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'You Can't Wash Your Hands When They're Covered in Blood'
By Hart Viges, The Independent UK
Saturday 24 September 2005
My name is Hart Viges. September 11 happened. Next day I was in the recruiting office. I thought that was the way I could make a difference in the world for the better.
So I went to infantry school and jump school and I arrived with my unit of the 82nd Airborne Division. I was deployed to Kuwait in February 2003. We drove into Iraq because Third Infantry Division was ahead of schedule, and so I didn't need to jump into Baghdad airport.
As we drove into Samawa to secure their supplies my mortar platoon dropped numerous rounds on this town. I watched Kiowa attack helicopters fire Hellfire missile after Hellfire missile. I saw a C130 Spectre gunship ... it will level a town. It had belt-fed artillery rounds pounding with these super-Gatling guns.
I don't know how many innocents I killed with my mortar rounds. I have my imagination to pick at for that one. But I clearly remember the call-out over the radio saying "Green light on all taxi-cabs. The enemy is using them for transportation".
One of our snipers called back on the radio saying "Excuse me but did I hear that order correctly? Green light on all taxi cabs?" "Roger that soldier. You'd better start buckling up." All of a sudden the city just blew up. Didn't matter if there was an innocent in the taxi-cab - we laid a mortar round on it, snipers opened up.
Next was Fallujah. We went in without a shot. But Charlie Company decided they were going to take over a school for the area of operations. Protesters would come saying "Please get out of our school. Our children need this school. We need education".
They turned them down. They came back, about 40 to 50 people. Some have the bright idea of shooting AK-47s up in the air. Well a couple of rounds fell into the school ... They laid waste to that group of people.
Then we went to Baghdad. And I had days that I don't want to remember. I try to forget. Days where we'd take contractors out to a water treatment plant outside of Baghdad.
We'd catched word that this is a kind of a scary place but when I arrive there's grass and palm trees, a river. It's the first beautiful place that seemed untouched by the war in Iraq. As we leave, RPGs come flying at us. Two men with RPGs ran up in front of us from across the road.
"Drop your weapons". "Irmie salahak." They're grabbing on to women and kids so [we] don't fire. I can't take any more and swing my [gun] over. My sight's on his chest, my finger's on the trigger. And I'm trained to kill but this is no bogey man, this is no enemy. This is a human being. With the same fears and doubts and worries. The same messed-up situation.
I don't pull the trigger this time ... it throws me off. It's like they didn't tell me about this emotional attachment to killing. They tried to numb me, they tried to strip my humanity. They tried to tell me that's not a human being - that's a soft target.
So now, my imagination is running ... What if he pulled his trigger? How many American soldiers or Iraqi police, how many families destroyed because I didn't pull my trigger. After we leave this little village we get attack helicopters, Apaches, two Bradley fighting vehicles, and we go back. And we start asking questions. Where are they? Eventually they lead us to this hut where this family is living, and myself and [another soldier] started searching for AK-47s, for explosives, for RPGs, you know ... evidence. And all I can find is a tiny little pistol, probably to scare off thieves
Well because of that pistol we took their two young men ... Their mother is at my feet trying to kiss my feet like I deserve my feet to be kissed. Screaming, pleading. I don't need to speak Arabic to know love and concern and fear. I had my attack helicopter behind me, my Bradley fighting vehicle, my armour, my M4 [semi-automatic] with laser sight. I'm an 82nd Airborne killer. But I was powerless ... to ease this woman's pain.
After I came home I applied for conscientious objector [status]. I'm a Christian, what was I doing holding a gun to another human being? Love thy neighbour. Pray for those who persecute you, don't shoot them.
I get my conscientious objector packet approved. I'm free. It's all gone now, right? No! I still swerve at trash bags ... fireworks ... I can't express anything. All my relationships are falling apart because they can't fucking understand me. How do they know the pain I've gone through or the sights I've seen? The innocence gone, stripped, dead? I couldn't stand the pain. People were leaving me.
I couldn't cut my wrists. So I called the police. They come stomping through my door. I have my knife in my hand. "Shoot me." All of a sudden I was the man with the RPG, with all the guns pointed at him, thinking "Yes, we can solve the world's problems by killing each other". How insane is that? Lucky I lived through that episode. See, you can't wash your hands when they're covered in blood. The wounds carry on. This is what war does to your soul, to your humanity, to your family.
