Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Kumbaya Coughs Blood

Finally, a Nation cover story that's must reading.

If you haven't seen "In Their Own Words" yet, by all means take the time to read it. Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian provide a candid, disturbing look at how the Iraq war has brutalized the minds of some soldiers, sailors, and Marines, and after reading passages like this:

Veterans described reckless firing once they left their compounds. Some shot holes into cans of gasoline being sold along the roadside and then tossed grenades into the pools of gas to set them ablaze. Others opened fire on children. These shootings often enraged Iraqi witnesses.

In June 2003 Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejía's unit was pressed by a furious crowd in Ramadi. Sergeant Mejía, 31, a National Guardsman from Miami, served for six months beginning in April 2003 with the 1-124 Infantry Battalion, Fifty-Third Infantry Brigade. His squad opened fire on an Iraqi youth holding a grenade, riddling his body with bullets. Sergeant Mejía checked his clip afterward and calculated that he had personally fired eleven rounds into the young man.

"The frustration that resulted from our inability to get back at those who were attacking us led to tactics that seemed designed simply to punish the local population that was supporting them," Sergeant Mejía said.

We heard a few reports, in one case corroborated by photographs, that some soldiers had so lost their moral compass that they'd mocked or desecrated Iraqi corpses. One photo, among dozens turned over to The Nation during the investigation, shows an American soldier acting as if he is about to eat the spilled brains of a dead Iraqi man with his brown plastic Army-issue spoon.

"Take a picture of me and this motherfucker," a soldier who had been in Sergeant Mejía's squad said as he put his arm around the corpse. Sergeant Mejía recalls that the shroud covering the body fell away, revealing that the young man was wearing only his pants. There was a bullet hole in his chest.

"Damn, they really fucked you up, didn't they?" the soldier laughed.

The scene, Sergeant Mejía said, was witnessed by the dead man's brothers and cousins.

You're left wondering what these people will be like if they make it back home alive. I tried satirizing this mindset last week, but many readers thought I posted an actual wire report, which shows that this madness is beyond such archaic devices. Tragedy is the only reality in Iraq.

If you need a laugh after reading the above, I recommend this clip from "Get A Life", Chris Elliott's strange sitcom from the early 90s. "Zoo Animals On Wheels" is of course a parody of "Cats", but Elliott's brand of absurdity takes the premise into another world entirely. This is Elliott in his prime. And the bonus here is that the show's laugh track was removed, exposing the discomfort of the audience as it tries to make sense of this ridiculous revue. With TV vets Bob Elliott and Elinor Donahue as Chris' parents.