'Winter Soldiers' Tell Stories of War

Veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq tell war stories at an event near Washington, D.C., sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War. The title — "Winter Soldier" — echoed a similar gathering by Vietnam vets in 1971.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

The war in Afghanistan has contained horrors aplenty, not only for Afghan citizens but for the American and NATO forces deployed there. And in Iraq many U.S. soldiers and Marines have participated in actions that have left them scarred. Veterans of both wars told their stories today at an event near Washington.

It was sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War, and it carried the title Winter Soldier. That's an echo of a similar recounting of war horror stories Vietnam vets told at a controversial gathering back in 1971.

Army Sergeant Jabbar Magruder served in Iraq in 2005. He told me that the rules of engagement offended his sense of proper military conduct.

Sergeant JABBAR MAGRUDER (U.S. Army): If anybody was to break into our convoy and we didn't feel safe, we were supposed to take them out, and that was the standing order. And that we weren't supposed to fire any warning shots, that it was just supposed to happen.

And so when you do that you understand that you're always in danger. And that never goes away.

LYDEN: But the rules of engagement would say that warning shots would be fired. So what exactly happened on your mission?

Sgt. MAGRUDER: It's not - the rules of engagement change all the time.

LYDEN: Former Specialist Eric Warseski(ph) was 19 years old when he went to serve in Afghanistan in 2002. He says what he saw and did there still haunts him.

Mr. ERIC WARSESKI (Former Specialist): I watched a prisoner and we denied him water and food, and to my understanding he did not have sleep for three days.

LYDEN: At the time did you ever report back and say this is against the Geneva Convention, I'm not going to do it?

Mr. WARSESKI: No, because you don't really think about it because it's being allow. You know, 'cause you're just thinking, well, this is what I'm doing. This man came down from the airfield command center there. And so taking it as a directive order from our coalition forces, I just did as I was told.

LYDEN: When the winter soldiers of the Vietnam War gathered in 1971 their stories angered many fellow veterans who said they felt betrayed. Sergeant Magruder says it's not betrayal when you speak the truth.

Sgt. MAGRUDER: Betrayal is when your government puts you in a situation that you don't need to be in. A betrayal is sitting back and saying nothing when you could see your fellow, you know, brothers and sisters in arms suffering. A betrayal is essentially not doing what is morally right. And this is morally right for us to share our experiences with the American public so they can understand what is actually going on and not get some spin rhetoric and not get, you know, what a general's saying, not get what is coming out the Pentagon brief, but hear from those who have put their boots on ground and have served the nation proudly.

LYDEN: Sergeant Jabbar Magruder and Reservist Eric Warseski appeared today at an event sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War. Sergeant Magruder is co-chairman of the board of the anti-war organization.

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