Washburn is a real American hero

JASON WASHBURN is a hero. A genuine, accredited, paid-up American war hero.Like a lot of other young men, he joined the military shortly after the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 that have come to be known simply as 9/11.

Aidan Semmens

JASON WASHBURN is a hero. A genuine, accredited, paid-up American war hero.

Like a lot of other young men, he joined the military shortly after the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 that have come to be known simply as 9/11.

He fought in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He was there again, on his third tour of duty, in November 2005 when the now-infamous killing of 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians took place in Haditha.

But it is none of his deeds as a squad leader in the marines that makes him a hero. It is the moral courage he has shown since coming home.

For he has put himself on the line to speak out publicly about what he saw and heard as a serving member of the US forces.

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He has broken the code of silence about routine abuses of basic human rights. Like the right to life.

And in doing so he has brought down a cascade of hatred and abuse upon his head, as he must have known he would.

Google his name and you will quickly find some of that abuse - once you've weeded out the references to a basketball player of the same name. You will also find the article, from a British newspaper, in which he spoke out, putting himself on the front line of what we might reasonably call the War for Truth.

Californian Washburn, 28, will be one of the speakers at a four-day event beginning a week today in Washington DC.

Organised by the protest group Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), it will be called Winter Soldier II, after a similar gathering of disaffected Vietnam veterans in 1971.

That first Winter Soldier event was largely ignored by the mainstream American media - as next weekend's meeting is expected to be. Mass press and TV in the self-styled Land of the Free are bound as closely to the establishment agenda as they continue to be in post-Soviet Russia.

Nevertheless, one measure of how influential it was considered to be is how much effort and vitriol is still poured out to tarnish the reputations of those who gave testimony.

With that in mind, organisers of the upcoming Winter Soldier event have gone to considerable trouble to weed out possible liars and fantasists from their list of speakers.

Washburn and others are already subject to an internet hate campaign, but they believe that having literally “been there, done that” they have a right - even a duty - to tell their stories.

Washburn's story begins with his arrival on Iraqi soil.

“I still believed everything we were force-fed - weapons of mass destruction and possibly even a nuclear weapon.

“We felt like, we're going to go in, overthrow this evil dictator and give these people some peace finally. We thought we were doing a good thing.”

Others have spoken of Iraqi citizens at this point welcoming the invading troops. Washburn speaks rather of meeting little resistance.

“There were massive amounts of artillery strikes before we even invaded. We saw streets full of bodies - women and children, body parts, extremely indiscriminate. I'm talking about rolling through villages here, not military encampments. I didn't see any army uniforms or weapons.”

After that came home raids, more than he could remember. “We would pick up people who had nothing to do with anything, keep them locked up until they came up with something.”

Washburn was in Haditha the night of the massacre. He did not witness the killings, but knows others who did.

He believes the furious rampage was no one-off event, as it has been portrayed. He and others like him say common soldiers were encouraged to believe they could get away with random acts of the most extreme violence.

Washburn concludes: “The people on the ground are looking at serious prison time. Like life. The people who were giving orders were only relieved of command. I don't think that's right.”

It's not right, but it's the way of George W Bush's America. Just as it was the way of Lyndon B Johnson's and Richard Nixon's America.

No doubt it was the way of the Roman empire. It is the way of every land ruled by patriotism and military might.

MEANWHILE, in Somalia, on the eastern horn of Africa, two US missiles hit a private house on Monday.

Officials in Washington immediately declared the attack was aimed at “known terrorists”. It was the fourth American strike in Somalia in 14 months.

The owner of the house in Kismayu told news agency reporters his daughter was among the wounded and four of his cows had been killed in the attack.

Not much of an incident really. Just another small example of the way the US throws its weight around. The bully's idea of winning friends and influencing people.

Makes you proud to be America's best friend, doesn't it?

TWO front-page headlines on the day Prince Harry was sent home from Afghanistan:

“Front-line prince killed 30 Taliban” and “This is about as normal as I'm ever going to get”.

If you believed the first one (I don't) it would make the second very, very worrying.