Marine more a hero than his president

I HAVE been taken to task for calling Jason Washburn a hero in a recent column here.Washburn, you may recall, is a former US marine who chose to speak out against the war in Iraq.

Aidan Semmens

I HAVE been taken to task for calling Jason Washburn a hero in a recent column here.

Washburn, you may recall, is a former US marine who chose to speak out against the war in Iraq. Appalled by what he saw as human rights abuses and random killings, he accused not the front-line troops but the officers and politicians responsible for their orders.

According to a serving marine who wrote to me, he is a liar. He claimed Washburn had retracted his public statement about events in Haditha in 2005, which amounted either to a military action or a massacre of innocent civilians, depending whose version you believe.

Washburn originally spoke on his web page of a rampage in which 26 civilians were killed.

He has since revised that to say the civilians were “incidentally” killed while members of his squad were repelling an attack.

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That's an important change, but it doesn't sound to me like the retraction of a liar. It sounds like being careful not to prejudice current legal proceedings against four marines.

If the accused had been British soldiers and their trial was taking place here, I'd have to be similarly careful with my language. I certainly couldn't use a word like “rampage”.

Washburn's toned-down account does nothing to weaken his central argument that US troops once welcomed by many Iraqis have long since worn out that welcome.

He says: “They wanted Saddam out as much as anybody.

“They thought we were going to help them rebuild, which is what we promised to do - but instead all we did was continuously destroy.

“The longer we're there, the more we destroy. Little by little people became less and less grateful and more and more angry.”

The marine who wrote to me - actually a US military public affairs officer - goes on to say: “We are the best professional fighting force in the world.

“You think mistakes get made? Of course they do. Horrible things have happened - and we've been the first to tell the public when they have.

“The level at which we release information is unprecedented in history.”

Hmm. “Best fighting force” sounds almost a contradiction in terms to me.

Best in what way? And at what - killing people?

Just how horrible do things have to be before they become unforgivable?

As for mistakes, whatever exactly led to the deaths at Haditha it was quite a mistake. If Jason Washburn and others are to be believed, it was far from being an isolated incident either.

You could say it's a mistake for the Americans to be in Iraq at all.

Their justification for invading - that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction - was either a colossal mistake or a colossal lie. Or both.

And as for the suggestion that the American forces don't keep secrets - pardon?

What exactly is the meaning of that mealy-mouthed phrase “extraordinary rendition”? It's code for what plain language would call kidnapping or abduction.

Why are snatched prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay rather than on US soil? So the captors can circumvent their own laws.

Meanwhile, foul practices such as “waterboarding” are re-defined so the President can claim America doesn't use torture.

To my ears that sounds a lot more like lying than Jason Washburn's supposed retraction. And frankly it makes me sick.

In fairness, it should be said that not every country would allow a public meeting like last weekend's Winter Soldier II to take place at all.

Washburn was among the speakers at the event, in Maryland near Washington DC.

He and others told of tactics to cover up the killing of innocent Iraqis, such as planting weapons on bodies.

Machine-gunner John Turner confessed grimly: “After my first kill I was congratulated. He was innocent. He was walking back to his house and I killed him in front of his father and friend.”

In testimony reminiscent of some Vietnam veterans, Vincent Emmanuel said: “We took fire while trying to blow up a bridge. Many of the attackers were part of the general population.

“This led to our squad shooting at everything and anything in order to push through the town. I remember myself emptying magazines into the town, never identifying a target.”

Garret Reppenhagen said the Geneva Convention - the international rules of war - were quickly thrown out of the window in Iraq.

He said: “We found rapidly we were killing Iraqis in horrible ways. But we had to in order to remain safe ourselves. The war is the atrocity.”

All of which makes you wonder who should be on trial - the Haditha marines who, if not precisely carrying out orders, were apparently doing what their “superiors” encouraged them to do?

Or the commander-in-chief who ordered the war?

PREVIEWING the Winter Soldier meeting here two weeks ago, I predicted that the mainstream US media would ignore it. They did.

A few local papers and small independent magazines were represented, which is how I'm able to bring you quotes from the event. But where were CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS or the major newspaper groups?

After five years of terror and mayhem in Iraq, criticism of US involvement from those who really know is still off-message for American's supposedly free press.

And the States still claims to be a democracy?

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