War crimes : Iraq : Veteran speaks out


Richard Moore

Subject:  ZNet Update & IVAW Interview 
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005 09:17:25 -0500
From: "Michael Albert" <•••@••.•••>
To: <•••@••.•••>

"We've Seen the Inner Workings and Felt the Consequences"

Iraq War Vet Pat Resta Speaks Out About the War and

Patrick Resta Interviewed by Derek Seidman

I want to discuss Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW),
but first a little background on you. Can you tell us
about your service in Iraq? When were you in Iraq?

I served as a medic in a tank battalion in Iraq from March
to November of 2004. I went over there with the North
Carolina Army National Guard's 30th Brigade Combat Team
and we were assigned to the regular Army's 1st Infantry
Division. I had two main jobs while I was there. I was
either working in our clinic where we saw everything from
the cold and flu to sports injuries and gunshot wounds, or
I was going out with platoons on patrols of towns, roads,
or to get supplies

Were you critical of the war before you were sent to Iraq?
How did your feelings toward the war and occupation change
while you were there?

I was definitely critical of the war before it began and I
protested it during the build up, after it started, and
until I left. When I first got to Fort Jackson (South
Carolina) in October of 2001, I was meeting all of these
people being called out of the Individual Ready Reserve
and they were telling me that an invasion of Iraq was
next. I was skeptical at first, but when it hit the papers
I realized that those people warning me had honestly

Once I got there, what I saw was a lot worse than what I
could have ever imagined. All of the things we had been
told that we were going there to do were shown
unequivocally to be lies. We were told we weren't supposed
to treat Iraqi civilians unless they were about to die and
only if that injury was a result of an attack directed at
us or inflicted by us. Our supervisor told my platoon that
"the Geneva Conventions don't exist in Iraq and that's in
writing if any of you want to see it."

He really said that? What did he mean? How did this make
you feel?

Those were his exact words in front of about eight
soldiers. I think it caught us all initially by surprise,
that someone in command would say such a thing. Obviously,
he wasn't coming up with that on his own. He'd been
instructed that it was the policy in place and to make
sure that it was followed.

He wanted us to put aside any reservations we had about
doing things that violated the Geneva Conventions, our
roles as non combatants, or our ethics. Again, this stuff
isn't something a sergeant just makes up laying in his
bunk at night. This is coming from the top on down and
it's a shame that the people responsible for propagating
these policies will never be held accountable. Hearing it
said openly and publicly definitely didn't make me feel
comfortable with my leadership or with the direction that
the military was headed in.

You could have been held accountable for violating the
rules of the Geneva Convention. Had you ever thought about
reporting what he said so he-or whoever made that
policy-could be held responsible?

Of course, I thought of reporting him, but who would I
turn him in to? His boss was telling him to say that. I
think that when you look at it these things, they are
coming from the Secretary of Defense and probably higher.
I decided that I wasn't going to do anything that I wasn't
comfortable doing and take note if I witnessed anything
that I believed to be illegal. I think that's all someone
can do in that kind of a situation.

Did you have other experiences that had a similar
disillusioning effect on you?

My unit got to our base inside Iraq almost a year to the
day after the war started. I think that for most of us the
WMD issue had become a joke at that point. I was
repeatedly told that we were going there to help the Iraqi
people. Shortly after getting there we were told that we
weren't to treat Iraqi civilians unless they were about to
die and that their injury had been caused by an attack or
perceived attack on US forces- things like people being
shot at checkpoints, roadside bombs meant for us that
injured civilians, or car bombs meant for us that injured
civilians. Some captain isn't making these rules up in his
tent; these come from the top and have been Department of
Defense policy since day one.

Civilians were turned away at our gate and told to go use
their own facilities. Once you see these facilities it's
readily apparent why they're not being used. The hospitals
in my area had only one type of antibiotic, no glass in
the windows, little if any functioning diagnostic
equipment, reused surgical instruments without proper
sterilization, and on and on.

Even when on patrol in towns, we were expected to turn
civilians away. Our leadership would have informal
investigations if they thought any medicine was missing
and had been given to civilians. They kept basic life
saving medical equipment under lock and key in a shipping
container. I was really sickened by the total lack of
value they had for any life, American or Iraqi. 

The events of 9/11 were especially tragic for you- your
aunt and uncle were killed in the World Trade Center. How
did this personal tragedy affect your views on the war and
what you were made to do in Iraq?

