Thursday marked the beginning of the 10th year of war in Afghanistan. There is much to protest about U.S. action there–some performed a die-in to highlight the use of drones (http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/asia/200657/us-drone-kills-7-militants-in-nw-pakistan)–and a group of veterans of The Global War on Terror used the day to launch a campaign that could bring meaningful change to actions in Afghanistan.
Together with a dozen or so other veterans, I arrived at Walter Reed hospital to launch a campaign to pressure political and military decision makers to halt the deployment of traumatized troops. A brief press conference was held out front of the hospital housing many whom the war has damaged physically, several members of our crew went inside to visit with the injured, and the rest of us began a march to focus on those damaged psychologically.
When I returned from a fourteen month deployment from Iraq in 2008, I applied as a conscientious objector and part of the process was to have a psychologist see if I was crazy so that I could be removed from the military for reasons other than moral conviction. The wait for the required fifteen minute meeting with the psychologist was three weeks! I could wait, but many of my comrades were having a much harder time calming the ghosts of war and this kind of wait time can seem like ages to a haunted mind. Several friends of mind were denied care or told to come back in six weeks and in the absence of professional help, self medicated with alcohol, sleeping pills, aerosol sprays, and drugs–prescription and non.
Some soldiers with psychological disorders did not even attempt to seek help. A newspaper article about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was taped on the wall of our offices and the word “PUSSY” written across it sent a clear message as to how soldiers seeking help were seen.
For the diagnosed and those too intimidated to, we marched with simple black and white signs stating “Stop the Deployment of Traumatized Troops.” For the 20% to 50% of those suffering with PTSD, some faced with redeployment, we marched. For the 20% of women reporting Military Sexual Trauma we marched. For the 33% of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who say they cannot see a mental health professional when they need to, we marched. (Facts at: http://www.ivaw.org/sites/default/files/documents/public/Fact_Sheet.pdf)
But the implications are greater too. When troops with psychological disorders are redeployed, given weapons and authority, and turned loose into a civilian population overseas, the results can not only be tragic, but also completely counterintuitive to the supposed reasons why the troops are there to begin with. The recently publicized Afgan “Kill Team” of soldiers who murdered for sport was reportedly spearheaded by a leader who carried over his practices from his Iraq deployment to Afghanistan; added to the long list of atrocities carried out in both countries and it doesn’t take much imagination to see why most people in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t perceive us as liberators and nation builders. If ever there was a recipe for infuriating a population, torturing it’s members and killing for sport seems like a surefire plan.
These thoughts swirled in our minds as we trekked six miles from Walter Reed to the Capitol. Mounting the steps of the a Senate office building, several veterans shared their stories as another press conference. Before we could end however, the Capitol Hill Police repeatedly warned us to leave; the conference was nearly concluded when the paddy wagon rolled up in a telling scene of our government’s priorities, we were removed to a nearby park.
But we would not be silenced. Regrouping, we marched into the halls of the senate offices. Our determined group went to each office of Senators on the Armed Services Committee, asking for legislative support, information on who determines deployment orders, and a congressional hearing.
Rushing over to Russia Today, we continued to get the word out that the longest war in U.S. history is damaging those who fight them and the civilian populations in the U.S., in Iraq, and in Afghanistan. In nine years, haven’t we learned that terror cannot eliminate terror?
by Josh Stieber