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Santa Cruz Resident Matt Childers Testifies at Winter Soldier (Testimony Attached)
Santa Cruz resident Matt Childers, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, testified at the Winter Soldier hearings held last month in Silver Springs, Maryland. Matt served two deployments to Iraq as an infantryman with the U.S. Marines. Originally from West Virginia, he now makes his home in Santa Cruz and is a student at Cabrillo College. His photography and artwork, including a graphic art book "James Blames Himself Today," about coming home from Iraq, is available online at http://www.flickr.com/photos/bound4glory1884/sets/72157600256954708/. His testimony was given as part of a panel on racism and dehumanization of the enemy in Iraq. Video and audio of that panel is available in its entirety at IVAW.org, and at warcomeshome.org.
Matthew Childers – Winter Soldier Testimony
Saturday, March 15, 2008
My name is Matt Childers, former Corporal of the United States Marine Corps. I served two deployments to Iraq with First Battalion, Fourth Marines, Charlie Company, second platoon. I was in the infantry. The first deployment started just before the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 and lasted until September. The second deployment lasted from May 2004 until February 2005. There’s a few instances I want to speak of regarding the dehumanization of the Iraqis. I have a few scenarios but, these things happened on an almost daily basis.
Between April and August of 2003, First Battalion Fourth Marines was occupying a pistol factory in Al Hillaj, and my platoon was tasked out with detainee watch along with some Marines from the Regiment. These detainees – there were three of them – were in our custody for about a week.* Over this week these guys were beaten relentlessly and humiliated, teased with food and water. They were begging the Marines for food and water. The Marines would mock them and throw water in their face. The detainees were flexi-cuffed by their wrists behind their backs, and they were blindfolded. The Marines were screaming at them to get up and then they’d trip them down on their face -- they couldn’t break their fall because they were tied up. And the Marines were showing the Iraqis pornography which was strictly taboo to their religion and they made this very obvious to us. I saw a Marine take the hat off of an Iraqi, he shoved it down the back of his pants and wiped himself with it, and then tried to feed it to the Iraqi who was blindfolded. And because they were – he was -- desperate for food, he actually tried to eat it.
These guys were in our custody for about a week, and I didn’t see them eat the whole time. I wasn’t around them 24/7 – I don’t know how long the posts were but I didn’t see them eat or sleep at all. I remember the Marines taking this guy out to use the restroom -- and I can’t remember what the proper terminology is for the type of gown they wear, that the men wear in Iraq – but because he was flexi-cuffed, he was trying to squat to use the bathroom to spread open his gown. And the Marine was kicking him in the ankle -- I remember his ankles were bloody – and shoving him over while he was trying to use the restroom, telling him he should stand up and urinate like a man.
Another instance, I’m not sure what month this was, but we were stationed at an oil refinery in Iraq. This was still during the first deployment, and I remember our squad had a detainee in the back of a 7-ton, and he was also flexi-cuffed and had a sandbag over his head, and he was beaten relentlessly, getting kicked in the face, bootlaces to the face, the fingers smashed with our rifles and our boots.
During both tours of Iraq there was an obvious and intentional dehumanization of the Iraqis, especially during the first deployment. I don’t know how many times I heard Iraqis referred to as “Haji”. This term was used by the entire chain of command and was used with our training, and I think the use of the terminology proved effective in dehumanizing them because we were just so disrespectful. Just patrolling down the streets, if anyone got too close to our formation we would use that as an excuse to mess them up, the logic behind this was possibly, you know, he could be carrying a bomb, which has happened in the past, but anyone who turned the corner and ended up within our reach suffered the consequences.
During both tours of Iraq it seemed like we raided countless residences. I couldn’t even begin to give you a figure. Most of the time we’d show up, like 3 o’clock in the morning, early hours of the morning, bust in the house, raid the house, systematically clear every room, pointing semiautomatic and automatic weapons in their faces and screaming at them in a language that they don’t understand. I don’t know where the intelligence was coming from for this stuff, but we barely ever found anything in these houses. A lot of times they were just homes of families and we’d throw everyone one out on their front -- of their own homes in their front yard. This happened countless times. If we did find anything, we may find an AK-47, which before the American occupation was legal for them to have – you know, their weapon laws are obviously very different. I remember one raid that we did on a house and there was an elderly man laying on the floor and our squad leader was yelling at us to get this man up and we were screaming at this man. And he’s obviously very old and ill, and the Marines began kicking the man. During EPW searches, I’m sorry, not EPW searches, but searching the people that were taken out of their homes, a lot of times the Marines were very rough with them, would hit them in the genitals, or poke them with the muzzle of their rifle.
The last thing I want to say, the last point – this was also at the pistol factory in the first deployment in Al Hillaj. I was on the entry, I was on the front entry checkpoint to the forward operating base with a fellow Marine, and we were having a conversation and we weren’t really paying attention that well, and then we looked in front of us and there was a man, like 15 feet away, carrying a baby and all of the baby’s skin was burned off. And he was very upset and he was wanting medical help, and he was saying that the explosion was a result of our ammunition somehow. I can’t – he barely spoke any English and we didn’t speak Arabic, so – we tried to call the corporal of the guard who is in charge of all the people that are on post. We told him our situation and he told us to make the man and the baby leave. And I think – I don’t even think we did that right away – there was like a ten minute period where we just didn’t know what to do. You know, it would be very hard to just tell this man to walk away. So we called the corporal of the guard again in case he didn’t understand the severity of the situation. And he told us to leave and then he actually ended up coming out to help us escort this man away. I have no doubt in my mind that the baby’s injuries were a result of Coalition forces, cause all of Iraq is filled with unexpended, our unexpended ammunition – mortars and bombs. Our own training tells us that they use this against us to make the roadside bombs, so you know, there is no doubt that it is out there.
After going through the process of Boot Camp I was proud of myself and believed I was doing the right thing, and they have a way of making you look up to people and they have a way of instilling pride within yourself for what you’re doing. They also joke with you and sing cadences about killing people and these things put pressure on individuals to be a stereotypical Marine, to be ruthless and merciless. That’s all I have to say.
*The men had been detained for throwing rocks at a Marine convoy.
24 year old former Corporal Matthew Childers originally hails from Ona, West Virginia. Childers served Iraq with the United States 1st Marines, 1st Marines Division, which is based at Camp Pendleton.