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Winter Soldiers on slippery slope to Haditha

by Nathaniel R. Helms and David Allender

March 8, 2008 -- Next week in Silver Springs, Maryland about 100 members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, discharged veterans opposed to the Global War on Terror, will spend three days publicly revealing their knowledge of American war crimes at an event dubbed “Winter Soldier II.”

In addition to media attention they hope to generate, the veterans may find themselves getting attention from federal prosecutors armed with a relatively new law that can send them to the penitentiary, knowledgeable lawyers say.

As the name suggests, Winter Soldier II is not the first time disaffected veterans have protested the war they fought in. Almost four decades ago, 108 veterans and 16 civilians testified to their knowledge and participation in war crimes in Vietnam at an event called the “Winter Soldier Investigation.” Sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, it was held from January 31 through February 3, 1971 at Howard Johnson facility near Detroit. Without real consequences, aside from launching John Kerry's political career, the Winter Soldier Investigation was merely theater.

According to the IVAW promotional material, the veterans intend to reveal to the world that they were either aware of--or participated in-- war crimes while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The organization’s stated purpose in sponsoring the extravaganza is to garner support for ending the Global War on Terror immediately by exposing the constant illegality endemic in its prosecution.

A “soul-searching, freedom-losing session”

Lawyers watching the events say the former warriors who participate in Winter Soldier II face a different world than their Vietnam-era counterparts. A new law adopted in 2000 puts them at risk of prosecution by the federal government. 

Military attorney Jim Culp called Winter Soldier II the “soul-searching, freedom-losing session in Silver Springs.” Culp says the IVAW member’s desire to “tell the truth” about the war in Iraq carries with it possible heavy consequences because doing so expose the veterans to possible prosecution under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act.

MEJA is the same law used by a civilian federal Grand Jury to indict former Marine Corps Sergeant Jose Nazario with killing an Iraqi prisoner of war more than three years ago. The former Riverside cop, who was abruptly fired, is waiting to go to trial sometime this year.

In another application of MEJA in Kentucky, the federal government used the act to arrest and charge former 101st Airborne Division veteran Steven D. Green with rape and murder. He had been discharged from the Army for a “personality disorder” when the crimes were revealed.

Both men will serve long prison terms in federal custody if they are convicted.

Kevin McDermott, the Orange County, California defense lawyer representing Nazario, said the IVAW volunteers are stepping onto a slippery slope. The Act ostensibly applies to crimes committed abroad by civilians that carry at least a one-year prison term, but the federal government now uses it to prosecute former service members as well, he said.

“They could be charged if there was any independent evidence of their crimes,” McDermott said Wednesday.

This time, participants promise to tell truth. Really.  

The original Winter Soldier Investigation generated attention its managers did not seek after several of its stars were revealed to be frauds. One unmasked soldier was Al Hubbard, a professed winged warrior who repeatedly bared his tortured soul for the cameras. Hubbard claimed to have been an Air Force captain who flew murderous missions into Vietnam, both clandestinely when the French were losing and again when the Americans were still trying to win.

It turned out he was a sergeant who may have never even visited Vietnam. Neither he nor the Air Force was ever able to prove whether he was lying or telling the truth about his purported service inside the war zone. Hubbard was exposed after appearing on “Meet the Press” and lying to host Lawrence Spivak on national television.

The producers of Winter Soldier II say they have taken steps to prevent a repeat of the embarrassing revelations in the first effort by making sure the people testifying actually were service members with authentic discharge papers. Those intending to speak have also promised to tell the truth.

Among them is a former Marine infantryman named Jason Washburn, a 28-year old former infantryman who served three tours in Iraq. Since being discharged two years ago, he has become an activist in the anti-war movement. Washburn recently told the London Times that alleged atrocities like Haditha, and the very real murders and malfeasance revealed at other times and places, were not isolated events. In Washburn’s world, war crimes were commonplace.

“Washburn says Haditha was not an isolated incident,” the Times reported. “It’s the one that just happened to be uncovered.”

Who the hell is Jason Washburn?

Earlier this week Defend Our Marines set out to find Washburn. The disenchanted Marine was unknown to long-term veterans of the Thundering Third. Like Sgt Sanick Dela Cruz, Washburn transferred from the 1/4 to the 3/1 for his third and final tour.

“I was once a Marine, and I'll always be a Marine,” Washburn told us. “I will always defend my brothers and sisters that serve in the military. I would not be a part of Winter Soldier if I thought it was going to do anything to bring harm to them. This is not going to be like the VVAW version of WS.  We are not just getting together to talk about ‘war crimes’. The policies being implemented and occupation of Iraq are the crimes.”

We pointed out to Washburn that this was at odds with a statement on his own IVAW profile page. The statement read: “During [my third] tour it was a squad in my unit that went on a rampage after they were hit with an I.E.D. and ended up killing around 26 civilians.” The Justin Sharratt case alone proves that isn't true.

Washburn answered: “I completely forgot about that shit on my profile. I wholeheartedly apologize and retract that statement. I was wrong to put that up.”

By the next day, Washburn had changed the last sentence of his profile to read, “During that tour it was a squad in my unit that was hit with an I.E.D. and while repelling the attack that followed, they incidentally ended up killing around 26 civilians.”

Around 26? Twenty-six is not a round number, and the figure is more than even Murtha and Time magazine claimed.

Five days to showtime

In our last e-mail to Washburn, we pointed out that Americans who really care about defending their brothers and sisters in the military have, to date, donated well over $450,000 to the Haditha Marine defense funds. It's been no easy task to generate publicity for the funds since the media lynched and left the Haditha Marines for dead many months ago. 

We challenged Washburn to ask his audience to look into the facts about Haditha and be ready to have their preconceived notions challenged by what they’ll find.

In a few days, we’ll see what Jason Washburn is made of. Maybe the Left is ready to speak truthfully about Haditha. Wouldn't that be a hell of a shock.

For live blogging from the event, check out Vets for Freedom. Also our pal Robin Boyd's blog, Chickenhawk Express.

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Nathaniel R. Helms
David Allender

Defend Our Marines
8 March 2008

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© 2008  - Nathaniel R. Helms and David Allender

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