6/20/03 8:06:41 PM Pacific Daylight Time
It's deja vu all over again (to borrow Yogi Berra's quote).
This just makes me want to scream!!!
Published on Thursday, June 19, 2003 by the London Evening Standard
'I Just Pulled the Trigger'
by Bob Graham
At first glance they appear to be the archetypal Band Of Brothers of
Hollywood myth, brave and honest men united in common purpose.
But a closer look at these American GIs, sweltering in the heat of an
unwelcoming Iraq, reveals the glazed eyes and limp expressions of
those who have witnessed a war they do not understand and have begun
to resent. By their own admission these American soldiers have killed
civilians without hesitation, shot wounded fighters and left others
to die in agony.
What they told me, in a series of extraordinary interviews, will make
uncomfortable reading for US and British politicians and senior
military staff desperate to prevent the liberation of Iraq turning
into a quagmire of Vietnam proportions, where the behavior of troops
feeds the hatred of an occupied people.
Sergeant First Class John Meadows revealed the mindset that has led
to hundreds of innocent Iraqi civilians being killed alongside
fighters deliberately dressed in civilian clothes. "You can't
distinguish between who's trying to kill you and who's not," he
said. "Like, the only way to get through s*** like that was to
concentrate on getting through it by killing as many people as you
can, people you know are trying to kill you. Killing them first and
These GIs, from Bravo Company of the 3/15th US Infantry Division, are
caught in an impossible situation. More than 40 of their number have
been killed by hostile forces since 1 May - when President Bush
declared major military operations were over - and the number of hit-
and-run attacks is on the increase. They face a resentful civilian
population and, hiding among it, a number of guerrilla fighters still
loyal to the old regime. A lone Iraqi sniper nicknamed The Hunter is
believed to have claimed his sixth American victim this week in a
suburb of Baghdad.
The man, said to be a former member of the Republican Guard Special
Forces, has developed a cult status among some Iraqis. One Baghdad
resident, Assad al Amari, said: "He is fighting for Iraq on his own.
There will be many more Americans killed because they cannot stop The
Hunter. He will be given the protection of people who will let him
use their homes for his shooting."
In this hostile atmosphere the men of Bravo Company are asked to
maintain order, yet at the same time win hearts and minds. It is not
a dilemma they feel able to resolve. They spoke to me - dressed in
uniforms they have worn for the past six weeks - at their base in
Fallujah. Here US troops killed 18 demonstrators at a pro-Saddam
rally soon after the war and now face local fighters bent on revenge.
Their attitude to these dangers is summed up by Specialist (Corporal)
Michael Richardson, 22. "There was no dilemma when it came to
shooting people who were not in uniform, I just pulled the trigger.
It was up close and personal the whole time, there wasn't a big
distance. If they were there, they were enemy, whether in uniform or
not. Some were, some weren't."
Specialist Anthony Castillo added: "When there were civilians there
we did the mission that had to be done. When they were there, they
were at the wrong spot, so they were considered enemy." In one major
battle - at the southern end of Baghdad at the intersection of the
main highways - the soldiers estimate about 70 per cent of the
enemy's 400-or-so fighters were dressed as civilians.
Sgt Meadows explained: "The fight lasted for about eight hours and
they just kept on coming all day from everywhere, from all sides.
They were all in plain clothes.
"We had dropped fliers a couple of days prior saying to people to get
out of the area if they didn't want to fight, so basically anyone who
was there was a combatant. If they were dumb enough to stand in front
of tanks or drive a car towards a tank, then they were there to
fight. On that day it took away the dilemma of who to fire at, anyone
who was there was a combatant."
Cpl Richardson added: "That day nothing went with the training. There
were females fighting; there were some that, when they saw you
f****** coming, they'd just drop their s*** and try to give up; and
some guys were shot and they'd play dead, and when you'd go by they'd
reach for their weapons. That day it was just f****** everything.
When we face women or injured that try to grab their weapons, we just
finish them off. You've gotta, no choice."
Such is their level of hatred they preferred to kill rather than
merely injure. Sgt Meadows, 34, said: "The worst thing is to shoot
one of them, then go help him." Sergeant Adrian Pedro Quinones, 26,
chipped in: "In that situation you're angry, you're raging. They'd
just been shooting at my men - they were putting my guys in a casket
and eight feet under, that's what they were trying to do.
"And now, they're laying there and I have to help them, I have a
responsibility to ensure my men help them." Cpl Richardson
said: "S***, I didn't help any of them. I wouldn't help the f******.
There were some you let die. And there were some you double-tapped."
He held out his hand as if firing a gun and clucked his tongue twice.
He said: "Once you'd reached the objective, and once you'd shot them
and you're moving through, anything there, you shoot again. You
didn't want any prisoners of war. You hate them so bad while you're
fighting, and you're so terrified, you can't really convey the
feeling, but you don't want them to live."
