Silver Spring, Md. (CNSNews.com) - Jason Hurd, an Army veteran of the Iraq war, recalled that while serving in Iraq, he saw a speeding vehicle coming in his direction. When it did not stop after he flagged it down, he aimed his weapon and was prepared to fire.
Then, a superior officer stopped the vehicle. Inside was an 80-year-old woman who Hurd said was highly respected in Iraq and whose death could have caused uproar among Iraqis. Hurd said such incidents are too often not avoided and innocent civilians in Iraq are unnecessarily killed.
Hurd and other veterans spoke at the "Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan" conference held in Washington, D.C., over the weekend, an event sponsored by the Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Cliffton Hicks, also an Iraq war veteran, told attendees of the panel on "Rules of Engagement" that in the course of doing their job and through human error, U.S. soldiers are creating hostility among Iraqis. He recalled that his unit once busted into the wrong home of a woman and her family.
"We busted in and took her and her children and held them at gunpoint," he said. "We destroyed the lady's house and found nothing. We were off by one house number. It was the house across the street, but we didn't go."
Hicks also spoke about a battle that left hundreds dead.
"They said 700-800 of the enemy were killed," he said. "I didn't see that. Seven hundred or 800 were killed - and I would swear under oath about this - the majority were civilians.
"These are not bad people," Hicks said of U.S. troops. "They are there to make things better, but you discover a lot of the people want to kill you, and they look like the people that don't want to kill you."
Veterans on the panel did not allege war crimes or atrocities in Iraq. Much of the horror is based on the unfortunate reality of war, said Vincent Emanuele, a Marine veteran of the war and president of the Indiana chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Emanuele, not a panelist, said that during his time in Iraq he did not witness or hear of what he would describe as a war crime or atrocity, but he did see severe violence.
"I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not going to call it a crime - I'll call it a brutal reality of what takes place," Emanuele told Cybercast News Service.
"Little kids that are killed, women that are killed, bodies that are decapitated on the side of the road that American convoys are running over - these are things that are not on the news. These are things politicians aren't talking about. These are things that the American people don't know about," he said.
Nick Morgan, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq, also was reluctant to use the term war crimes, but he said he saw things and participated in events he viewed as morally wrong on the part of the U.S. military.
"A sergeant first class and an interpreter sat down an entire neighborhood and addressed them, and meanwhile they asked me, in a bulldozer, to bulldoze this house directly behind them," Morgan said, adding, "and basically take my time and draw it out slowly, make it dramatic, you know, to make a point."
"Basically, in more words, they said: Anyone out there who wants to contribute to terrorism or the insurgency, this is going to be your fate as well. Do I know whether insurgents lived in the house? I have no idea. I was following orders. As far as I was concerned, we were just destroying a house in their neighborhood in front of the entire neighborhood," he said.
Emanuele added that these are all matters that are typical of past wars as well.
"Think about the World War II generation," he said. "My grandfather was in World War II. Those guys didn't come back and talk about what they saw. That didn't happen in Korea.
"Vietnam was the first time that that did happen. It wasn't like these incidents that people talk about in Iraq, or going back to Vietnam, didn't take place in World War I, World War II, or any of the wars that we fought. It's just a matter of these stories getting out there," Emanuele added.
"If I'm going to send young men and women into battle, if I'm going to send them into war, these are things that are unavoidable, these are instances and situations that you put these men and women in, and I really couldn't see expecting anything else," Emanuele said.
(Cybercast News Service Staff Writer Josiah Ryan contributed to this report.)
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