Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are meeting this weekend at an anti-war conference modeled after a well-known 1971 gathering at which Vietnam veterans spoke out against that conflict.
The four-day event called “Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan ? Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations,” is expected to draw more than 200 veterans of the two conflicts through Sunday. It was timed for the eve of the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war next week.
On Friday, former soldiers and Marines addressed an audience of several hundred in Silver Spring. They spoke of having to make snap decisions about whether to fire on civilians, of soldiers firing indiscriminately on Iraqi vehicles, and of an apartment building filled with Iraqi families attacked by an American gunship.
Former Marine Jon Turner began his presentation by ripping his service medals off his shirt and tossing them into the first row. He then narrated a series of graphic photographs that brought gasps from the audience. In a matter-of-fact voice, he described episodes in which he and fellow Marines shot people out of fear or retribution.
“I’m sorry for the hate and destruction I’ve inflicted upon innocent people,” Turner said. “Until people hear about what is happening in this war, it will continue.”
The event drew dozens of counter-protesters who demonstrated outside.
“We want absolute specifics,” said Harry Riley, a retired Army colonel who leads Eagles Up. “This is too important to our nation. The credibility of our nation and the credibility of our soldiers are involved.”
The 1971 Winter Soldier in Detroit was similarly controversial.
John Kerry, then a young veteran, was a participant, and criticism for what he said at the time resurfaced during the Massachusetts senator’s 2004 presidential bid.
“Kerry lied while good men died, and you guys are betraying good men,” yelled a protester Saturday who managed to slip into the conference, which was limited to participants and the media.
The protester was roughly hustled from the room by members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, who are providing security for the event.
A Defense Department spokesman said he had not seen the allegations raised Friday, but added that such incidents are not representative of U.S. conduct.
“When isolated allegations of misconduct have been reported, commanders have conducted comprehensive investigations to determine the facts and held individuals accountable when appropriate,” Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros said.