These soldiers have faced fighters from other Arab countries. "It
wasn't even Iraqis that we was killing, it was Syrians," said Sgt
Meadows. "We spoke to some of the people and Saddam made a call for
his Arab brothers for a holy war against us, and they said they came
here to fight us. Whadda we ever do to them?"
Cpl Richardson intervened: "S***, that didn't really matter who they
were. They wanted to fight us so they were the enemy. We had to take
over Baghdad, period, it didn't matter who was in there."
The GIs spoke of shooting civilians at roadblocks. Sgt Meadows
said: "When they used white flags we were told to stop them at 400
meters out and then strip them down naked then bring them through.
Most obeyed the order. We knew about others who had problems with
[Iraqis] carrying white flags and then opening up on our guys. We
knew about every trick they were trying to do. Then they'd use cars
to try and drive at us. They were men, women and children. That day
we shot up a lot of cars.
"We'd shoot warning shots at them and they'd keep coming, so we'd
kill them. We'd fire a warning shot over the top of them or on the
road. When people criticize us killing civilians they don't know that
a lot of these civilians were combatants, they really were . And they
The men have been traumatized by their experiences. Cpl Richardson-
said: "At night time you think about all the people you killed. It
just never gets off your head, none of this stuff does. There's no
chance to forget it, we're still here, we've been here so long. Most
people leave after combat but we haven't."
Sgt Meadows said men under his command had been seeking help for
severe depression: "They've already seen psychiatrists and the chain
of command has got letters back saying 'these men need to be taken
out of this situation'. But nothing's happened." Cpl Richardson
added: "Some soldiers don't even f****** sleep at night. They sit up
all f****** night long doing s*** to keep themselves busy - to keep
their minds off this f****** stuff. It's the only way they can handle
it. It's not so far from being crazy but it's their way of coping.
There's one guy trying to build a little pool out the back, pointless
stuff but it keeps him busy."
Sgt Meadows said: "For me, it's like snap-shot photos. Like pictures
of maggots on tongues, babies with their heads on the ground, men
with their heads halfway off and their eyes wide open and mouths wide
open. I see it every day, every single day. The smells and the torsos
burning, the entire route up to Baghdad, from 20 March to 7 April,
nothing but burned bodies."
Specialist Bryan Barnhart, 21, joined in: "I also got the images like
snapshots in my head. There are bodies that we saw when we went back
to secure a place we'd taken. The bodies were still there and they'd
been baking in the sun. Their bodies were bloated three times the
Sgt Quinones explained: "There are psychiatrists who are trying to
sort out their problems but they say it's because of long combat
environment. They know we need to be taken away from that
environment." But the group's tour of duty has been extended and the
men have been forced to remain as peacekeepers. Cpl Richardson
said: "Now we're in this peacekeeping, we're always firing off a
warning shot at people that don't wanna listen to you. You make up
the rules as you go along.
"Like, in Fallujah we get rocks thrown at us by kids. You wanna turn
round and shoot one of the little f*****s but you know you can't do
that. Their parents know if they came out and threw rocks we'd shoot
them. So that's why they send the kids out." Sgt Meadows said: "Can
you imagine being a soldier and being told 'you're fighting a war,
then when you finish you can go home'.
"You go and fight that war, and you win decisively, but now you have
to stay and stabilize the situation. We are having to go from a full
warfighting mindset to a peacekeeping mindset overnight. Right after
shooting at people who were trying to kill you, you now have to help
The anger towards their own senior officers is obvious. Cpl
Richardson said: "We weren't trained for this stuff now. It makes you
resentful they're holding us on here. It pisses everyone off, we were
told once the war was over we'd leave when our replacements get here.
Well, our replacements got here and we're still here."
Specialist Castillo said: "We're more angry at the generals who are
making these decisions and who never hit the ground, and who don't
get shot at or have to look at the bloody bodies and the burnt-out
bodies, and the dead babies and all that kinda stuff." Sgt Quinones
added: "Most of these soldiers are in their early twenties and late
teens. They've seen, in less than a month, more than any man should
see in a whole lifetime. It's time for us to go home."
On whether the war was one worth fighting, Sgt Meadows said: "I don't
care about Iraq one way or the other. I couldn't care less. [Saddam]
could still be in power and, to me, it wasn't worth leaving my family
for; for getting shot at and almost dying two or three times, there's
nothing worth that to me." Even though no Iraqis were involved, and
there is no proof Saddam was behind it, the attack on the World Trade
Center provides Cpl Richardson and many others with the justification
for invading Iraq.
"There's a picture of the World Trade Center hanging up by my bed and
I keep one in my Kevlar [flak jacket]. Every time I feel sorry for
these people I look at that. I think, 'They hit us at home and, now,
it's our turn.' I don't want to say payback but, you know, it's
pretty much payback."