October 20, 2008
By Kim Alphandary
These were my thoughts about the recent “Winter Soldier” project, which is modeled after a tool developed during the rise of the Vietnam protests of the 60s/ 70s. When will this stuff die? My heart feels heavy when I step on the Wayback-machine, the latest being the ‘Recreate 68′ slogan used for protests held at the DNC 2008 in Denver, Colorado.
Contrary to my preconceptions, Winter Soldier is a beyond profound movement. This is where the resistance resides, an invisible undercurrent of humans of all kinds infecting this society with slow intensity. The first Neo-Winter-Soldier event took place in Silver Spring, Maryland, March 13 to March 16, 2008, timed to highlight the 5th anniversary of the 2003 invasion.
Northwest Winter Soldier Portland, 18th of October. Some 200/300 people showed up, many elderly, a definite lack in youth presence. First panel – on stage – there we saw youth.
Amongst the shattered humans on the first panel of nine men, as different from one another as can be imagined was a display of the beauty of humanity right there. Each brought their story, their confessions, their way of talking, seeing, feeling – straight shooters. Nothing but being there, in the flesh, can enable a person to grasp the enormity of the all-encompassing spectacle of war (our wars). Radio, television, any intermediary form is an obstruction to the process of learning with something like this.
Background, all but one fellow on the panel was seventeen or eighteen years of age when they joined the services. Below, I provide a few bits, from just a few people.
One fellow worked for “intelligence”. The method of gathering intelligence entailed being out in the streets, gotta be gathered through humans. They’d find a few informers, get genuinely vague information about how someone in some family was suspicious somehow, then pay the fellow large chucks of cash, and repeat the process over and over. They would then raid people’s houses in the middle of the night. Tear women and men apart, destroy the house, find a lone AK-47, if they were lucky, haul away the bad men (men of the house), women begging for mercy, children crying. Ziplock them, throw them here there and everywhere, hood them, take them to the Balad Interrogation Center.
Then the interrogation, they were of course all guilty, according to senior officers. In fact, instead of body-counts like Vietnam, their reward system is based on the arrest-count. They all had interpreters, and the invisible hand of their Iraqi counter parts to actualize the very worst of the torture. This fellow was encouraged to make the interrogation unpleasant. He came to feel great success if he was able to make the man / person / human-being break down and cry. In fact, many would become so desperate that they would throw themselves against the walls in an attempt to kill themselves.
One fellow with the National Guard was assigned to serve a year in Guantanamo. As he describes it, it is a kind of prison inside of a prison for the jailers themselves. Hours and hours of time, just time ticking by with nothing to do but seek to develop the skill of indifference. The worst for him were the cells; he couldn’t even look into them they were so horrible, puke green with a psychedelic level of high voltage lighting and a tiny small little looking glass where the inmate can watch the jailers strolling by. No torture necessary, the conditions, the years, never brought before a court, never accused of anything, a kind of promise that they will never, ever, leave this hell. He did witness worse than this, and eventually suffered a total nervous breakdown.
THOSE AT HOME
The second panel consisted of persons affected indirectly by this war. A mother who once had a beautiful son, macho, six foot five. Who on his second tour did kill people, people that he cannot extricate from his soul. In fact the mother read us letters that she had written to the dead and surviving members of the people he killed. She had to move her daughters out of the house because it was too unstable for them, the son drank and drank, was arrested for this that and the other thing, eventually he accidentally drove himself off a cliff and is now learning to speak again.
Sara Rich spoke, we know her story [Oregonians, whom this story was written, are aware of Sara’s daughter Suzanne Swift and the sexual harassment she suffered while on tour in Iraq.] To this day entails many struggles.
An Arab American mother who now has a daughter, who was ripped from her children and sent to war, then dealt with so incompetently that she will most likely need to have her leg amputated, but that is all taking too much time, too little evaluation, punctuated by long intervals of bureaucratic nothingness. She lives in absolute pain, all the time, and battles her desire for flight into the heavens, in search of relief from her suffering.
NO MORE VICTIMS
This panel was suddenly interrupted by the appearance of an Iraqi man, with translator. The fellow wove a kind of blow-by-blow account of the tragedy of his two-year-old son and wife. The trip to the hospital, the boy’s intestines etc; the gravity of the wounds and length of time the doctors spent saving his sons life. A long explanation as to why his son was so important to him — imagine explaining such a thing to anyone! Mustafa. He was told that the only way his son would survive is if he where magically able to get to Europe or the United States for treatment. This father went everywhere, other hospitals, Iraqi government organizations, the US embassy, and somehow stumbled across No More Victims, an organization that was able to arrange for Mustafa’s treatment in the U.S. It was moving to see his very beautiful three-year-old son in his arms. This Iraqi man has concerns about his wife, about the Iraqi people, about all the Iraqi people that have not been as lucky as him.
END OF STORIES
Believe me, this is just a small bit. These people modeled what courage and resistance looks like. They need support. Troops return and enter the abyss of non-acceptance, endless bureaucracy, little health care, and nightmares that will be with them for the rest of their lives. These few have found a place where they can work to make change. They’ve detailed their training of ill-equipped people working for Kellogg Brown and Root, who will be paid 75,000 a year to replace them. The war for control of the oil fields, the awareness that what was done in Iraq is being brought home as methods for controlling things in this country — and the possibilities for more war in Afghanistan, even Pakistan and Iran. This is where the absolute irrefutably greatest of crimes are being committed. We need to get involved. This is it. It is almost too simple, too easy.