Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Soldier of Conscience Is Coming Home

By Paul Rockwell
t r u t h o u t | Report

Tuesday 26 September 2006

I don't want to kill innocent people.
- Darrell Anderson

A soldier of conscience is coming home. On Saturday, September 30th, US Army war-resister Darrell Anderson, supported by Ontario military families and Iraq war veterans, will cross the Peace Bridge from Canada to the US.

When asked why Darrell, after years of exile, is turning himself over to the military, his mother, Anita Dennis, told the Toronto Star: "He feels that everything he did was a moral stand and he has to follow it through, which means coming back and facing it, telling everybody what's happening to soldiers and the innocent Iraqi people."

Darrell is a 22-year-old soldier from Lexington, Kentucky, who won a Purple Heart after he was wounded in Baghdad, where he spent seven months on duty. Darrell enlisted in the Army in 2003 in good faith. He wanted money for college, and he wanted to serve his country in time of need.

It was the daily atrocities that turned Darrell against the war and transformed his view of military service.

"I can't go back," he told me in an interview. "If I return to Iraq, I have no choice but to commit atrocities. And I don't want to kill innocent people."

In one incident, Anderson was stationed at a checkpoint near a police station in Baghdad when a speeding car swerved in his direction. Darrell said he received orders to shoot. There was a family in the car - two children, a man and his wife. Darrell's buddies screamed: "Shoot! Why don't you shoot? Why don't you shoot?"

He simply could not pull the trigger of his M-16. "The car posed no threat," he told me.

"My superior came over and said, 'What are you doing!?' I said, 'Look, there's children in the back. It's a family. I did the right thing. It's wrong to fire in this situation.' My superior told me: 'No, you did the wrong thing. You will fire next time, or you will be punished. That's our orders.'"

American soldiers are under constant pressure to kill Iraqi civilians, Darrell said. "At traffic stops, we kill innocent people all the time. If you are fired on from the street, you are supposed to fire on everybody that is there. If I am in a market, I shoot people who are buying groceries."

I remember watching old World War II films where Nazis in Poland or Czechoslovakia would call civilians into the street, line them up, and threaten reprisals if they did not yield vital information. Occupiers need intelligence, but local natives rarely give information voluntarily. From the US raids on hamlets in Vietnam, to the French raids in the Casbah in Algeria, to the ongoing door-to-door raids in Iraq, the main features of imperial occupations have never changed.

Darrell was involved in numerous nighttime raids on Iraqi homes. "When we raid homes in the middle of the night," Darrell explains, "twenty guys blow through the house at gunpoint, and it's pretty terrifying for all the Iraqi families. We kick down the doors or bash them with a sledgehammer. One team goes in to clear the bottom floor. The second team heads upstairs. The women are screaming and crying, the children are freakin' out, and the men ask us, 'Why, why, what have we done?' We separate the women, and their men are handcuffed and taken away. Even if we are looking for a single person, all the men are considered enemy until proven otherwise."

"Once we raided a home based on faulty information we got from a drunk. We paid him for the tip. We busted into a house and yanked some guy and sent him to Abu Ghraib for torture ... Sometimes we closed off the whole section of a city and raided a couple hundred homes, door-to-door."

Darrell compares Iraq to the tragedy of Vietnam, another American war in which unseen, distant commanders, whose own lives were never in danger, sent vulnerable young men and women into situations where war crimes become an everyday aspect of military conduct. "Baghdad is in rubble," he said. "The big buildings were blown up. Many were targets, and houses in Najaf are blown to pieces."

Darrell summed up his feelings recently: "I started to think. What's it really for? I was willing to die for my country. I thought I was going over there to defend my country. But that's not what I was doing.... Innocent people are being killed every day. I still believe in my country, but I can no longer be a part of the Army or that war."


Paul Rockwell is a writer who lives in Oakland, California.

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