As the war in Iraq approaches its fifth anniversary, veterans of that conflict and the war in Afghanistan will give first-hand accounts, supported by photographs and video evidence, of the true nature of the wars, including attacks the vets say killed innocent civilians.
Iraq Veterans Against the War is organizing the "Winter Soldier" conference outside of Washington, DC, to share their experiences from the front lines. The conference, which begins Thursday and will continue through the weekend, aims to build on a 1971 gathering in which Vietnam veterans gathered in Detroit to share their view of atrocities they witnessed in that war.
�It�s not going to be easy to hear what we have to say," IVAW executive director Kelly Dougherty, who served in Iraq as a military police officer, says in a press release. "It�s not going to be easy for us to tell it. But we believe that the only way this war is going to end is if the American people truly understand what we have done in their name.�
Although the 1971 Winter Soldier meeting inspired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to hold a hearing that featured Vietnam Veteran John Kerry -- "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" he famously asked -- it failed to receive wide ranging media coverage.
"I don't think we had nearly the effect we had hoped for," Vietnam veteran William Crandell told Salon's Mark Benjamin. "The reporters on the scene were very impressed," he said. "But the networks sat on it."
IVAW organizers hope the substantial diversification of media outlets since the Vietnam era will prevent this weekend's gathering from being ignored. The group will be broadcasting the conference on its Web site, and supporters are hosting viewing parties around the country.
In an effort to protect themselves from accusations they are attacking US troops or spreading faulty stories, IVAW has assembled verification teams to interview soldiers planning to testify and examine additional evidence, including videos and photos, Salon reports.
It is unclear whether Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan will gain wider attention from the media and the public, but its organizers say that today's technology could make a difference. "The modern soldier carries a digital camera almost as a sidearm," explained O'Brien. The group says that potentially explosive photos and video from Iraq displayed at this Winter Soldier investigation will help "expose the human consequences of failed policy" in the war zones. The searing images from Abu Ghraib, of course, came to light because soldiers working inside the prison made use of their personal digital cameras.
But even with all that evidence, people sitting in the audience at National Labor College may have trouble evaluating some of the testimony they hear. Wartime accounts are notoriously difficult to untangle and verify, even when coming from multiple primary sources who appear to be telling the truth to the best of their knowledge.
Soldiers are limited to a grunt's-eye-view of the world. They will tell it like they saw it, but admit that they don't have all the answers about what may have happened in a given incident.
The phrase "Winter Soldier," is a twist on a phrase written by Thomas Paine in 1776: "�These are the times that try men�s souls. The summer soldier and sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.�
"I'm pretty sure we saw some pretty fucked-up shit," Clifton Hicks, an Iraq war veteran who is set to testify at the event, told Salon.
One of the incidents likely to be discussed is a 2003 air-strike on apartment buildings in Baghdad. Witnesses told Salon they believed innocent civilians died in the attack, but they could not provide direct evidence to support their claim. The online magazine posted the following video of the attack.