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Soldier's Chilling Testimony Fuels Demonstrations against Iraq War
By Andrew Buncombe
The Independent UK
Saturday 24 September 2005
A former American soldier who served in Iraq and filed for conscientious objector status has given an extraordinary insight into the war's dehumanising effects - an insight that helps explain why the British and American public has turned sharply against the occupation.
On the eve of large anti-war demonstrations in Washington and London, Hart Viges has told how indiscriminate fire from US troops is likely to have killed an untold number of Iraqi civilians. Mr. Viges, 29, said he was still haunted by the memories of what he experienced and urged President George Bush to withdraw US troops from Iraq.
"I don't know how many innocents I killed with my mortar rounds," Mr. Viges, who served with the 82nd Airborne Division, said during a presentation this week at American University in Washington. "In Baghdad, I had days that I don't want to remember. I try to forget," he added
The rare insight into the chaos of the combat - including an order to open fire on all taxis in the city of Samawa because it was believed Iraqi forces were using them for transport - comes as US support for the war in Iraq slumps to an all-time low. Polls suggest that 60 per cent now believe the war was wrong. Mr. Bush's personal approval ratings are also at a record low.
British attitudes to the Iraq war have shown a nation divided over the decision to invade but by last October the balance had tilted 46 per cent to 40 per cent towards an anti-war position, according to an ICM poll published in The Guardian.
Not since August 1968, the high point of the opposition to the war in Vietnam, has there been a majority of people in America who believe that an ongoing conflict was wrong. That historic turning point in public opinion came seven months after North Vietnamese forces launched the devastating Tet Offensive, as the divided Democratic Party Convention in Chicago was choosing Hubert Humphrey rather than Eugene McCarthy as its presidential candidate and 10,000 anti-war protesters fought pitched battles with police in the streets.
Now, in September 2005, campaigners say it has reached the point where opposition to the war in Iraq has become a mainstream issue. "I certainly think this should encourage people to go to Washington and participate in the peace demos," said Kathy Kelly, a veteran campaigner with the group Voices in the Wilderness.
"The politicians are going to counter that these demonstrators just come to Washington for a day and then go back to their normal lives. But I think they are going to have to realise that when people are out in the streets saying 'Bring them home now' they are saying the same thing as what many of the voters think."
She added: "My sense is that people are having a serious disillusionment with any sense of competence with the leaders of this country and that makes many people very afraid."
Mr. Bush's response to the falling public support has been a stubborn refusal to accept any error and to vow the US will remain in Iraq and will not " abandon the mission".
He has described the peace demonstrators who want him to withdraw forces as well-intentioned but wrong.
Yesterday, US forces in Iraq announced two more of its troops had been killed west of Baghdad. One was killed by a roadside bomb between the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, the other by small arms fire in Ramadi.
In Baghdad, a suicide bomber riding on a small public bus set off explosives in a bustling open-air bus terminal, killing at least five people and wounding eight. Also in Baghdad, gunmen killed a member of the commission charged with ensuring that former members of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime were banned from the Iraqi hierarchy.
Earlier, authorities said a second member of the 323-member Supreme National Commission for de-Baathification had also been killed but the committee's head, Ali al-Lami, said the second member had been abducted on Wednesday by insurgents and was freed on Thursday by the Iraqi army.
The latest casualties add to a total of US deaths in Iraq that stands at more than 1,900. No one knows precisely how many Iraqi civilians have been killed as a result of the war but a report published last year in The Lancet suggested that up to 100,000 may have lost their lives.
Hart Viges' own journey into the chaos and violence of Iraq started on 11 September 2001. The day after he watched al- Qa'ida terrorists fly airliners into targets in New York and Washington he quit his job as a waiter in Seattle and signed up for the US Army.
Deployed to the Middle East in early 2003, he saw action in Baghdad and Fallujah, among other hot spots.
Despite his growing horror with what he was experiencing, it was only when he watched Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ, that he decided to file for conscientious objector status. "I consider myself a Christian and I thought Jesus wasn't talking smack," he told the American-Statesman newspaper, in his current home of Austin, Texas.
Mr. Viges visited Washington this week as part of an anti-war protest organised by Cindy Sheehan, the mother who camped outside Mr. Bush's ranch at Crawford, Texas, over the summer to protest against the war in which her son was killed.