On March 13-16, I covered "Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan," a summit hosted by Iraq Veterans Against the War, in which more than 50 veterans and active-duty service members offered searing testimonies about the atrocities and war crimes they witnessed and committed against Iraqi and Afghan civilians. Their stories were shocking, agonizing and grim. Unfortunately, and perhaps predictably, the mainstream news outlets that packaged and sold us the war on Iraq ignored the Winter Soldiers entirely.
The landmark event was modeled after the 1971 Winter Soldier Investigation in which Vietnam veterans testified in a Detroit hotel about U.S. atrocities in Vietnam. Former Marine Scott Camil, 61, who spoke at the first Winter Soldier event, attended the conference along with seven fellow Vietnam-era witnesses. "When we came home, the World War II and Korean War veterans did not support our activities. I know how that feels," Camil told me. "We're not going to let it happen to these guys."
Had the mainstream media covered Winter Soldier more Americans might have heard the testimony of Clifton Hicks, who soberly described the aftermath of a massacre in Abu Ghraib, Baghdad, in which 700 to 800 Iraqi civilians were killed. "I will agree to swear to that till the day I die," he exclaimed, "I didn't see one enemy on that operation."
Americans may have also heard from Jon Michael Turner, a former Marine who said he shot an unarmed Iraqi in front of the man's father and friend. "The first round didn't kill him, after I had hit him up here in his neck area," Turner said. "And afterwards he started screaming and looked right into my eyes. So I looked at my friend...and I said, 'Well, I can't let that happen.' So I took another shot and took him out."
The voices of Iraqis whose lives have been irrevocably damaged and whose country has been thrown into chaos might also have finally reached the American public if major broadcast outlets had been present at Winter Soldier. Salam Talib, a computer engineering student, testified at Winter Soldier from his perspective as an Iraqi civilian. "What the American soldiers are talking about is everyday life for Iraqis. They're not even talking about 10 percent of what's happening there," Talib told me. "They are simply giving credibility to the stories that have been told over and over from Iraq by journalists, Iraqis and humanitarian organizations. The American soldiers are saying, 'We're here, we did it and it's true.' "
The cable news networks, newspapers and magazines willfully ignored the Winter Soldiers just as they ignored mountains of evidence during the run-up to war that the occupation of Iraq would have catastrophic consequences for both the U.S. and Iraq. Now, 4,000 American soldiers are gone and an entire country lays in ruins. I was among the independent journalists who appeared at Winter Soldier to report the dark truth about an occupation that is still largely concealed from the American public. In my video, co-produced with Laura Hanna, I captured Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in their most vulnerable moments, revealing their darkest memories, confessing their real-life nightmares.
We discovered that the trauma and pain of war never dissipate. Forty years after serving in Vietnam, Scott Camil, the original Winter Soldier, still can't talk about the atrocities he witnessed. See it for yourself.