Saturday, March 10, 2007

"It Struck Me Then That We, The American Soldiers, Were The Terrorists"

Feb 7, 2007 By JOSHUA KEY. Excerpt from The Deserter’s Tale, published by House Of Anansi

Joshua Key, 28, was a poor, uneducated Oklahoma country boy who saw the U.S. army and its promised benefits -- from free health care to career training -- as the ticket to a better life. In 2002, not yet 24 but already married and the father of two , Key enlisted. He says his recruiting officer promised he'd never be deployed abroad, but a year later he was in Iraq.

Only 24 hours after arriving, as Key recounts in The Deserter's Tale (Anansi), he experienced his first doubts about what he and his fellow soldiers were doing there:

In December 2003, Key went home on a two-week leave. He never returned to Iraq. Instead, Key went into hiding. The following March, he and his family crossed the Canadian border at Niagara Falls.


I was scared out of my wits that first day in Ramadi.

Our own air force had just finished bombing these people, but as soon as we got out of our vehicles we began patrolling their streets, on foot. With nearly 100 lb. of weaponry, equipment and clothing on my back, I was about as mobile as a cow.

It was just my platoon, 20 guys, walking single file through streets full of Iraqis. I could not stop thinking that anywhere, at any time, some half-starved sniper on a roof could have taken me out in no time flat. Iraqi kids surrounded me in swarms, hands out, asking for water and food.

I kept hearing the last words (my wife) Brandi said to me before I flew out: "Don't you let those terrorists near you, Josh. Even if they are kids. Get them before they get you."

I was awakened at 3 a.m. that first night and told to get my ass up quickly because in one hour we were going to raid a house full of terrorists.

Capt. Conde and some sergeants showed me and my squad mates a satellite photo of a house and a drawing of the layout of the inside. Our assignment was to blow off the door, burst into the house, raid it fast and raid it good -- looking for contraband, caches of weapons, signs of terrorists or terrorist activity, then rounding up the men and getting out damn fast. The longer we stayed in any one location, the longer somebody would have to put us in the sights of a rocket-propelled grenade or lob mortars at us.

I had no idea what to expect.

Would I charge through the door, only to be blown to bits by a grenade? Would somebody with an AK-47 knock my Oklahoman ass right back out that door?

Would some six-year-old terrorist with two days of gun training be waiting to put me in his crosshairs?

The minutes ticked on, and I wanted the hour to speed forward so we could get on with it. One or two guys did push-ups to pump themselves up. I borrowed Mason's portable CD player and bombed out my eardrums to the beat of Ozzy Osbourne. It got me going.

High and ready for action. I checked my watch, wished it would accelerate, and stuck some dip -- Copenhagen, bourbon flavor -- behind my lip. You can't manage a cigarette when you've got an M-249 automatic weapon on your arm. So dip was best. Makes your mouth black as sin, and rots the roots right out of your gums, but dip was my nicotine hit of choice going into that raid.

I committed our instructions to memory. I knew the angles of the house, what door I would help blow down, how many floors were in the house, and who would do what when we busted inside.

I would be third in the door, which means I was the second most likely to get shot if anybody had a mind to take us down, and I'd head to the left. Always, for every raid, I would be third in, heading left.

I gripped my M-249. Yes, it could belt out 2,000 rounds a minute but only in theory. You couldn't really hold your finger down that long. When you were blazing away like that, the bullets turned the barrel as hot as Hades. And if you held your finger down too long, it would warp the barrel.

It took thirty seconds for Jones and me to put the charge of C-4 plastic explosive on the door.

Then we dashed around to the side of the house so we wouldn't blow ourselves up. You'd be fried meat if you were anywhere near the explosion. I set off the blast, and then the six of us charged in. Jones went first -- that skinny, red-haired Ohio boy was always hot to trot. With Jones leading the way we burst into the house, armed to the hilt. Kevlar helmets, flak jackets, machine guns, combat boots, the whole nine yards.

I'd never been inside an Iraqi's house before.

We charged through a kitchen. I had been told by squad leader Padilla to check everything, so I even opened the fridge. Perhaps, I thought, I would find guns or grenades hidden inside. No such luck.

In the fridge, all I saw was a bit of food. In the freezer I found big slabs of meat, uncovered. No wrapping. No plastic. Frozen, just like that. We ran into a living room with long couches, one along each wall.

