Iraq Veterans Tell Congress “You Have Failed Us And You Have Blood On Your Hands”
“We The People Are Fed Up. We The People Are Ready To Rise Up And Take Back Our Democracy”
Other demonstrations against the war in Iraq have been larger, but the one that happened in Washington, D.C. this [September 15] was significant in another way because of a very different feel about it.
Contingents of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW ) http://www.ivaw.org and Veterans for Peace http://www.veteransforpeace.org lined up at the front of the march, sponsored by the International A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, stepping off on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House.
One sight, never before seen in a protest march nor certainly any parade in the nation, was the IVAW “color guard.” Geoff Millard, President D.C. Chapter of IVAW, dressed in full desert camouflage barked, “IVAW. Fall in. Columns of four.” Immediately, to the front of the rows of veterans marched seven of their number, each holding erect a different flag.
Following tradition, the U.S. flag was in the lead, except this time it was upside-down. In a straight line followed six more flags, all black, each with a different corporate logo—one for Halliburton Corp., Bechtel Corp., Lockheed-Martin Corp., Blackwater Corp., CACI Corp., and Dyncorp Corp — all on the very short list of winners in this conflict.
Making the color guard stand out even more prominently in grim relief, Carlos Arrendondo solemnly pulled a small, flag-draped casket on a carriage. On the casket stood the oversized photograph of his son that accompanies him everywhere, and a pair of empty, desert combat boots that belonged to him before he was killed in Iraq.
The words spoken by the solemn-faced IVAW members were even more arresting than the visuals they carried.
A young vet led a sing-song, call-and-response cadence familiar to soldiers everywhere. The answers echoed off the houses of power and back to him. “Who Are We?” “IRAQ VETERANS.” “Whatta We Say?” “WAR IS NOT A GAME!”
A platoon of America’s finest young men and women, raised in a society that idolizes all things martial, indoctrinated during months of basic training, highly skilled as riflemen, tank operators, police, satellite communications operators and medics — proficient in every skill needed to run the world’s most powerful
military, marched confidently down the main street of their nation’s capital, chanting “Troops Out Now. Iraq for Iraqis” and “No Justice, No Peace. U.S. Out of the Middle East!”
Minutes later, the IVAW’s confident message came under attack as their front rank approached a thousand or so angry, screaming people calling themselves “A Gathering of Eagles,” occupying three blocks of sidewalk reserved for them by police.
Their snarled taunts and invective were quickly drowned when the vets bellowed in unison, “Support the Troops. WE ARE THE TROOPS!”
Then in one of the most memorable moments of the day, IVAW Board of Directors member, Adam Kokesh, marching in command alongside the color guard, ordered, “Column, HALT! Left FACE!” whereupon he spun on his heel, faced the angry crowd, and held for several long seconds his best USMC salute.
The surprise maneuver left the gathered eagles momentarily taken aback and the crowd cheering.
The final action began to move when Kokesh stood to read a letter he had sent to members of Congress:
We have come before you today with a simple message: as a representation of the people you have failed us and you have blood on your hands.
This is blood that the American people will not allow to continue to be spilled in our name any longer.
Today we are marching in solidarity with the Iraqi people who want the occupation to end.
It is fully within your power to stop this tragedy.
You have just heard the testimony of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. General Casey was replaced by General Petraeus because he would not support the President’s agenda of keeping as many troops deployed as long as possible, keeping our military teetering at the breaking point.
General Petraeus was selected for this position not only because of his abilities as a soldier, but also for political purposes. When he testified before you he was acting in his role as a political appointee.
He told you the surge was working. This is the same absurd optimism that we have been hearing since the beginning of this occupation from its proponents: the insurgency is in its last throes; we are turning the corner. Why do you still believe these people?
We have come before you to ask that you consider the cost in human life of this conflict so far.
We are also here to tell you that we will not stand for this corruption of our democracy any longer. We the people are in the streets.
We the people are fed up.
We the people are ready to rise up and take back our democracy.
The Empowered Patriots