Tuesday, January 22, 2008
the thunder and the laughter, the last thing they remember:
In 1971, Vietnam Veterans Against the War gathered together 100 veterans to testify about routinized atrocity in U.S. military operations in Vietnam. To call the Winter Soldier investigation controversial is the height of understatement. While it garnered little press attention at the time, nearly every Vietnam veteran knows what it is and has extremely strong feelings about it. To some, it represented unparalleled bravery; to others, unparalleled betrayal. Winter Soldier is responsible for John Kerry's political career.

This March, Iraq Veterans Against the War will present the findings of a new Winter Soldier investigation, just outside Washington DC. The spirit is exactly the same: to present an unsanitized portrait of the war from the perspective of those who fought it, in the hopes of stoking public outrage over what's done in our names, all bring the troops home. This time around, though, IVAW promises digital video of what Winter Soldier 2 will document, which, if Abu Ghraib is any indication, will be a big deal.

I preview the new Winter Soldier investigation here, as one of my first stories for The Washington Independent, my new journalistic home. A taste:
The project’s interview and verification committees are just getting started. But glimpses of the expected testimony are beginning to emerge. One of the early interviewees, a medic, told IVAW about treating a two-year old shot in the thigh by U.S. soldiers, and witnessing “the mutilation of the dead,” according to Jose Vasquez, 33, a former Army sergeant who heads Winter Soldier’s verification team. The public should expect to hear about “unnecessary killing of noncombatants on the battlefield,” said Vasquez, an anthropology graduate student at the City University of New York. (Vasquez himself filed as a conscientious objector after finding himself unable to participate in the Iraq war.) Indeed, a frequent theme among group members in interviews has been the intensity of manning checkpoints, where Iraqi civilians can die for simply not approaching a checkpoint slowly enough to reassure an apprehensive soldier who doesn’t speak their language.

Yet the organizers of Winter Soldier will consider the event a failure if it appears to blame soldiers and Marines for the war. “Imagine you’re out on a convoy and you get hit by an IED,” Millard said. “And the SOP [Standard Operating Procedure] is you fire in that direction of that fire that came in. That’s indiscriminate. Civilians get killed in that. It’s not the soldier’s fault. It’s not the civilian’s fault. It’s the occupation’s fault.” Millard, a recently-discharged Army National Guardsman from upstate New York, served in Iraq as a general’s assistant in Tikrit from October 2004 to October 2005. His job involved briefing senior officers on daily violent incidents and it led Millard to renounce the war as beneath the dignity of his comrades. “The common U.S. soldier is not a bloodthirsty animal,” he said. “The problem is the occupation of Iraq itself.”

A quick word about The Washington Independent. I'll say more about us later, in time for our hard launch on January 28. TWI is an attempt to fight a disturbing journalistic trend: the decline of investigative reporting in newspapers and magazines. I'm the national-security & foreign-policy correspondent. While we've been in soft-launch mode this month, I also wrote this piece about changes in security-clearance procedures at the State Department and how they've perversely sidelined qualified diplomats.

The idea behind the Independent is to maximize the internet's potential for thorough, no-bullshit journalism. Our blog, which we're going to call The Streak, will be part of a seamless continuum in the development of reported narrative -- in other words, we're going to build a story through long pieces (like the one above), continuing through blog posts and back again. In my opinion, it's a much more rational model for investigative journalism than what's on display in any medium right now. This is the most exciting thing I've done so far in journalism. The squad of reporters we've put together is bananas, as I keep learning at every editorial meeting and seeing in every new piece we publish. I hope you'll check us out and agree that we're going to be the realest to run it.

--Spencer Ackerman
There's a new website, http://www.ClearedCommunity.com, where security clearance abuse by government entities is exposed and discussed and where federal agencies are held to account.
Blogger Jess Sadick | 8:14 AM