I certainly felt that it was misguided and a total
misallocation of resources. What really bothered me though
was hearing people in the military say that that was why
we were there or that weapons of mass destruction had been
found. All of the misconceptions that the American public
has are repeated by some of the people there that should
know better. There are certainly those within the military
that believe that we are there for some kind of revenge. I
don't think that this country needs any more enemies in
the world, and that's all we're creating by being in Iraq.
To see the children being radicalized by what they were
seeing and the way that they were living gives me pause
when I think about how the world will look in twenty

Speaking of the situation in Iraq, what can you tell us
about the effects of war and occupation on Iraqis?

I didn't see any improvement in the situation for the
locals during my time there. The most I saw being done for
the civilian infrastructure was the paving of some roads.
The real construction and real money are going to build
large military complexes so that the US military can set
up a permanent presence in Iraq. We were eighteen months
into the war and the Iraqi hospital still didn't have
glass in some of its windows and only one type of

When did you join IVAW and what made you decide to join?

I joined IVAW at their first formal national meeting here
in Philly in January 2005. I got back to the states two
days before Thanksgiving in 2004. At a Thanksgiving party
I met Jim Talib, who was a member of IVAW. It was a
strange night, and neither of us really wanted to talk
about the war. It's easier to try and put all that behind
you and try to get on with your life. But, at the same
time you realize that you can't remain silent because it
will continue and get stronger. My main motivation has
always been to stop other servicemen and women from having
to go through what I went through. My job as a medic was
to look out for soldiers' morale, welfare, and safety.
It's a job I took very seriously and I'm doing more
towards that end now than I ever did in the military. The
leadership of the military and politicians has abdicated
that responsibility and I think that if ever our men and
women in the military needed an advocate, it's right

But you were hesitant to get involved at first. Why was
this? How did you actually get active? Where did you

It's not easy for vets to get out there and become active
and I think people in the movement need to appreciate that
a lot more than they do. They have to deal with a lot of
issues like PTSD, and some are still in the military and
subject to harassment, being made to feel anti-troops and
so on. People that have been there and witnessed what's
going on have the most powerful voice to inform the
American public at large of the realities of this war.

Jim Talib actually signed me up for a talk without telling
me. He said that people really needed to hear my story.
So, two days before this talk he calls and tells me about
it and says that I should probably start writing notes. I
definitely wasn't ready for it and it was difficult. I'd
never spoken publicly before, and to add that to only
being home for about a month, it was tough. That first
night I spoke out about the war was at a library in a
suburb of Philly to a full house, and the local media even
turned out and heavily covered it. 

You mentioned PTSD. A lot of noise was made about the
recent 2,000th death amongst US soldiers in Iraq, but this
is just the tip of the iceberg.

Well, I think you have a lot of issues any time that you
talk about the casualties from this war. The first issue
being the reports that only soldiers that die in Iraq or
Kuwait are counted on the killed in action lists. That's
to say that soldiers that die of injuries days, weeks, or
months later in Germany or the US are not counted as
having been killed by the war.

The second issue being the "wounded" of this war. Soldiers
are surviving injuries that they never would have in the
past and are expected to return to society with horrific
disabilities. I was just reading a Washington Post article
about a soldier that was a triple amputee and had a
traumatic brain injury. Also, those with mental health
issues from this war are not counted. I think that they
are some of the most dangerous injuries because of the
difficulty in diagnosing and treating them.

Did you experience any form of PTSD upon your return, and
do you still?

I did have some problems when I first got back. I think
that it's hard for anyone who has been in that environment
to switch back to the way they were before they went at
the snap of a finger. That's why I think that it's so
important for the men and women coming back to get in
touch with other vets and to know that they're not alone
in the things that they're going through. I was very lucky
to meet a lot of guys shortly after I got back and it
helped me out a great deal. =09

Do you think there are a lot of returning soldiers who are
against the war and occupation, but that carry the same
kinds of fears, doubts, and sense of isolation that you
initially had when you returned from Iraq?

I absolutely believe that that's the case. The
overwhelming desire is to put all of that behind you and
to get on with your life. It's not fun to dwell on some of
those things, so school, work, and other things become a
distraction that you need. It takes most people a while to
digest what they've seen and to decide where they want to
go with it.

You mentioned before that you believe some soldiers are
hesitant to speak out for fear of being seen as
"anti-troops". What do you think of the "support the
troops "rationale"? How do you think IVAW can challenge

Maybe it's a little jaded, but I look at it this way. When
I was over there, I didn't want to get stale brownies or a
five minute phone card in the mail. I wanted the American
people demanding to know why hundreds of soldiers are dead
for lies. Because they were sent into a country that was
no threat to this one without basic equipment, ammunition,
training, or even so much as a plan. The only way that you
can support the troops is to demand answers and to hold
people accountable.  

Do you think the example of soldiers and vets like
yourself speaking out helps increase the confidence of
others who feel uneasy about their experiences in Iraq?

