But I just want to say also that we’ve been embroiled in this debate about withdrawal. You know what? Even if there is withdrawal, it’s going to be withdrawal Israeli style, from urban centers to the military bases. Most people, Democrats and Republicans, are saying we are staying there for ten or fifty or sixty years. So all this talk about withdrawal is just to fool the American people. It’s withdrawal from the urban centers to the military bases that have been built there with millions and millions of dollars, and to let the natives kill each other. This is old colonial style: when it’s too costly, you let the natives kill each other, let the natives police each other.Newsweek:
Still, Americans remain cautious about the prospect of a hasty withdrawal from Iraq, afraid it would leave the country in chaos. Out of four possible options in the poll, 19 percent of the respondents chose immediate total withdrawal. Slightly fewer (13 percent) don't want any cutbacks at all. Nearly a quarter of all Americans (24 percent) would implement a gradual withdrawal plan that would start in the fall and extend until the spring, when the last troops would come home. Forty percent favor keeping a substantial number of troops on the ground there, but only on the condition that they fall back to their bases and focus solely on training Iraqis and targeting Al Qaeda. And yet a majority (53 percent) want troops to remain for no more than a year. Only 19 percent could embrace the idea of maintaining a military presence in Iraq for up to two years, even at a reduced number.And then there's the "Have our cake and eat it, too" contingent. We'll stay, but we won't overstay our welcome.
We are all in a round room, looking desperately for the corner. And what we don't know, is what's going on over there:
SGT. DUSTIN FLATT: Yes. The innocent deaths happened at different times, different places and different occasions. Convoys were commonplace. The only incident I have firsthand knowledge of was a convoy that was actually not our convoy. It was a convoy had just driven by us. And an Iraqi vehicle with a mother, three daughters and an older teenage son who was driving the car were following a convoy too close. It got too close, and they shot into the car. It was a warning shot, and it ended up killing the mother. And they actually pulled the car over, or the son pulled the car over right next to us, and we just happened to be near a hospital in Mosul at the time. And the mother was obviously dead, and the children were just crying and asking if they could actually get into the hospital.The stories they tell were reported in The Nation magazine, and on "Democracy Now!" But not by Charlie Gibson or Katie Couric or on Good Morning, America, nor even by Wolf Blitzer or Keith Olbermann (who seems to only scoop up what cracks the "news barrier" of "important news." Keith won't embarass his colleagues that way). Since we don't know about this, we worry about Iraq "falling into chaos."
AMY GOODMAN: So the mother was dead. The three little girls, what happened?
SGT. DUSTIN FLATT: Right. The three little girls, we just -- we took them and just -- the last time I saw them they were on the side of the road just crying. They had no idea what had just happened. And it was funny -- it was with another unit -- it was a unit actually that we were attached to in Mosul, and on the back of their last Humvee in the convoy, they had a sign that read, "Stay back 100 meters." And after that, we took our interpreter, our Iraqi interpreter, up to the sign to see how far away he could read it, and he had to be within about thirty or forty feet before he could read it.
JUAN GONZALEZ: You also mentioned, I think, a checkpoint situation, where an elderly couple was killed at a checkpoint, and then their bodies were just left for several days, that you would drive back and forth and you’d still see them there?
SGT. DUSTIN FLATT: Yes, depending on -- that happened in different cities, too. Again, up in Mosul, there was an instance where one of our platoons -- I think an elderly couple just stumbled upon one of our -- an area where some of our guys were, and they had gotten too close and were driving, you know, just a little too fast, and that’s it.
You know, our rules of engagement -- we’ve got, you know, set rules that you follow, you know, verbal commands, using signals, shooting warning shots, and all of that happens very quickly when somebody’s coming at you at fifty miles an hour, which I can see happening.
In any of these circumstances, I don’t necessarily fault the soldiers who did it. I don’t think it’s -- they’ve been put in a place where they have to make these split-second decisions on whether someone is a threat or not. And in a place where you don’t understand anything and can’t tell the difference between an enemy and just a regular civilian, I can see where soldiers are making these decisions.
