Former Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) board chair, Garett Reppenhagen, spent part of his weekend investigating the well-being of Occupy Oakland's most recent casualty, Iraq veteran Kayvan Sabeghi. It turns out that Sabeghi is not a member of IVAW. If Sabeghi had been a member, IVAW would've done all they could to help him as they had another victim of Oakland Police violence, Scott Olsen.
Although Reppenhagen's quick to add that -- if asked -- he'd help anyone attacked in such a manner. He explains, "Police departments, sheriff's departments have codes: protect and serve." To Reppenhagen, beating an unarmed civilian is neither.
Since his return from combat, Reppenhagen has tirelessly opposed the Iraq war as well as all recent acts of U.S. aggression -- including the violent attack of Occupation protesters.
Reppenhagen doesn't think his vocation will get any easier now that President Obama has promised to withdraw troops from Iraq by the end of the year. IVAW are against the war, and by war, Reppenhagen means the Global War on Terror. For him the war isn't really about Iraq. "Iraq is just a battlefield." Reppenhagen explains, "I don't subscribe to us fighting this war on terror. Anything that causes us fear, anything that can make us change our position -- our political position -- is terror. Just because American soldiers are out of harm's way in Iraq doesn't mean everything's good now."
Officially IVAW has three primary goals.
Reppenhagen says that first the U.S. has got to be, "looking at conflicts, looking at foreign policy, why we fight wars and how we fight wars."
Secondly IVAW is fighting for benefits. And not just benefits for the honorably discharged but for "people who got kicked out of the military. They deserve benefits too. They lost their benefits because of what the war did to them." Reppenhagen says that many of the one million veterans in prison, the dishonorably discharged and the 18 military and veteran suicides a day are statistics that point to behaviors caused -- to varying degrees -- by their military service.
And the third IVAW objective is reparations. IVAW wants to help "the countries the U.S. has gone to war with go through reconciliation." Reppenhagen points out that once you've been "kicking in doors" and "taken people into custody," reestablishing good faith is a long process of admitting wrong doing and settling debts.
The last objective -- the one where the U.S. admits wrong-doing -- is a particularly personal one for Reppenhagen. "I was a sniper between 2004 and 2005. Paul Bremmer fled the country. Both Battles of Fallujah occurred. There was the re-election of George Bush and Abu Ghraib was exposed."
Reppenhagen disclosed that as a member of a small six-man sniper team they were occasionally "sent out to kill basically anyone we saw fire a mortar or plant an IED. I was also kicking in doors. I got into a lot of fire fights. It was difficult, a lot of times we didn't have an enemy to fight back against. When we got hit we would overreact."
Reppenhagen remembers going into Fallujah after the residents were told to leave, "we went into a free fire zone. Fallujah is a city in the desert. Many people had nowhere to go. A lot of innocent people died." He feels the attacks on American soldiers and contractors which led up to the battles of Fallujah were "an excuse to go into Fallujah and cause hell."
Now, here in the U.S., he sees police departments outfitted in riot gear fighting against unarmed civilians in the streets. And he thinks the police should refuse the orders to attack demonstrators when life and property are not at risk. Reppenhagen believes that with rubber bullets and bean bags, officials are "giving them [police] a weapon and telling them it's not lethal. That gives them a free-fire zone," comparing it to the permission he was given to fire on innocents in Fallujah. "It's brutal and horrible and unnecessary force to shoot someone in the head with a bean bag gun."
Reppenhagen wants the policemen who deal with the protesters to remember that their job requires "risk transfer." Both military soldiers and domestic police accept the risk of keeping the peace. When they fear more for their own safety and stop protecting the innocent from harm then the risk transfer has failed. Reppenhagen believes the police must refuse orders that target unarmed people and should stand down saying, "No, I am not going to shoot."
Reppenhagen can't take back what he's done following orders. But he continues to struggle against unjustified armed aggression so the "people I've hurt, people I've killed, won't die in vain. I want to do right by it, I can never do enough, there's never enough, but I'm going to try."
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