Military veterans debate U.S. presence in Iraq
Former Marine and AU student says American troops must stay in country to instill peace
The United States should keep a presence in Iraq to keep law and order in a region that will destroy itself in the chaos of its instability, said Rajai Hakki, an undergraduate in the School of International Service and a former Marine, at a forum Wednesday on the experiences and post-war analyses of military veterans of the Iraq War.
As a translator for counter-intelligence, Hakki witnessed numerous atrocities in the war that changed his stance from being in favor of the war to questioning its credibility, he said.
The event began with a short film on the various grievances of Iraqi Veterans Against the War, which is a national organization that raises awareness and takes action on what they view as war atrocities. IVAW is composed of veterans and active-duty soldiers who have served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. It advocates for a complete withdrawal from Iraq.
Veterans Steve Ortillo and Joseph Hatcher represented IVAW on the three-person panel.
Points of objection and injustice presented in the film were later echoed by Ortillo and Hatcher in their commentaries on the war. They said 11,000 Operation Desert Storm veterans are dead due to exposure to depleted uranium deposits that have caused various cancers in the soldiers and potential birth defects in their children; Iraqi children are now exposed to a 100 percent increase in childhood leukemia because of chemical use in the region; and the U.S. government has not had enough open discussion with its citizens on the issues of the war.
Soldiers who spoke in the video also said they were trained to be fighters and not diplomats, as diplomatic skills are required for nation building. The U.S. government's expectation of their abilities in the issue was not well founded, they said.
Ortillo and Hatcher said money was being taken out of veteran's benefits to fuel the war effort and veterans were receiving inadequate medical treatment.
Hatcher said he was forced to clean a tank with uranium dust on it before it was shipped back to Germany, an experience he claims shows the current government's priority of equipment maintenance over soldier health. Many soldiers are still being forced to take out loans for their armor, he said.
Drew Veysey, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, said he thought the IVAW members continued to show bravery by defending the United States. However, Reid Rosenberg, a freshman in the School of Public Affairs, said he thought the members were irrational.
"They didn't approach anything with any reason," Rosenberg said. "It was nice to hear Hakki approach the issues with some reason as opposed to just reacting to everything."
The forum was moderated by College of Arts and Sciences Professor Peter Kuznick, who teamed up with the Community Action and Social Justice Coalition to organize and run the event in conjunction with his regularly scheduled class, "Oliver Stone's America." The event was open to the AU community as well as Kuznick's class.