Absolutely, I think that if we didn't have the guys in
VVAW (Vietnam Veterans Against the War) to set an example
for us many of us wouldn't have come out publicly. The
military is a strange place when you start to question the
party line. You feel ostracized and you start to wonder if
you're the only one that feels the way that you do. So, I
think it's important that members of the military know
they have a place to go, that they will be welcomed
(mostly), and that they see that the American public wants
to know the truth. We're not a partisan organization; we
talk about the issues that aren't being addressed and are
costing people their lives.

I went into the military as a medic because I wanted to be
a part of taking care of the health, safety, and morale of
soldiers. I realized while I was in Iraq that I could a
lot more towards that end outside of the military than I
ever could inside it. Really, there are two wars going on
right now; one to end the actual war and another one to
get the men and women that return the care that they

How would you articulate the basic mission of IVAW?

IVAW has a three part platform: one, an immediate
withdrawal of all US forces. Two, real aid directly to the
people of Iraq to rebuild that country. And three, real
healthcare (including mental) for the veterans of this
conflict. A lot of our members also work on other issues
as well, such as radiological munitions, educating kids
about the realities of military service, educating members
of the military on the conscientious objector process, and
setting up sessions where vets of the Iraq War can get
together and talk about the war.

How big is the organization right now? How do you view
IVAW's future prospects for growth? What are some of the
biggest obstacles towards growth (in size and influence)
for IVAW?

IVAW was founded by six people in July of 2004 and has
grown to three hundred members in just fifteen months.
Vets are definitely looking for a way to get involved in
stopping this war, and as soon as they find out we exist
they join and get active. As time goes on we will get
stronger and stronger because resentment is building
within the military. The biggest obstacle we face is just
getting our name out there and letting vets know a focused
voice exists for them to help stop this war. We are almost
completely funded by donations so we can't afford
expensive advertisements in the mainstream media. We rely
on word of mouth and face-to-face meetings at protests and
other anti war events.

Do you work with other antiwar military-related
organizations like Military Families Speak Out (MFSO,
http://www.mfso.org), Gold Star Families for Peace (GSFP,
http://www.gsfp.org), and Veterans for Peace (VFP,
http://www.veteransforpeace.org)? How do you see IVAW's
relationship to these organizations?

We work with MFSO, GSFP, and VFP quite often. I think that
vets and their families have the clearest and strongest
voice to speak the truths about this war. My wife joined
MFSO shortly after I left for Iraq and members of my
unit's Family Support Group cursed at her. She actually
sent me an email while I was still there about IVAW first

How do you see antiwar soldiers and veterans being able to
affect public opinion on the war and occupation?

I think that those of us who have been there and our
families are the most qualified to talk about this war.
We've seen the inner workings and felt the consequences.
We speak in a clear voice about the issues, and largely
put aside the politics. To me this isn't about politics,
it's about principles. The principle that as Americans the
only values we should be exporting to other countries are
peace and social justice. The principle that those
responsible for this criminal misuse of the military must
be held accountable so something like this never happens
again. It'll definitely be a long fight and I would
beseech everyone out there to get involved. Many
organizations need your help and would be grateful to
receive it. Dr. King said it best, "Our lives begin to end
when we stop speaking out about the things that matter."
As someone who took an oath to do so, I will continue to
defend this country and its Constitution against all
enemies- foreign and domestic.

As someone looking to organize vets against the war and
occupation, how responsive has the civilian antiwar
movement been? Any criticisms?

I know that the Rolling Stone article about the antiwar
effort didn't enthuse a lot of people on the far left, but
I thought that it was right on the money. We have to start
looking at how to get the average American involved and on
our side. By having a protest that is supposed to be only
about getting us out of Iraq and then letting it get
hijacked by a bunch of political opportunists does nothing
to keep the people from middle America at their first
protest coming back. But, that's always been the case and
it's why the movement isn't taken seriously and never goes
anywhere. Too many egos get in the way and people do
offensive things that turn people off. A lot of the stuff
in D.C. on the weekend of September 24th was just beyond
the pale, it was disrespectful to the reason that I was

You have to unite people around a cause like the war that
they already agree with you about, and then get them
thinking about how their government behaves in other
areas. The Right was able to tie together all of their
disparate movements and fringes and agree on basic
principles to advance their overall agenda and that's why
they're winning right now. It's a shame that we can't do
the same and get to work on accomplishing some of the
things that we care about so deeply.

Patrick Resta is the New England organizer for IVAW
(www.ivaw.net). He can be reached at •••@••.•••

Derek Seidman lives in Providence, RI. He co-edits the
radical youth journal Left Hook (www.lefthook.org). He can
be reached at •••@••.•••.

This article first appeared on www.mrzine.org and

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