In this room with the couches we found two children, a teenager, and a woman. We also found two young men in the house. One looked like a teenager and the other was perhaps in his early 20s -- brothers.

We hollered and cussed. I spat dip on the floor and screamed along with the other soldiers at the top of my lungs. I knew they didn't understand, but I hollered anyway.

"Get down," I shouted. "Get the f--k down. Shut the f--k up."

They didn't know what "get down" meant, so we knocked the two brothers to the floor, face down.

We put our knees on their backs, pulled their hands behind them, and faster than you can bat an eye we zipcuffed them.

Zipcuffs are plastic handcuffs that lock on tight. They must have bit something fierce into those young men's skin. There was no key, nothing -- the only way to get them off was to slice them with cutters.

We pushed the brothers outside, where 12 other soldiers from our platoon were waiting.

The Iraqi brothers were taken away to an American detention facility for interrogation.

I don't know what it was called, and I don't know where it was. All I know is that we sent away every man -- pretty well every male over five feet tall -- that we found in our house raids, and I never saw one of them return to the neighbourhoods we patrolled regularly.

Inside, we kept on ransacking the house.

The more obvious it became that we would find no weapons or contraband, the more we kicked the stuffing out of the house.

We knocked over dressers, sliced into mattresses with knives, kicked our way through doors, raiding the three bedrooms on the second floor, then raced up to the third floor.

We turned over everything we could and broke furniture at random, searching for contraband, weapons, proof of terrorist activity, or signs of weapons of mass destruction.

We found nothing but a CD.

Soldiers initially said it showed proof of terrorist activity, but it turned out to have nothing on it but a bunch of speeches by Saddam Hussein.

Once we had everybody outside the house and had done our initial job of ransacking, another squad took over inside.

They kept raising hell in there, breaking and turning over more furniture, looking for weapons that we might have missed.

Outside, under a carport, I was assigned to watch the women and children. We weren't arresting them, but we weren't allowing them to go anywhere either. The family members couldn't go back inside, and they couldn't wander off into the neighbourhood. They had to stay right there while we tore the hell out of their house.

A girl in the family -- a teenager -- started staring at me. I tried to ignore her.

Then she began speaking to me. Inside, when we had been screaming at her and the others, I'd assumed that nobody understood a word of English. But this young girl spoke to me in English, and her eyes bored holes right through me.

She was skin and bones, not even 100 lb., not yet a full-grown woman, but something about her seemed powerful and disturbing.

I feared that girl, and I wanted to get away from her as fast as I could, but it was my job to stay right there and make sure she didn't move. I had my weapon ready. She was wearing a blue nightgown and had a white scarf covering her hair. She had no veil, so I could see her face perfectly. Her eyes were coal black and full of hatred.

In English, she asked me, "Where are you taking my brothers?"

"I don't know, Miss," I said.

"Why are you taking them away?"

"I'm afraid I can't say."

"When are you bringing them back?"

"Couldn't tell you that either."

"Why are you doing this to us?"

I couldn't answer that.

I hoped she would not raise a fuss. I didn't want her to start screaming, which could attract the attention of my squad mates. One or two, I feared, would be more than happy to use a rifle butt to knock out her teeth.

I hadn't been in Iraq more than 24 hours and already I was having strange feelings.

First, I was vulnerable, and I didn't like it.

Even with all these soldiers and all this equipment, I knew that anywhere, at any time, any Iraqi with a gun, a wall to hide behind, and one decent eye could pick me off faster than a hawk nabs a mouse.

Second, with hardly one foot into the war, I was also uneasy about what we were doing there. Something was amiss.

We hadn't found anything in this girl's house, but we had busted it up pretty well in 30 minutes and had taken away her brothers. Inside, another squad was still ransacking the house. I didn't enjoy being stuck guarding this girl under the carport, in the cool April air before dawn in Ramadi.

Her questions haunted me, and I didn't like not being able to answer them -- even to myself.

Busting into and ransacking homes remained one of my most common duties in Iraq. Before my time was up, I took part in about 200 raids.

We never found weapons or indications of terrorism.

I never found a thing that seemed to justify the terror we inflicted every time we blasted through the door of a civilian home, broke everything in sight, punched and zipcuffed the men, and sent them away.

One raid was far worse.

It was a handsome two-storey house and quite isolated.

