what occurs, and so we have to figure this out and what we can do to help when you come home.

KRISTOFER GOLDSMITH: Yes, Congressman. Something that was brought up to me by a very good friend of mine sitting behind me, Mathis Chiroux, just mentioned maybe two weeks ago, and it was something I never thought about, was that every enlistee spends a week of basic training, or at least a few days, doing bayonet training. And we are putting a bayonet, a knife on the end of a rifle, and we repeatedly stab a dummy that looks like a human being and yell “Kill!” with every movement, yell—

REP. BARBARA LEE: This is part of your training?

KRISTOFER GOLDSMITH: Yes, that is the basis of the military on a broad scale. That is the basis and the first step to dehumanization towards the enemy and the acceptance to kill is—there’s a very popular thing that the drill sergeants require us to say. I remember the first time I heard it, I refused to say it, and it wasn’t because I didn’t want to be a soldier, it was because I thought it was weird. And the response to the question, “Soldiers, what makes the green grass grow?” and the response is “Blood, blood, blood, Drill Sergeant!” So I would like to allow Geoffrey to go on how we can move past that. […]

ADAM KOKESH: […] But what it’s made clear is that this administration has chosen a policy for this country that values looking good over doing right. And as soon as you choose looking good over doing right, you will fail miserably at both. It is what we are doing as a country right now. It is what our leadership is doing. And it is what the Democratic Party has done, since it took power in 2006, when it decided that it would be more concerned with looking good than doing right, in terms of the policy towards Iraq, in order to secure an advantage for the 2008 election. My apologies to members of the Democratic Party in the room, but it is clear to me that that policy of looking good over doing right has been established firmly by this administration and has poisoned not only the military culture but our entire society and political leadership, as well.

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Related: Winter Soldier: US Vets, Active-Duty Soldiers from Iraq & Afghanistan Testify About the Horrors of War