An organization calling itself Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) convened a conference in Silver Spring, Maryland, entitled Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan — Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations, this month. Modeling itself on the 1971 Winter Soldier Investigation (WSI), which provided the text for John Kerry’s infamous testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee later that year, the event claimed to “feature testimony from U.S. veterans who served in [the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan], giving an accurate account of what is really happening day in and day out, on the ground.” But in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, it was like déjà vu all over again.
Then . . .
Those who suffered through my many National Review Online and National Review pieces on John Kerry and alleged atrocities in Vietnam during the election year of 2004 — a series that began, by the way, in January, long before anyone had ever heard of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — will recall that the 1971 Winter Soldier Investigation (WSI) was organized by “the usual suspects” among antiwar celebrities, e.g. Jane Fonda, Dick Gregory, and Kennedy-assassination conspiracy theorist Mark Lane. During the course of the proceedings, individuals purporting to be Vietnam veterans recounted horrible stories of atrocities: using prisoners for target practice, throwing them out of helicopters, cutting off the ears of dead Viet Cong soldiers, burning villages, and gang-raping women as a matter of course.
My assessment of the WSI and Kerry’s use of it to advance his political career was, shall we say, negative. Based on my own research and that of others, I concluded that at least some of the WSI witnesses were imposters, and that many of those who were not imposters nonetheless recounted stories that they were in no position to observe. On the very useful Winter Soldier internet site, Scott Swett, co-author (with Tim Ziegler) of To Set the Record Straight: How Swift Boat Veterans, POWs, and the New Media Defeated John Kerry, offers additional evidence to discredit the 1971 WSI. He provides access to the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigative Division’s (CID) investigations of the allegations made by WSI witnesses, which if true, would have qualified as crimes. CID opened criminal investigations into the claims of 43 WSI witnesses, which were eventually resolved as follows: “25 WSI participants refused to cooperate, 13 provided information but failed to support the allegations, and five could not be located. No criminal charges were filed as a result of any of the investigations.”
As I pointed out in several of my NRO pieces, the experience of the Naval Investigate Service (NIS, now Naval Criminal Investigative Service, NCIS) examining the claims made by Marines at the Detroit event was identical. When NIS attempted to interview the witnesses, most refused to cooperate, even after assurances that they would not be questioned about atrocities they may have committed personally. Those that did cooperate never provided details of actual crimes to investigators. The NIS also discovered that some of the most grisly testimony was given by fake witnesses who had appropriated the names of real Vietnam veterans.
. . . And Now
Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan (WSI II) repeats the pattern of the 1971 WSI:
vague charges, lacking specific details and the supporting evidence that real investigations require to ascertain the truth;
mischaracterizing as atrocities or war crimes events occuring during the conduct of combat operations that, while disturbing or tragic, are still legal and moral, e.g. the events in Hadithah two years ago — the fact is that not every bad thing that happens in war is an atrocity;
descriptions of events that, if they did in fact occur, should have been reported up the chain of command, but were not; and
“witnesses” of questionable veracity.