As usual, I put the charge of C-4 explosives on the door and we blew it in. As we rushed into the house, women were staggering out of their rooms. Three teenage girls screamed when they saw us.

Some of my squad mates grabbed them and held them at gunpoint, and the rest of us ran through the house. We found no men at all, just six more women in their 20s and 30s. The guys in my squad couldn't find a thing, not even any guns -- and it seemed that the more incapable they were of locating contraband, the more destructive they became. They smashed dressers, ripped mattresses, broke cabinets, and threw shelves to the floor.

Outside I found Pvt. 1st Class Hayes with a woman under an empty carport. He pointed his M-16 at her head but she would not stop screaming.

"What are you doing this for?" she said.

Hayes told her to shut up.

"We have done nothing to you," she went on.

Hayes was starting to lose it. I told her that we were there on orders and that we couldn't speak to her, but on and on and on she bawled at Hayes and me.

"You Americans are disgusting! Who do you think you are, to do this to us?"

Hayes slammed her in the face with the stock of his M-16. She fell face down into the dirt, bleeding and silent. The woman lay still on the ground. I pushed Hayes away.

"What are you doing, man?" I said to him. "You have a wife and two kids! Don't be hitting her like that."

He looked at me with eyes full of hatred, as if he was ready to kill me for saying those words, but he did not touch the woman again.

I found this incident with Hayes particularly disturbing because during other times I had seen him in action in Iraq, he had showed himself to be one of the most level-headed and calm soldiers in my company. I had the sense that if he could lose it and hit a woman the way he had, any of us could lose it too.

Then something happened that haunts my dreams to this day.

All the women were led back inside the house and our entire platoon was ordered to stand guard outside it. Four U.S. military men entered the house with the women. They closed the doors. We couldn't see anything through the windows. I don't know who the military men were, or what unit they were from, but I can only conclude that they outranked us and were at least at the level of first lieutenant or above.

That's because our own second lieutenant Joyce was there, and his presence did not deter them.

Normally, when we conducted a raid, we were in and out in 30 minutes or less. You never wanted to stay in one place for too long for fear of exposing yourself to mortar attacks.

But our platoon was made to stand guard outside that house for about an hour. The women started shouting and screaming. The men stayed in there with them, behind closed doors. It went on and on and on.

Finally, the men came out and told us to get the hell out of there.

It struck me then that we, the American soldiers, were the terrorists.

We were terrorizing Iraqis.

Intimidating them.

Beating them.

Destroying their homes.

Probably raping them.

The ones we didn't kill had all the reasons in the world to become terrorists themselves.

Given what we were doing to them, who could blame them for wanting to kill us, and all Americans?

A sick realization lodged like a cancer in my gut.

It grew and festered, and troubled me more with every passing day.

We, the Americans, had become the terrorists in Iraq.


Don Cox said...

Is your new clinic in use now? You said you had to rebuild it, but not whether you got it finished.

Truth teller said...

Thank you for asking don cox.
Yes my new clinic is in use now.

Bruno said...

Truthteller –

I also read that report.

The immediate reaction of the pro-invasion people was to dismiss it all as lies.

Naturally, it is precisely the reaction I imagined they would have.

Myself - being a regular follower of the news and of Iraqi blogs - I’m sure that this is not the worst of the incidents that have happened, and that it’s probably a regular occurrence. I recall Zeyad’s cousin that was thrown off a bridge into a river, even though he told the soldiers he could not swim. Nobody was prosecuted for that.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, however.

It seems that continued Iraqi resistance is fast wearing out the US army. General Petraeus has admitted that the US is unable to win the military battle in Iraq, and that talks with Resistance groups are necessary. Other plans for a US retreat are being put into place. It won’t happen overnight, but I do believe that in two years or less, US troops will have left your country.

May you stay safe until then.

PS – Congratulations with your clinic. That is excellent news.

waldschrat said...

Another question, truthteller: last you year you went with others to Paris for training on a new radiology machine. Did the machine itself ever arrive, and if so is it now operational? I recall you said something about some of the isotopic materials needed being not available when you last mentioned it.

Truth teller said...

Hi Waldschrat

Yes the machine, which is a new Gamma Camera has arrived. It is a new version of GE Gamma Cameras with advanced capability. But unfortunately the Radio-pharmaceuticals and the Radio-isotopes are not available now. So we and the new machine are taking a rest waiting for the conditions to become better.

waldschrat said...