AMY GOODMAN: In both cases, Sergeant Dustin Flatt, in the case of the mother being killed with her three little daughters in the car and the case of this elderly couple, what was your response and the conversations you were having with the other soldiers? How did this affect you?
SGT. DUSTIN FLATT: I believe -- well, actually, we were part of a very -- TJ and I were part of a very disciplined unit, or at least we believe so. Our chain of command was fantastic. We very much admired them. We talked about different things all the time and about our rules of engagement and that sort of thing. And it got to a point -- at this instance, actually, up in Mosul when we were attached to a different unit that a different mentality, it was -- we didn’t come to blows, but there were many times when it came close, when we were actually screaming at each other, telling them to knock it off, that they were just shooting indiscriminately at people. You know, I think that --
AMY GOODMAN: Like when?
SGT. DUSTIN FLATT: There were times when you were just driving down the road, and another car -- just like we would in America -- would come at an intersection, and they wouldn’t see you coming. You’d be in a convoy of four Humvees. And, of course, everywhere you went you went at, you know, at a pretty good clip. All of the sudden, a car would come up on an intersection, and they would fire on a car just because they approached the intersection. They would literally directly fire into the vehicle.
There were times when we had to -- there was one specific time when the Humvee in front of me from the other unit fired into this car, continued to drive past it. We stopped right in front of it, jumped out to see if the people inside were OK, because they were obviously of no threat. We jumped out, looked. Windows were shattered by bullets. I grabbed the guys inside and I grabbed our interpreter, and I’m screaming at him, going, “Ask them if they’re OK!” Somehow they lived through it. But the fact that they just shot the car and continued to drive on was pretty much a daily occurrence.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And when these accidents occur, and civilians are shot or killed, what were the rules or the orders that you had, as to what the responsibilities were of the soldiers who were involved with these people who were shot or killed?
SGT. DUSTIN FLATT: I think with our specific company, we’d do whatever it took to help the people in the first place. If there was any way that we could evac them to a point to get medical attention, we would. It depended on the circumstances at the time, too. If we had been in the middle of battles or firefights at the time, I think it was a completely different situation. You know, mission first, and then take care of the, you know, collateral damage, I guess you could say, at that point. We did our best to take care of the innocents. I don’t know about other units. I had a completely different feeling about the unit we were attached to in Mosul. Our other times in Tikrit or Samara or any other place was usually with our unit, and our unit was very disciplined when it came to that sort of thing.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Staff Sergeant Timothy John Westphal, TJ Westphal, who served on the outskirts of Tikrit for a yearlong tour with the 18th Infantry Brigade, First Infantry Division, beginning in February of 2004. Talk about that summer night in 2004, the farmhouse you raided.
STAFF SGT. TIMOTHY JOHN WESTPHAL: That summer night will stand out in my mind for the rest of my life. That was really the turning point for me, when I realized that our involvement in Iraq was something that I wasn’t proud to be a part of. You know, you understand that as an American soldier, we’re all volunteers. We love our jobs, we love our country. We grew up watching John Wayne storm the beaches of Iwo Jima and idolizing World War II heroes, and so forth. So there’s a tremendous amount of pride that we all felt and that we all had in our jobs. And for me, that eroded that summer night in Iraq.
I was the patrol group leader in charge of a raid, which we conducted on an Iraqi farm. And it was the middle of the summer, very hot outside, definitely over 100 degrees, had about forty or so guys. My particular squad, our job was to jump the wall -- every Iraqi home has a wall -- my job was to take our guys over the wall, infiltrate the compound. And there were several houses within the farm compound. And we were told that there were insurgents, bomb makers, living at this residence.
So my men and I jumped over the wall. There were fifteen or so other guys outside pulling a cordon, or perimeter security. We went inside and found a big -- basically a big cluster of people laying outside. And in Iraq during the summer, many Iraqis sleep outside, because it’s just too hot to sleep inside. We weren’t sure what to expect. We just saw a big clump of bodies. It’s dark. There’s no exterior lighting in the compound. So I told my guys to get their flashlights ready. All of our flashlights are mounted on our weapons, so anywhere your flashlight is pointed your weapon is pointed also. I had my guys surround the clump of people who were sleeping outside and told them basically, “On the count of three, we’re going to light them up and see what we have under here. Be prepared for anything. These guys could be armed. So just be on the lookout.”
