To The Honorable Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee
During the Democratic Debate between Senators Clinton and Obama televised on the evening of February 21st, Senator Obama spoke of information passed on to him by an officer in the United States Army about our forces in Afghanistan suffering from a shortage of equipment and weapons. The very next day, a member and former Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Senator Warner, sent a letter to Senator Obama, asking for information about these charges. Senator Warner wrote:
"...I, and I believe other members of SASC, have a responsibility to establish where in the military chain of command rests the 'accountability,' depending of course, on the accuracy of the facts...What I need from you are the essential facts of when- the dates- the unit was deployed, to which brigade combat team, or other unit it was assigned, the name and current location of the captain, or other military personnel who shared the alleged facts with you, so that committee staff can debrief them."
Senator Warner was, as should be the case, taking the oversight responsibility of the members of the SASC seriously.
The anti-war activist organization Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) has advertised widely that it will hold a public event it has entitled "Winter Soldier Investigation (WSI) - Iraq and Afghanistan" near Washington D.C. next month (Mar. 13-16).
The event is self-consciously patterned after the 1971 Winter Soldier Investigation held in Detroit by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War(VVAW). During that event, over one hundred purported Vietnam veterans "testified" to widespread and horrific atrocities committed routinely by American forces in Vietnam.
In April of 1971, Senator Mark Hatfield moved that the entire WSI "testimony" be entered into the Congressional Record, while also calling for the relevant investigatory agencies in the military to investigate the charges made. None of that "testimony" had been given under oath or in legally binding depositions or affidavits. Later that same month, Senator William Fulbright's Foreign Relations Committee held hearings, well publicized on television, in which young war hero and VVAW leader John Kerry testified to the widespread atrocity "findings" of that WSI.
When military investigators for both the Army and Navy attempted to investigate the charges, those who had "testified" and could be located were almost universally uncooperative with those investigations. They would not give names, dates, units or details of events that would allow investigation to proceed. There is no record that the Foreign Relations Committee or any committee of the Senate ever held hearings to receive those follow-up reports. As such, the general theme of the 1971 WSI of widespread atrocities committed by American forces in Vietnam passed largely unchallenged into much of our culture. It has been a mainstay of the film industry for decades. It has harmed the image of American in general, and the honor of three million Vietnam Veterans in particular.
Various sources on the Internet and in print, including the IVAW, the VVAW and the Veterans for Peace as well as other organizations associated wth them have been claiming that "testimony" given next month will be about a variety of matters including widespread atrocities, indiscriminate and unwarranted killing of civilians and destruction of property and infrastructure, torture of detainess, mutilation of corpses and the illegal use of Afghan bodies for medical "practice", rampant sexual misconduct, racism and drug/alcohol use by American soldiers and on and on.
We the undersigned request that the United States Senate Armed Services Committee take the following steps:
* Make request of the Iraq Veterans Aagainst the War that member(s) of Committee staff be permitted to attend the entire Winter Soldier Investigation "testimony" proceedings and be provided access to those testifying.
* That in the event that staff determines that there has been testimony given that touches on areas where, in the words of Senator Warner, the members of the SASC "have a responsibility to establish where in the military chain of command rests the 'accountability,' depending of course, on the accuracy of the facts...", the Committee or a Sub-Committee of its delegation begin proceedings to follow-up on the claims made.
* That the Committee or Sub-Committe investigation be prepared to request and/or subpoena all documents and records, signed statements and recordings, audio, video or digital, that bear on the claims made and being investigated.
* That those making such claims or professing publicly to verify those claims be requested or subpoened to appear before the Committe or Sub-Committee, under oath, to answer questions.
The IVAW has also publicly stated that it intends to have the unsworn "testimony" from the upcoming event also entered into the Congressional Record. In 1971 the Senate of the United States was derelict in its duty of both oversight and follow-up and in the reasonable regard and respect it should have shown in consideration of the sacrifice and service of the American armed forces and veterans.
We request that the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee not allow what happened to a previous generation of veterans be allowed to happen to another and even be aided, as it was then, by the United States Senate.
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