Truthteller -
I am not a medical professional and I have to ask dumb questions. Is a "Gamma Camera" sometimes referred to as a "Gamma Knife" or are they different types of equipment? Can this new machine be used to cure cancer as well as diagnose it?

Also, do you know what sort of problems are impeding delivery of the needed materials???

Truth teller said...


No they are a different machines.
The gamma Camera is a diagnostic machine and the Gamma Knife is a traetment machine.
We don't have Gamma knife in Iraq, but we have Gamma Camera since the early seventies.

There are alot of problem imped the delivery of the needed material, the most apparent of them is the security, but there are unknown causes make the process nearly imposible!!

waldschrat said...

This is all so sad. I know that the cancer patients of Mosul are at great risk because of the many problems getting supplies needed for diagnosis and treatment.

DeathRay said...

oh - truth teller... i've been reading through your family's blogs... and i'm literally speechless. i'm sitting here looking at the screen and i only have each word as i type it.

there really isn't any apology worthy the affront.

this may seem like a ridiculous question - because there is some possibility that the answer has already reached the point of being irrelevant(?)... But if you were an American citizen right this minute - What would you be fighting for?

Should we leave Iraq as soon as possible? Is our presence making things worse?

Or should we stay until Iraq has reached some semblance of "stability"? is that even possible?

Truth teller said...


"But if you were an American citizen right this minute - What would you be fighting for?"

I don't think I could answer your question correctly because of the differences in our culture, customs, religion and beleives.
But in the past years before 1991, there was a fight between the Iraqi government and the peshmergas (kurd insurgents), they were the minority between the kurd, the government called them "terrorist". they did the same things the resistance did these day, we, as an Iraqi civilians, looked to the matter as the fight between good and evil.
I think you as anAmerican look to the conditon now in Iraq as we looked to that condition in the past. The only difference is the absence of the effect of media at that time.

"Should we leave Iraq as soon as possible? Is our presence making things worse?...Or should we stay until Iraq has reached some semblance of "stability"? is that even possible?"

I think the only solution to our problems is to leave as soon as possible, Yes, your presence make things worse, and will continue to be worse. I am sure after your leaving there will be more shed of blood, but this is unevitable, it will happened when ever you leave, the condition will settled down when all those who came for steeling and looting the Iraqi money will follow you, as they can't stay without your support and protection.
There will be no stability under occupation, it is my nation and I know it very well.

DeathRay said...

Thank you for your perspective. Obviously - the debate about the American direction in Iraq is a matter of much dispute right now. Interestingly, even with the internet, I have been looking very hard to find a direct Iraqi viewpoint on our presence there.

I have long felt that we should have never involved ourselves in a culture that we did not understand... And as far as nation building goes, we are barely holding our own together - to say nothing of trying to "build" another one around the world.

My personal apology means little - but I can say that I'm really going to try to see what I can do to see that this is heard.

2turk said...

The American/British oil barons plan to pilfer and steal Iraqi petroleum resources inorder to enrich themselves. A Jim Hightower animation addresses the issues.

DocDan1172 said...

Dear Sir:
I hope you are as ashamed of yourself as I, an Army soldier, am of you. Yes, things are crazy in Iraq and many unscrupulous soldiers take advantage of this every day. If you attended basic training, you KNOW that when something "feels wrong" to us we have not only a moral obligation, but an absolute DUTY to report it to our superiors. If they fail to act we MUST report higher and higher and even to our congressmen if neccessary. I gather by your blog that you were probably a line soldier (11, 12, 21 series?). Being a line medic, I ask where were the medics and officers (i.e. GTs above 110)? If they were silent then I am ashamed of them as well. Never forget we fight the fights worth fighting, not just those we can win.
SPC Hale, 1138 Eng

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mewmewmew said...

I hope you are as ashamed of yourself as I, an Army soldier, am of you. Yes, things are crazy in Iraq and many unscrupulous soldiers take advantage of this every day. If you attended basic training, you KNOW that when something "feels wrong" to us we have not only a moral obligation, but an absolute DUTY to report it to our superiors. If they fail to act we MUST report higher and higher and even to our congressmen if neccessary. I gather by your blog that you were probably a line soldier (11, 12, 21 series?). Being a line medic, I ask where were the medics and officers (i.e. GTs above 110)? If they were silent then I am ashamed of them as well. Never forget we fight the fights worth fighting, not just those we can win.

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