So I counted to three. I basically just kicked the clump of people there to wake them up, turned on my flashlight, and all my guys did the same thing. And my light happened to shine right on the face of an old man in his mid-sixties. I found out later he was the patriarch of that family. And as we scanned the cluster of people laying there, we saw two younger military age men, probably in their early twenties. Everybody else -- I’d say there were about eight to ten other individuals -- were women and children. We come to find out this was just a family. They were sleeping outside.
The terror that I saw on the patriarch's face, like I said, that really was the turning point for me. I imagined in my mind what he must have been thinking, understanding that he had lived under Saddam's brutal regime for many years, worried about -- you know, hearing stories about Iraqis being carried away in the middle of the night by the Iraqi secret service and so forth, to see all those lights, all those soldiers with guns, all the uniform things that we wear, as far as the helmet, the night vision goggles, very intimidating, very terrifying for the man. He screamed a very guttural cry that I can still hear it every day. You know, it was just the most awful, horrible sound I’ve ever heard in my life. He was so terrified and so afraid for his family. And I thought of my family at that time, and I thought to myself, boy, if I was the patriarch of a family, if soldiers came from another country, came in and did this to my family, I would be an insurgent, too.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And you say that that was a turning point for you. In what way?
STAFF SGT. TIMOTHY JOHN WESTPHAL: It was a turning point for me in the sense that -- you know, prior to going into Iraq, both Dustin and myself, we talked about this many times in the days leading up to the war. We came into Iraq after the initial invasion, so we had a chance to see a little bit of the buildup to the war, as well as the actual invasion piece. And several of us, including Dustin and myself, were very much opposed to the Iraq war. However, we chose to go, number one, out of a sense of loyalty to each other and our unit; second, because we were hoping as leaders, as combat leaders, leaders of soldiers, we would be able to influence those young men to make good decisions and not do things like kill indiscriminately or let their emotions get into their decision-making abilities. So that’s why we chose to go. And again, because this is our profession, we were very proud of what we were doing, even though we opposed the mission itself, are proud to serve with our brothers and to be a part of something like that.
However, that night -- and that was about halfway through my yearlong tour -- that night I really admitted to myself -- and it was a very hard thing to do, but I admitted to myself that America is not the good guy in this thing. And, you know, if you factor in that you have these young men who most of them are high-school-educated -- some have a bit of college, some do have college degrees -- but the education level, for the most part, is high school graduates only.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Sergeant Westphal, we only have about thirty seconds left. I’d like to ask you: you went in in February 2004. Did you ever expect that we’d be in this situation now, more than three years later?
STAFF SGT. TIMOTHY JOHN WESTPHAL: I never imagined that America would ever get to this point. I never imagined that the American public would be so apathetic as they have been, in my estimation. A lot of them don’t listen to the stories we tell. There’s a reason that all these guys got together for this article, because they have a commitment to the truth, and we definitely want the truth to be out there, that America has brought terror to the country of Iraq, and that’s something that we have to deal with.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the US soldiers should be brought home now?
STAFF SGT. TIMOTHY JOHN WESTPHAL: Absolutely. You know, I support the United States military. I’m a soldier. I always will be. I’m tremendously proud of the men I served with. However, yes, I do believe that we need to bring our troops home right now, because all we’re doing is making more terrorists and more people who hate America.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Staff Sergeant Timothy John Westphal, TJ Westphal, and Sergeant Dustin Flatt, speaking to us from Rocky Mountain PBS in Denver Colorado. And that does it for our broadcast. Also special thanks to Laila Al-Arian, who’s the co-author with Chris Hedges of this magazine-long piece, “The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness” in The Nation magazine. Thank you for joining us.
Orwell was right. Ignorance is bliss. Don't worry; be happy.